New ways to bridge gap from school to work

Companies look beyond internships and co-op to build skills and recruit

Sound of Rise appJulie Topp, an industrial design student at OCAD University in Toronto, can’t wait to see the web application she helped design up and running in RISE Espresso shops, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Sound of RISE will allow customers to control a SoundCloud music queue, giving them a say in what’s playing while they sip their Americanos. “We started with the question, ‘what would be the ideal experience in a coffee shop?'” she says. “The ideal is a coffee shop playing my favourite song.”

In January, Topp had zero coding or web development experience, though she had done plenty of design work at school. She was looking for a way to get job experience before graduating but faced the paradox that it’s difficult to get experience without a job but difficult to get a job without experience. Then a friend told her about Myplanet’s Fellowship program. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” she says.

The Toronto-based builder of web applications offers a free educational program where students with limited experience can try out the company’s development process. They enroll for 12 weeks and show up for eight hours each Saturday to work on teams guided by Myplanet employees. The first four weeks are spent on a standard project and the next eight are with actual companies, like RISE. It’s not an internship program in that Myplanet isn’t asking students to work on projects for their clients but they do gain work experience while Myplanet develops potential recruits. They’ve hired several former fellows already. The program is expanding to Vancouver and Ottawa and expects to have 150 alumni by the end of 2014.

Myplanet isn’t the only company helping students make the leap from post-secondary education to jobs in their fields of choice while scouting for superior talent.

Purolator, the courier, will soon announce the winner of a four-month paid internship and $3,000 after giving at least 50 students work experience on a real business problem—experience they can now list on their LinkedIn profiles or résumés. Purolator was the first company to participate in the Challenges program from, an online job board and resource for students and recent graduates.

Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg, developed Challenges because of how often she hears from students having trouble translating what they did in school for employers. “That’s true for all grads but particularly for students who chose to study less obvious disciplines like philosophy or economics or sociology,” she says. “Challenges is a really accessible way to apply the things they’ve learned in class to business problems and have something more concrete to show employers during their entry-level job search.”

For the first challenge, any student was welcome to try and answer this question: How can Purolator leverage social media and other communication platforms to build the company’s reputation as a Canadian innovator and customer-centric brand?

Erik Ragotte, Purolator’s manager of corporate strategy and innovation, says the company participated for two reasons. First, they wanted to see the ideas that students had to solve the problem. Second, they were looking for great potential employees. “A lot of times when students are in their second or third year [of school], they haven’t had a lot of real work experience,” he says. “Their résumé says that they’ve worked at a golf club or a movie theatre but it’s hard to see, ‘is this a really talented person?'” In a typical job interview process, potential employees might be asked to spend a couple of hours solving a problem, he says. With TalentEgg’s Challenges, students might work on their projects for closer to a month, giving them a chance to show how much they can do. “The people that we’ve found through this are absolutely outstanding.”

All of the students who participated received feedback from employees about the skills they practiced—in this case marketing, consulting and social media—how they scored out of 100, and how they scored relative to one another. That gives them something to talk about in job interviews, says Friese.

Topp finished Myplanet’s fellowship with something to talk about. She had learned design and communication skills in school. Now she has the app to prove it.