‘Practice firm’ helping participants find jobs

A dozen people signed up for the inaugural “practice firm” program being run by the local campus of Confederation College in an effort to find them permanent jobs.
Now more than halfway through the program, four participants already have already been hired and the “firm” is showing it is an effective means of finding a job.
“Practice firm” is an international program where “employees” get on-the-job skills by running a virtual company and interacting with the 3,500 other ones worldwide.
Human Resources and Development Canada is funding the local project for a year in an effort to help local residents find full-time employment, and currently 13 people are involved in the program.
“I love it. It’s a good opportunity to upgrade my skills,” raved Brenda Angus, who completed the business administration course at Confederation College but needed hands-on experience to get hired.
Angus said being part of the program has been a real eye-opener as she helped overcome the daily hurtles of starting up a company, such as deciding which e-mail software to use or dealing with the companies when systems fail or equipment breaks down.
In the past two months, “employees” have created their virtual business from the ground up. They did everything from choosing the name (“Envision North”) and the virtual products they would sell to costing out services, hooking up phones, and dealing with countless other obstacles involved in starting a company.
“You see what you have to go through in the real world,” noted Winnie Sinclair, head of the purchasing department.
The real world means everything from costing out transportation for the “virtual” products to communicating with businesses around the world navigating several different time zones.
Sinclair, who previously has worked in shipping and receiving, said she was surprised at how much time would be involved in setting up the company. But she added she was getting a great deal out of the experience.
Betty Penney, who works in the sale department of the “firm,” also couldn’t believe how much she has learned in the program. “It’s wonderful. I couldn’t even start a computer up before,” she remarked.
Now Penny is designing catalogues for the firm’s products, which include canoes and kayaks, metal silhouettes of Canadian wildlife, native art, hand-carved wood chairs, wild rice, and boating trips on Rainy Lake.
Judy McCoy, who has spent 20 years in retail but never was involved in running a business, said she liked the way everyone pulled together as a team.
“It’s a big think tank. We all have experience and knowledge and we share it,” she explained.
That afternoon, Penney and McCoy were collaborating on a new catalogue for products. A co-worker walked by and questioned the term “love seat” to describe a two-person wooden chair.
“You’d best say two-person chair because someone in France might not know what a love seat is,” the co-worker suggested.
At this same point, McCoy handed back a copy of a waiver yet another employee is completing for a canoeing trip the company is planning to offer.
“You’ve got lost or damaged property covered but what about if someone falls in to the lake. What do you have to prevent that person from suing?” McCoy asked.
So far, “Envision North” has had a number of successes, such as having four people hired, including one who purchased their own business.
Sharon Hagerty, an employment counsellor at the “firm,” said finding jobs always has been the main focus of the program and that participants spend up to 20 hours a week actively searching for work.
Over the past few weeks, many of the “employees” have gone on multiple interviews.
“Whether they get the job or not, they don’t feel rejected,” operations manager Cathy Emes noted. “They don’t feel like they are all by themselves. Hearing ‘no, no, no,’ you tend to take it personally.
“There is support here,” she added. “A couple of them went out on interviews and said I don’t think that job is for me.”
Business manager Paul Zaremba said the “employees” at the firm demonstrate every day how dedicated and talented they are by confronting any challenge that comes their way and rapidly pushing the company forward.
“We’re tremendously motivated here,” he said. “They’re highly-motivated people.”
Zaremba said employers looking for talented staff should stop by the firm for a visit and see firsthand how the “employees” develop hands-on skills.
“We want to assist them in providing a link to successful positive people,” Zaremba said.