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In this conversation, Steve speaks with Rebecca about networking and mentorship opportunities available to members of the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Leaders of Tomorrow program.
My name is Rebecca Clapperton, and I work with the Vancouver Board of Trade`s “Leaders of Tomorrow” program. Good morning. Very nice of you to spend the time.
I`ve been very interested in your program, because first of all it`s new, it didn`t exist before … And I should first of all apologize for the noise because we`re in a public area here. In fact some people are walking by and we`ll wait `til they get by here.
But basically what you have done is you have gotten students to become interested in the Board of Trade.
And the program introduces them to the activities of the Board of Trade but the students are in charge , is that correct?
With … It is a very student driven program, yes that`s correct.
Tempered with business advice and expertise.
I see. Student driven. So in fact how do they drive the program?
They drive the program by being a part of the development of the program. It`s a program which services their development so they are responsible for evaluating the program to see that it meets the objectives that they hope to accomplish.
And what are their objectives?
Well, on an individual basis they may come in for three different reasons. One they want to learn how to network and be connected to the greater community. So …
Meaning the greater business community?
The greater business community.
And this is where the business mentors really do assist them in their own personal development. They`re partnered with an individual from the business community. They meet once a month over coffee or at a luncheon or a breakfast function which then introduces them to a number of other people. They`re able to model and reflect the acumen or the expertise of the business person at that very session. So that would be one way that they`re learning how to build their own personal networks.
Let me ask you a question.
Are these students typically business students?
Typically. Right now two-thirds of the students are business students.
We have more of a focus this year on recruiting those under-represented areas because the Arts and the Science and the Engineering students have as much to learn from business community contacts and access as the Business students. And often times you`ll see the Commerce and Business Faculties actually have the supportive relationships and the resources to do something similar or they`ve already had access to it.
But at the present time it`s heavy to business students and the objective, number one was networking. And you provide them with mentors, who are business people, who spend one … meet with them once a month in an informal environment.
Right, two hours. Right.
And provide them advice .
And talk to them about their business. And so that would be the networking aspect. What would be the second objective? You said there were three objectives, I think.
Really, students come in and they`re very interested in developing their own career plan. So they may want an industry-specific partnership. Where previously we mentioned networking as a goal, or interpersonal skill development, building confidence in the business environment, the … that could have been a partnership or a mentor match which was cross-discipline. So, you`ve got a student that`s maybe in film, studying in film, and you have a mentor that`s maybe a banker, but very well versed in networking .
So, because the objective in that partnership is networking we could cross-discipline. Now if you`ve got a student in film that would like to explore the industry of film and the realities of industry here in Vancouver, well then you would look specifically for a business mentor that has been in industry and has knowledge of industry.
That`s very interesting. You used the term “partnership”. So therefore the mentor and the mentoree, they form a partnership .
I think so.
And how long is that partnership for?
For eight months.
I see and then you specifically either, depending on the desire or the needs of the student, you either match them with someone that reinforces their background or someone from a different background.
To cross … what did you call that? Cross-ventilate ?
It`s almost. Yeah, cross-pollinate, yeah exactly.
Taking off the blinders . Imagine a horse with some blinders. Right.
A student may be on a career path as a result of their academic study. A PhD in Chemistry was one of our very famous examples. So, had gone through seven years of chemistry work in a lab and realized that was not the career.
They did not want to remain in the laboratory experience. So partnered with a management consultant, he learned that many of the skills, through volunteers, and that he had developed, they were transferable. And he could be a Project Manager outside of the laboratory experience in a number of different settings.
Very interesting. Now was there a third objective? Or have we more or less covered …
A small number of students come into the program to explore some entrepreneurial aspirations. So we may specifically partner them with a business mentor that`s run a few small businesses, or been there, done that.
You know, it`s interesting, I was reading in the Vancouver Sun the other day that a high percentage of business graduates from UBC, and Commerce graduates, are finding employment today.
Whereas I know the job market for recent graduates has been difficult in some sectors.
But it`s interesting that business graduates are getting jobs.
The other interesting thing was a study that the Board … or no, I think it was the BC Business Council did, showing what employers are looking for in employees.
And number one was the ability to communicate.
And I think this relates to your experience here. I guess some of these students who might have an academic background, need to learn how to communicate with business people.
Yeah, and it`s a confidence building exercise. Because initially, they are … the students are asking of themselves, “Well, why would a business member want to communicate with me? Why would a business member wish to speak to me? What do I have to offer?” And so there`s a personal learning exercise in coming to know what value you bring to the conversation and what you bring to that exchange through a networking environment.
Are some of the students … I mean in a university environment, people tend to be a little bit cynical, often, about the business community.
Sure. Absolutely it is yeah.
They`re radical, they`re manning the barricades , fighting or whatever.
You bet, part of the exercise, yeah.
And so then they come here and what sort of … do some of them come in with a bit of an attitude?
You bet. You bet. Not as many. Many students that might have those dispositions have self-selected not to participate. And so that`s part of our public relations exercise, is connecting with those students, so that they understand. Part of what we hope to accomplish is to break down those stereotypes.
Absolutely we have some … we have a Community Affairs Committee at the Vancouver Board of Trade that is the “conscience” of the Board of Trade, so they like to say.
They are out there in the community talking about transportation issues, health, education, they`re very vested, they have a very vested interest in supporting the greater community objective, so … and you can actually connect with one person as a business person that works in a larger organization and find out that they have a family, and they have other volunteer commitments, and they make decisions on a day-to-day basis that support their business, yes, but they do them from an individual and a global perspective that is very ethical, and you bet we`re trying to breakdown some of those stereotypes .
Do the students themselves come with some experience in volunteering as well?
Or do they get involved in volunteering when they`re on the program?
Volunteering is very important to us. We believe that there`s a very positive type of learning that happens when you offer your service to the greater community . So, many of the students already … they`ve taken the initiative to apply for the program, so many of them have also taken the initiative to volunteer through their careers. But we also see this as an opportunity to begin building that volunteer experience, because often times employers will look at your volunteer experience just as heavily as they`ll look at your previous work experience. You may not have had a chance to develop strategy for a greater business, but you may have had a chance to develop strategy for a fundraising committee on a student club for example. So there are ways for you to explore some of your talents and skills.
And we put those student talents and skills, absolutely, to work, in the greater work we have to do with the program.
Now let`s get back, if we can, to a point that you made at the beginning, about how the students manage or drive the program. Obviously the mentors, the members of the Board of Trade, who take the time once a month to meet with the students, they don`t want to be involved in organizing and running this program. So it really comes back to the students running it. Although you are an employee of the Board of Trade.
And so you provide a sort of a coordinating function. But what kinds of things, and how … do the students do, and how do they organize themselves to do it?
Just like any other campus club, the students develop objectives and goals. So, for example, they would like to increase the profile of the program. Let`s take a look at media relations and let`s develop a plan for how to receive exposure through the greater media. Develop relationships with specific reporters. Write press releases. Get coverage in our own local newspaper, the Sounding Board, which is the Vancouver Board of Trade`s paper. That would be media relations. Another would be event management, which everyone loves to do. Right.
Which includes everything from fundraising to logistical planning to hosting and public speaking. There`s a lot of fun ways to get involved with event planning, and students carry that through, depending on what their greater objectives are that year.
You know, you may be aware that we, in developing this language learning material, in English, were also, obviously, in contact with many of the recent immigrants here to Vancouver, many of whom are professionals, and looking at ways that they might be able to better network with the business community. And some of the things you described, I think, could also have application for that group as well. But then they would have to take the initiative.
To organize, to perhaps, in committee, decide on events that they wanted to have, perhaps publicize the fact that they are here, they do exist …
… they want to connect with the broader community. And yeah, I see some real parallels there.
I guess it would be a matter of getting some “keeners”. Like, how important is it … like obviously you cannot pull these students if they aren`t coming with you.
So there have to be some very motivated people in the student group. Is that the case? Do you have some very keen people, or are you having to kind of orchestrate this thing for them?
No, when I say student-driven, I do mean that I have the pleasure to work with people that are personally very driven to develop their career paths, to develop their own skills, and they do so by committing themselves to greater community initiatives. So we`ve had the fortune to involve them in our activities or they see benefit in their personal commitment .
So they see benefit in, (1) developing their network through the work that they`re doing, (2) having some practical experiences to apply to their resume. And it just grows and builds from there.
I know that you`ve indicated a willingness to spend some time with a … you know if we do get a group of these recent professional immigrants who want to develop a similar program that you would be willing to provide some advice.
Darcy Rezac, who is the Managing Director, has also indicated that he would support such an effort and make some special memberships available to some of these immigrant professionals. Obviously a big obstacle is language.
Because all of the students of course are … most of them would be native speakers of English?
Even if they were immigrants themselves, they`d been in the school system for 10 years or whatever.
Or so. Yeah.
Or so, yeah. So therefore that would be one of the obstacles. Hopefully though, if our group can improve their English skills, then they could organize something similar, tailored to their specific needs. And some of the things you said are quite interesting. For example, someone with an IT background might be partnered with someone in a totally unrelated background, which would help, perhaps, broaden their perspective .
One question, of course, is how does one best recruit the mentors? Because obviously you have to find people that are going to spend the time.
Because … oh, and maybe I should ask this question. What is the commitment from the mentor? He has to spend … he or she has to spend the two hours a month.
Is there anything beyond that, or is it just the two hours a month of time?
Right now that`s the basics.
That`s the basics.
And what is the motivation on the part of the mentor? Why are they willing to do this?
Well, you`re a business person.
You`ve run several successful companies. You`re an entrepreneur. From your perspective what would attract you to participating in this program?
I guess … that`s a good question, for you to turn the tables on me . I think there`s always the sort of human interest thing to meet someone. I mean, if I were, as a business person, to meet rather a recent immigrant, or a young student, to see what their perspective on life is, you know it`s always … it`s broadening and interesting from a human interest point of view.
Second of all, you never know, you might find someone there that could be helpful to your business …Um hmm.
… it`s a … I would say a way, without any commitment …
… that you can meet people.
And the third thing, I think, is if you think genuinely that you`re helping someone, then that`s always gratifying, to feel that you`re doing something to help someone else. So I mean just right off the bat …
… I can think of three reasons. Exactly.
… that it would interest me to do something …
And those three …
… reasons are really key to our recruitment exercise. I think that the period of transition , whether you`re working with recent immigrants or whether you`re working with recent graduates, transition is a very exciting time to assist people through, and to have the greatest impact on their personal development.
So how do you recruit mentors then?
Do you …
We`ve had …
… mail everybody in the Board of Trade? Or …?
We`ve had the fortune to be a program established as a Vancouver Board of Trade program, and I would say for the most part, a trend among other mentoring programs is that their greatest challenge is recruiting mentors, and we haven`t had that challenge, because we`ve built up credibility in being a Board of Trade program. We had the fortune to develop relationships with business members.
So it`s been relationship driven and referral driven, and each year retention gets higher and higher, and certainly ” word of mouth ” has been fabulous for us.
Now, is it very important, then that the, I don`t know if the term is “mentorees”, but the students then, perform … Mentee.
That they perform well.
In other words, if you have a lot of students who are, to use the word “duds”, in other words, they`re not interested, they`re not interesting, they`re not … they don`t … because to some extent they have to give something …Yeah. … to the mentor.
And so, what is normally … what is expected of the mentee, of the student, what … do you give them some advice on how to make this “partnership”, as you call it, successful? Um hmm.
We hope that they, at the very beginning of the year, can articulate what they wish to get out of the program. That way, both student and mentor can evaluate to see whether they`ve achieved those established goals as a partnership.
I guess it`s important, too, that the student not have the approach that somehow he`s going to get a job out of this, because it`s very much not that way, it`s …
It`s not the objective of the program.
And so I guess in terms of the recent immigrants, I guess, the big thing is to make sure that their English, those that we do select for the program, that their English skills are up to the mark.
Otherwise there could be some frustration, or dissatisfaction, or disappointment on the part of the mentor. Have you … let me ask you this, have you had some comments from mentors, where they have not been happy with their mentee, and if so, what are some of the criticisms?
I think that happens in any interpersonal development program. Evaluation is key to your continuous improvement. So you will find that in our first year – we`re headed into our fourth year now – and in our first year of programming, the selection process for students wasn`t as honed as it might be now, nor was the demand for the program.
So now we have a greater number of students to pull from, or to select from, whereas initially, in building the program, it was almost an … each applicant that came forward was accepted into the program.
But, what would, just … I mean perhaps this could be our final point. What are the things to watch to for ? What kind of people make poor mentees? What kinds of problems would be … you know, would impact on the reaction of the mentors?
Expectation levels of what is … what the program will deliver, and certainly commitment level to what they can accomplish.
Or commitment level to their personal goals.
Their personal goals need to be within what we promise.
And if they wish to meet the most senior level people within the business community, we can`t promise that to each and every individual in our program.
So we need to bring it back to the individual goals of the student, but within our global programming, and then support them through that. And then they need to have the personal initiative to make it happen , because we will not monitor to the point, or provide specific support. You need to know how to tap into the insight of your mentor , and you need to volunteer to build your networks .
So therefore the … it`s very important that the mentee, the student, or if it`s a recent immigrant, be interested in the mentor.
You can`t go there with the attitude as, “Here I am”, you know, “Do something for me”. It has to be one of “I`m a person, you`re a person, here`s what I … my background. What is your background? What are your interests?” And there has to be a two-way level of communication there.
Two-way is quite key, I think.
It`s been interesting for us to note that mentors learn as much from the program as the students do, but both members do need to be committed to the relationship, which means that we, as a program, need to facilitate proper fit and rapport building, and if the fit isn`t there very early on, we need to re-establish a new relationship.
Right, okay. Well, you know, we`ve covered a lot of ground.
I think it`s been very, very interesting, and I thank you very much for taking the time.
Thanks very much.