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Friday, December 19, 2014

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Website helps students get relevant work experience

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Ben Wise

Ben Wise is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business who, like many other grads, had a difficult time finding a job.

Like many of his friends, most of his work experience consisted of being a summer-camp counsellor, which, as he put it, “wasn’t exactly turning heads in the business world. I struggled because I didn’t have enough work experience,” said Wise.

In Canada, youth unemployment reached a high of 30 per cent just a few months ago and is still higher than average at 17 per cent.

Many students pursue liberal arts degrees, which do not have a career path as a business or engineering degree, and statistics show that 82 per cent of students are enrolled in programs that only 10 per cent of employers hire from.

One of the greatest hurdles students encounter is a paradox – you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. Wise hoped that there might be a way to solve this problem.

He did end up finding a job, but his job search left him with a passion to help recent graduates find meaningful employment. Ten years later, while working at a small consulting firm, Wise would see the valuable work student interns were doing.

“We would have interns working 12 months out of the year, and I was constantly amazed by the quality of work they would produce and how much you could trust them to get done. If students were capable and eager to do this work, and businesses are eager to get this help, I thought, why not bring it together?”

That’s when the idea for SpringTern developed. SpringTern is a not-for-profit business, connecting students and businesses to complete short-term volunteer projects.

It is specifically designed for small businesses that may not be able to afford to hire a part-time employee or intern, but need to get a small project done. Students, in turn, gain work experience, expand their networks and get a reference on completion of the project.

“I think that when students are in school, they are focusing a lot on their classes, which is obviously not a bad thing, but especially in later years, you start thinking, ‘I know I’ll need a job after I graduate,’ but you assume you’ll deal with it then. Suddenly, you’re a graduate, and you don’t have the support structure of university, which makes it even harder to find a job,” he said.

“A lot of universities have great programs, but the courses you take may not be directly applicable to a job, so a student has to show how to apply the soft skills they learned in university in the working world.”

Wise, 29, grew up in the Jewish community of Thornhill, Ont. He attended Thornhill Secondary School and fondly recalls spending his summers with friends at Camp Walden in Muskoka.

He said these encounters helped him gain support for SpringTern.

“When I launched my company, a lot of the initial listings came from my personal network, especially the network I had made from those experiences, and it helped me find people to work with and bounce ideas off of,” he said.

The Prosserman Jewish Community Centre was one of the first organizations to post a project on the SpringTern site.

During his undergraduate career, Wise spent a summer working at eBay. “It was a really cool role. It was a small team of about 25 people, so if you were an intern, everyone wanted to get you to help them. I met a lot of great people, many of whom I’m still in touch with,” he said.

He then completed his MBA at Western’s Ivey School of Business.

Now, he works as a Rich Media campaign manager at Google, while running SpringTern and his charity, Step by Step Africa, which fights HIV/AIDS in Africa by providing funding to partners in the region.

“After my undergraduate degree, I went to Ghana for nine months and I volunteered in an orphanage. I got exposed to issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, so when I came back, I set up the charity and I have been doing it for the last five or six years,” he said.

He hopes that SpringTern helps ease students’ difficulties searching for a job after graduation.

“It’s a great way for business to meet young talent and for students to start professional networking,” he said. “What I would love to see is someone who completes a project through SpringTern and then a few months later, starts working there full time.”

For more information about SpringTern, visit www.springtern.com.

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