Co-op grant bridges tech talent gap for small business

$2,700 grant helps companies hire B.C. co-op students, build ‘great symbiotic relationship’

Successful small businesses know the value of calling on expert help as needed. And when that also provides a university student valuable ‘real world’ experience, it’s a win-win for both.

The BC Innovation Council’s two-year-old B.C. Tech Co-op Grants Program incentivizes the hiring of accredited co-op students from recognized Canadian institutions by businesses of fewer than 100 employees.

“What we’ve noticed is that tech really is in all areas and in all industries,” explains Dawn Wood, BC Innovation Council’s Director of Programs.

However, with “a growing talent gap in B.C.’s tech sector, companies are constrained in their growth from limited access to talent.” For Victoria start-up Elate Cosmetics, a co-op student was invaluable in setting up an online accounting system and improving its website.

“Having our co-op student allowed us to become more efficient in our processes and bring our website more up to date,” notes founder Melodie Reynolds. “As a start-up business, having her was integral to our growth (and) she introduced us to online accounting software that has saved us so much time.”

The grant also reduces barriers to small businesses bringing in and training a new person.

Category 12 Brewing’s Tech Co-op student helped implement an Enterprise Resource Planning tool and apply new Cloud-based storage solutions that integrate with accounting software to help the brewery become paper-free, explains Karen Kuzyk.

“It was a welcome shot of youthful enthusiasm and skill, which had the added benefit of freeing up our time for the myriad other tasks necessary!” says Kuzyk.

The benefits go both ways.

“Having a co-op student is a chance to see your ‘day-to-day’ through a set of fresh eyes, while allowing you to help support a student through mentorship,” Reynolds reflects. “It is a great symbiotic relationship.”

Kuzyk agrees.

“Without a doubt we would recommend the program; we definitely felt it was mutually beneficial. We were able to enjoy the rewards of a keen, motivated student while they gained valuable, ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge of manufacturing and accounting operations.”

How does it work?

Eligible companies must have 99 or fewer employees and employers receive $2,700 toward a co-op student’s salary. If a company has hired a co-op student in the last five years, grants are limited to a first-term student.

A participating business must be a technology company, non-profit organization in the tech sector or non-tech company hiring for a tech role. Common tech company jobs include coding, software development and marketing, where a social media-savvy student can introduce the company to a wider market. With non-tech companies, customer relations databases or website development are examples.

What does it mean for students?

Students appreciate the hands-on learning, new technical skills and experience preparing them for future jobs, Wood says. “It gets them real-world experience and makes them employment ready upon graduation.”

And because businesses are smaller – about half have 20 or fewer employees – “students are pleased to be part of a team and often feel they are making a real difference.”

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