‘Practice firm’ needs more practice

The so-called “practice firm” project at Confederation College here, which will see local participants running a virtual company, got off to a slow start Monday night as a dozen people came out for a presentation about the program.
“We have to do a little bit better job at getting the word out,” campus manager Don Lovisa said after the meeting, at which five people applied for the 14 spaces available.
“We will have to make more presentations in Emo, Rainy River, Atikokan, and Thunder Bay to let people know what a great program this is,” he said.
The practice firm is a virtual marketplace where participants operate a businesses with some of the 3,500 other firms in 35 countries.
With positions available for everything from accounting and marketing to human resources and graphic design, participants learn all areas of how a business functions by actually running their own company.
“This is a fictitious world but we still have to go step by step and we also have to make a profit,” Lovisa explained.
Firms must find suppliers for their product, deal in international currency with a fictitious bank, file fictitious taxes, and complete all the paperwork required in an actual business.
The practice firm being launched here would be the only one between Ottawa and British Columbia.
Lovisa said the main goal of the free program, which is being funded for one year in partnership with Human Resources Development Canada, is to help people find jobs. Only those who currently are unemployed may take part in it.
“How many times do people go out there to get a job and hear, ‘I’d love to hire you but you have no experience,” he remarked.
The practice firms are designed to offer participants the hands-on training that often stands between them and a job. But in addition to practical training, the program also includes a job search component, with those involved spending 20 percent of their time looking for work.
In Canada, Lovisa said 83 percent of the 1,400 participants were employed after the program.
“At the end of the 20 weeks, our goal is to place these people in jobs, in real jobs, in permanent jobs,” he stressed.
Brenda Angus was among those who attended Monday night’s presentation at the college. She said she was impressed by the program, especially its high rate of employment afterwards.
“I’m attending office administration course at the college and I heard about this,” she noted. “If I’m eligible, I’d like to get into the program.”
Angus is looking for secretarial or accounting employment, and hopes the practice firm might help start her new career.
Lovisa said the first group of participants in the practice firm will have a very different experience than those who come afterwards because they will be responsible for setting up the business—everything from market research to buying the office furniture.
“It’s like setting up a business without the risk,” he explained.
It was that entrepreneurial aspect of the program that piqued Judy McCoy’s interest.
“In our area, a lot of people have entrepreneurial ideas but didn’t know how to more forward, how to set up a business or research resources,” she said.
McCoy and her husband are considering opening their own business, a Christian bookstore, and she is intrigued by the opportunity to learn how to run a business—and make mistakes with virtual money—before opening her own.
“We don’t want to bet the farm,” she reasoned.
Lovisa said the college plans to hire the three staff members to run the practice firm in the new year, and have them recruit participants in February.
He expects the 14 candidates will begin the program March 1. Those interested can get applications at Confederation College here.