High school and college students in Swift Current had an opportunity to learn more about the world of business during an evening of discussion and networking with local business professionals.
The third annual Business Connect banquet took place at the Living Sky Casino event centre, Nov. 18. It is an initiative of the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce to connect future entrepreneurs and business leaders with current business owners and managers.
Chamber CEO Karla Wiens said the event was attended by 40 business people and a same number of students. There were 25 students from Great Plains College business program and 15 students from the Swift Current Comprehensive High School (SCCHS) Business Club.
“It's nice to see the conversations,” she mentioned after the event. “At each table we try to mix and pair students with their industry of choice and also try to mix up the college students with the Comp students, just to have some older and younger perspectives. … As the evening progresses every year, the decibel level in the room tends to increase as the students become more comfortable. I saw lots of laughter and smiles, as well as serious discussion.”
She received positive feedback from several of the college and high school students about the evening, who indicated they learned more about business and also about how to present themselves in a formal meal setting.
“There's all kinds of skills that these young people learn that we might not even be aware of,” she said.
Some of the business people at the event were attending for the first time, but others were at the previous banquets and wanted to participate again.
“Businesses mentorship and community involvement is very important,” she said. “A lot of these business leaders are employers who are developing their reputation in the community as employers of choice for the younger crowd.”
The Business Connect banquet has already become a signature event on the business chamber’s annual calendar, even though it was only started a few years ago. The format gives students an opportunity to interact with a variety of business people during the evening’s four-course meal. The students change tables after each course to give them an opportunity to interact with as many business leaders as possible.
“It's a great conduit to connect people, which is why we call it the Business Connect banquet,” Wiens said. “Times are changing very quickly and these young folks have a lot of great innovative ideas, and I know a lot of business leaders find just as much value in asking them for their perspective as they do giving them their experience.”
Local business owner Garry Koebel of The Sputtergotch Toy Company was the keynote speaker at this year’s banquet. He left a successful corporate career to pursue his dream to be a business owner, and he emphasized the importance of relationships, whether with customers or employees, to ensure the success of a business. He noted that technology does not run a business, but relationships do.
“Younger people now are in such a technological age that the human aspect almost seems to be disappearing, whether it's communication or whether it's doing business, talking to people via social media as opposed to a face to face conversation,” he said after the banquet. “That was the message I wanted to get across. That aspect of business hasn't changed. Forming connections, open communication, human to human type of interaction is paramount for success.”
He felt the format of the Business Connect banquet is a good way to create a link between current business people and future business owners. That relationship is very important to allow more experienced persons to become mentors for young entrepreneurs.
“The business world is constantly changing,” he noted. “So for a young individual to try and grasp what direction to go, it's really important for them to have mentors and people who have been through the ropes, so to speak, to get some guidance, where to start, and basically just some ideas on how does one start launching their career.”
According to SCCHS business education teacher Cindy Lowe the banquet helps students to develop various skills that can be beneficial in the future.
“A lot of post secondary recruiters are telling us that's how they recruit, at networking events and informal social events like this,” she said.
The ability to converse over a meal, to ask questions and responding to questions about oneself are therefore skills that students can already acquire at the banquet. At the same time, they are able to receive advice from business people about career paths.
“I think the kids are really articulating well who they are and what they are interested in, and being able to ask back to the business professional what is it that you do and how did you get here, and what skills do I need for the future,” she said.
The SCCHS Business Club actually held a business networking lunch at the school for the first time on Nov. 5 to help students prepare for this year’s Business Connect banquet. It was attended by about 20 business people and 20 students, including most of the students that were at the banquet.
The many other events organized by the Business Club also played a role to provide students with the confidence and skills to participate in the Business Connect banquet.
“I think a lot of them have been thinking about their future and so naturally when the business person asks them tell me what you're interested in, the kids have lots to say, because we've been doing lots of networking events and speakers and taking them out to chamber events,” she said.
Lowe noted that the banquet is one of the premier events of the year for Business Club students, and their attendance helps to create interest and enthusiasm for the club’s other activities during the rest of the school year.
“We really see an impact too and benefit to our business programs at the high school, and increased enrolment in our accounting and finance programs or work experience programs,” she said. “Kids do see potential in all the industries in our city and in our province. So really lots of enthusiasm, regardless of where a kid ends up going, whether it's sciences or medical or entrepreneurial or finance. We see kids just wanting to be part of it.”
She felt it is not too soon to already get students career ready when they are still in high school, because in countries such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland the transition to career pathways already start in Grade 9.
“We want kids to consider a career in the future and this builds those building blocks to transition to post secondary and a career, and eventually a job in the future,” she said. “We need to start now, because they're doing it around the world early. … We need to do a better job of prepping them earlier, and that's what I'm hoping to do here.”