By Suzanne Tyson

Having presented at, attended or sponsored dozens of conferences related to higher education over the past three years in my role as President of Studentawards Inc., there seems to be one constituent consistently underrepresented, or outright absent from the proceedings – Corporate Canada. At these conferences, students are gnashing their teeth about the cost of getting an education (the tuition isn’t the problem for undergrads, it’s the high cost of living), their high debt loads and their lack of job prospects; government program administrators are pulling their hair out because they can’t seem to create awareness of all the money that is available to fund those in financial need, and educators are coming to terms with students who may be Digital Natives, but are Financial Naives (not to mention the product of the Helicopter Parent).

But at these conferences, we’re all preaching to the choir – those in attendance are pre-disposed to the messages and we often come to the same frustrating (lack of) conclusions. In each situation, Corporate Canada can help connect the dots, spread the message or potentially fund the solution – we need to invite them to the party.

There are plenty of companies that have already “stepped up” to help in educating Canadian youth and are reaping the rewards with this next generation of customers and employees. Those that don’t step up will miss out in both the short and long term. For the most part, they don’t know what they are missing, so here’s my personal invitation to Corporate Canada:

Corporate Canada, You Are Cordially Invited to Step Up to Help Students. Here’s How:

  • Fund them. Create a scholarship or contest with cash prizing that will help pay for school. Make it inclusive (15-25 year-olds, not just graduating high school or CEGEP students) and don’t feel it has to be based on marks or being super-human. All students need help, not just the brainiacs and those in financial need. They are your future customers and potential employees. Your support will do great things for your brand.
  • Hire them. Not just in the summer, but throughout the year, from high school to grad school. Create meaningful positions with support from experienced managers where students can learn and make a contribution in whatever number of hours they have available. The payoff is a “warm” pool of future employees with experience and a personal relationship with the company. Interview once, hire twice (or three or four times).
  • Pay them. Most students who are lucky enough to find summer work are only paid about a third of what it will cost them for one year of college or university. They have bills to pay and will have lots of debt after higher ed. There is no free lunch, so companies have to stop acting like working for them for free is a privilege. It makes students resentful …and if they find something that will cover their bills, they’re gone. For good. If there’s no budget for a salary, the money might be found in a recruiting or CSR fund and can be positioned as a scholarship or bursary.
  • Get to them earlier. Almost every industry in Canada will experience labour shortages in the next decade. Get into the high schools and create relationships through awareness campaigns – they don’t have to be your kid to come to your company for a day. Sponsor a class to come to your office for a field trip in Grade 10. That’s when they start looking at career options and higher education paths. You will be welcomed with open arms by the guidance offices at the high schools. They need all the help they can get.

Helping students themselves is the first and most tangible step Corporate Canada can take. Once they’ve accepted the invitation to that party – getting them to the after-party should be easy. Educating Canadians is everybody’s business, and for Corporate Canada, it is good for business.


Suzanne Tyson is President of Studentawards Inc. Suzanne has over 20 years of business experience in youth, loyalty and digital marketing, publishing, higher education consulting and mobile communications. As President of Studentawards Inc., Suzanne has the pleasure of helping students succeed in their pursuit of higher education and at the same time, helping Canadian corporations access the hearts and minds of those students. Contact her at