BCIT business internships help build a fresh, savvy and young workforce

Strategizing for growth, companies welcome students to real-life practicums

BCIT Marketing Management graduate Paul Piche (left) and Brad Taylor, General Manager, Wholesale and International Sales, Leavitt Machinery

Paul Piche likes talking to people. As a Cactus Club bartender, he enjoyed both engaging with customers and working with colleagues to solve customer-service problems. Friends told the friendly Maple Ridge native he’d be a natural at sales, so he enrolled in the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s (BCIT) renowned two-year Marketing Management program, specializing in professional sales. And it did prove to be a great fit.

Except for one thing. Talking – on the phone.

“As a bartender, phone experience was not something I possessed,” Piche recalls. “I wasn’t comfortable with it. In the classroom we practised calls with other students, but it wasn’t real life.”

However, through business internships, BCIT builds in that all-important dose of real life. In his internship with Leavitt Machinery, Piche finally faced up to the dreaded telephone. Working in the service department – to give a full sense of the company, Leavitt places its student interns in each department – Piche had to call customers to book service days.

Taking a deep breath, he made the plunge. “I’d ask, ‘Is it OK to come in on this day and do this?’ And if they needed parts, I’d see if they’d like to go ahead with repairs and enhance their machines through the service program.”

Piche, who’s since been hired by Leavitt, now laughs about his phone phobia. But at the time he was terrified. “The thing is, you don’t really grow if you’re not uncomfortable. It was good to be thrown into that and learn.”

A BCIT School of Business internship gives students the reality beyond the textbook, says Brad Taylor, general manager of Leavitt’s wholesale and international sales. Taylor should know. He’s a BCIT grad, as are many of Leavitt’s executive and sales management teams.

“An internship lets students translate what they’re learning into experience. It shows them the vision, the real-life common goal, of getting a job, going out to make money and having success.”

For the two-day-a-week, 10-week practicum, Leavitt pairs each intern with a junior sales rep. As well as having the students shadow the reps, the company encourages them to ask the reps blunt questions, “so they can connect the dots: if they were to get hired, what would it look like? How is life different in the post-school world?” Taylor explains.

BCIT grads are sought-after hires, “well rounded, ready to put their skills to work post-graduation. They’re the next generation that’s going to help us and replace us. It’s part of our strategy for growth. We need them to push us, to give us a different, fresh look to keep us progressing.”

An internship that Qlik-ed

Three years into theory-based learning at another post-secondary institution, Katrina Lazzarotto missed the human factor. Having worked for Tourism BC in high school, Lazzarotto returned to the service industry – and welcomed the chance to again “mesh with people, help them out.”

As with Piche, that led her to BCIT School of Business’ Marketing Management program and a specialization in professional sales. Preparing for that – and for her internship at the business-intelligence software company Qlik – Lazzarotto found the first year’s solid foundation in communication invaluable.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the communication tools BCIT gives you, from creating a LinkedIn account for networking to building relationships with people in all types of roles: administrators right up to the C-suite level. As a sales rep, you constantly communicate in prospecting. You’re basically cold-calling or warm-calling, so you’re on the phones a lot, following up with email. That was really reinforced in our first year at BCIT: communication skills in a business setting.”

Another BCIT concept flowed perfectly into Lazzarotto’s internship at Qlik. “Within BCIT’s case studies, we ask effective questions geared to a specific scenario. At Qlik, as part of their methodology for identifying a prospect on the phone, they have a step-by-step process and list questions that you’re supposed to ask. Every question opens up another question and another question.

“It gives you that flexibility to be able to gear into what the customer is needing from you, to be able to keep them on the phone. In the end that’s what you’re trying to do,” Lazzarotto relates.

Enabling interns to shadow the entire sales cycle is vital for them both as learners and as future employees, believes Louise Pronovost, Qlik’s sales manager, health care and commercial, North America West.

“They get a sense for the responsibility we have as a sales team of bringing revenues into company, because if there’s no revenue there won’t be any company. I want to give them a sense of the diligence that we put behind that, in terms of keeping a healthy sales pipeline. And then, how we forecast revenues so management knows what to expect, and can take appropriate action based on that.”

Like Taylor, Pronovost sees BCIT internships as win-win. “When students come to us they are observing and learning. By the end they are making suggestions. That enhances their contribution to the team because they have fresh eyes. As they start knowing our processes and our systems, they start being able to put that together, and bring fresh ideas as to how we could approach certain challenges.”