Unique adviser program benefits York students

A University degree alone was once the ticket into the world of employment. The steps were very clear – graduate, put together a resumé, interview for positions and then head into the workforce. These days, employers are looking for more than just academic excellence – they want practical experience. Through a unique partnership, the RBC Foundation and the Human Resources Management Program in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies are preparing students for the real world.

In 2001, the RBC Foundation donated $60,000 over two years to York University to establish the RBC Human Resources Opportunities Advisor position. The goal in establishing this position was to help increase the employability of students enrolled in York’s Human Resources Management Program by strengthening its links with the professional community.

Right:  At an event organized by the RBC Human Resources Opportunities Advisor program, participants mingled and listened to a guest speaker deliver a lecture on workplace etiquette and protocol.

“York’s Human Resources Management Program is unique and has a strong reputation in the community,” says Stephen Voisin, executive director, RBC Foundation. “RBC receives over 20,000 funding requests each year. We try to partner with organizations who show us concrete outcomes that make a difference.”

The increase in opportunities for students has been tremendous since the introduction of the adviser position, and the RBC Foundation recently extended their support by making a $60,000 gift to the York University Foundation for another two-year term.

The position has become essential in helping to identify and channel employment opportunities to students in a more positive way, comments Monica Belcourt, director of York’s Human Resources Management Graduate Program.

“Before the position was created,” says Belcourt, “I used to get phone calls from professionals interested in offering our students internships, summer and sometimes even full-time jobs but I didn’t have the time or the resources to help our students gain access. Now we can better identify opportunities, screen applicants and fit students with the most appropriate positions.”

York’s Human Resources Management Program is unique with some of its students entering directly from high school and others entering the classroom with years of management experience, to participate in the graduate program. “York’s program is a desirable resource for the professional community because we can place students with varying levels of education and experience,” says Amanda Leaman, who has held the adviser role since it’s creation in 2001. Leaman herself is a graduate of the program and has made it her goal to establish the resources she felt were missing when she was a student.

By introducing human resources specific workshops on topics including human resources information systems, resumé writing and interview skills, project management and etiquette protocol, students are getting exposed to important practical skills that are not necessarily touched upon in the classroom.

“Atkinson is in the midst of a major initiative to expand experiential education activities,” says Rhonda Lenton, dean of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. “In supporting this position at York, RBC is providing human resources students with opportunities to connect knowledge with practice, and to hone skills essential for success, not only in their academic studies, but post graduation.”

Lenton also explains that the objective of experiential education is to provide hands-on learning experience that bridges academic studies and career development to promote self-directed, life-long learning.

“One of RBC’s human resources goals is to coach, mentor and develop new HR professionals,” says Maureen Neglia, RBC’s director of recruitment. “Supporting this position at York aligns nicely with our objectives because the program strives to create human resource leaders with professional expertise.”

Currently all of the 800 students enrolled in York’s HR program have become part of a listserv and receive e-mail notifications about upcoming events and workshops. In addition, a mentoring program, which partners students with members of York Region’s chapter of the Human Resources Professional Association has been introduced so that students can ask questions, seek advice and network with professionals in the industry.

Neglia also points out how important it is for students to start building their professional networks as early as possible. “Since approximately 85 per cent of all available positions in the marketplace are never advertised,” says Neglia, “those students who have established professional connections early will really benefit.”

York’s program works with an advisory council comprising human resources executives and vice-presidents of major companies. These professionals provide guidance to and serve as guest speakers for faculty members and help expand York’s network.

“Students are very appreciative of the services made possible by the RBC Foundation’s generosity,” says Leaman. “When our students get involved and take advantage of the opportunities and extra exposure being made available to them, they are discovering that the possibilities are endless.”

This article was submitted to YFile by Allison Berg, communications officer, York University Foundation.