University and college students provide Internet training

Young Canadians in the Student Connection Program (SCP) are gearing up to add Web development to their skills now that an e-commerce module has been added to their training,

Through the SCP, an Industry Canada initiative funded under the Youth Employment Strategy, university and college students are hired and trained as Student Business Advisors to provide Internet training to Canadian businesses.

John Manley, Minister of Industry, spoke recently at a Toronto press conference about the importance of access to the Web.

“For small businesses, the information highway is a great equalizer. It enables them to gain quick access to unprecedented information resources and achieve new efficiencies. It allows them to reach out to a global marketplace of opportunities, suppliers and clients.”

By allowing students to take part, the benefit is two-fold, Manley said. Not only do businesses receive low-cost, customized training to help them use the Internet as a business tool, but students gain IT training, develop hands-on business experience and make contacts with potential employers.

“We foresaw those advantages when we designed the program. What we didn’t foresee was that so many of them were going to get job offers in the small businesses they visited,” Manley said.

Students participating in SCP are typically computer science or business students in their third and fourth year of study. As part of the program they are tested and certified as Internet and/or year 2000 advisors.

In June 1998, the SCP in partnership with the CIBC, launched “Year 2000 First Step,” providing basic-level assessments and action plans for small and medium-sized companies to help determine their year 2000 challenges. Customized assessments include: year 2000 awareness, an inventory of computer systems and software, simple diagnosis of software and hardware of up to 10 PCs, a review of business risks and a detailed report and suggested action plan.

“As the name implies, First Step is not intended to provide comprehensive Y2K solutions, but it helps small businesses understand the challenge and identify what they need to do to be ready for business on Jan. 1, 2000,” Manley said.

For Gregg Patkowski, a computer science student at the University of Toronto and a Student Business Advisor, the highlight of his experience with the program has been seeing the results of his Y2K training in a real business environment.

“The training is constantly revised and updated and I take that back with me to school,” Patkowski said.

John MacDonald, president of Bell Canada and co-chair of the SCP Board, said that through the program students are helping to save the future of business, and sponsors make a difference in the lives of “young Canadians eager to learn and work.”

Simon Witts, general manager of Microsoft Canada Co. and SCP co-chair, echoed this with a call to action for sponsorship of the program.

“We in the private and public sector need to establish partnerships…to make sure students acquire the skills they need to be educated to stay a step ahead,” he said.

Since it began in 1996, SCP has hired and trained over 2,800 students who have provided training to more than 42,000 companies. The strategy was originally scheduled to end on March 31, Manley said, but has now been made permanent with a “renewed funding of $465 million over the next three years for the Youth Employment Strategy.”