Window on the world job training
|Region(s)||Magog, Québec, Canada|
|In domains||Electronics and Information Technology, Giving Back to the Community|
Support for student projects and Boréalis internship program
At the centre of the knowledge industry, Boréalis is a natural collaborator for the academic sector. Since it was founded, the company has maintained close ties with regional educational institutions and decided to support this very special community. Boréalis believes in students’ potential and reinvests up to 1% of its revenues in the area.
Two of the company’s sustainable business practices particularly demonstrate this commitment: in collaboration with Université de Sherbrooke and Cégep de Sherbrooke, Boréalis supports international assistance projects and offers internships (Boréalis also collaborates with Université Laval).
Boréalis is an information technology company founded in 2004 by geographers with expertise in leading remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies who still manage the company today. They specialize in the integration of different geographical data used to assess the sustainability of development project.
Through its collaborations with teaching institutions, Boréalis is able to promote its area of expertise to the region’s young people, who are often sensitive to the social and environmental issues on which the company’s business model is centered. Boréalis therefore attracts young talent and then becomes part of a community of practice in which it gains knowledge and expertise.
The company also supports international development projects that apply techniques stemming from those used by its own experts. In 2009, Boréalis pledged its support to two major projects. The first involved an international collaboration project spearheaded by engineering students, the Groupe de collaboration internationale en ingénierie de l'Université de Sherbrooke (GCIUS), in which participants worked to build a kindergarten and a well for a Malawian community. In 2008, students built a rice processing centre in Burkina Faso. The second initiative was a peer-support project at Cégep de Sherbrooke. In addition, each year, Borealis contributes $10,000 to a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) scholarship for an Université de Sherbrooke Ph.D. student in geomatics.
As it began to make a name for itself, Boréalis sought a partner who shared its academic values, with the underlying objectives of capitalizing on the leading technologies that were relevant to its operations while gaining recognition among students to eventually attract qualified personnel.
At first, executives wondered if their cause matched their values. Because Boréalis had already established ties with the academic sector, the alliance came naturally (for example, Boréalis is a partner in the GeoBusiness Research Chair at Université de Sherbrooke). “We are very involved in Université de Sherbrooke research chairs and groups,” says Jules Paquette, who is familiar with on-the-job training initiatives. In fact, members of his family have worked to develop such programs for years. Moreover, Boréalis cofounders Jules Paquette and Patrick Grégoire are both Université de Sherbrooke graduates.
When it came to internship implementation, the university already offered a work placement program and therefore became the ideal partner for Boréalis, even providing the administrative structure to facilitate the selection process.
During their four-month internships, students have time to truly become part of the Boréalis team. Interns are paid and must abide by company regulations. Just like all new recruits, participants also get the chance to gauge the work environment.
As part of its support for the GCIUS, Boréalis works directly with its leaders and the university administrators who oversee the internships and international cooperation initiatives.
Patrick Grégoire is the liaison between Boréalis and Université de Sherbrooke, while another employee handles internship applications. Because most applications are submitted by university administrators, the task is straightforward. But as Boréalis gains prominence, an increasing number of applications are sent directly to the company.
Selected applicants work on specific projects and are mentored by employees. In certain cases, interns are even given the chance to work in the field.
In light of the company’s human resource needs and ties with the university, an internship program made perfect sense –especially since, early on, Boréalis only employed its two founders and a few collaborators.
Though the company’s self interest in attracting students is an admitted motivation behind the implementation of the practice, Jules Paquette also wants his company to contribute indirectly to communities in countries in which it does business.
Now that the internship program is fully deployed, enlisting employee support is crucial since so many hours are devoted to supervising the students. “That’s the easy part. The interns contribute a great deal and employees appreciate that… and there’s so much work to be done!”confirms Jean Paquette.
Investing in the community motivates employees and broadens a company’s profile, providing credibility to a sustainability approach whose tangible results are difficult to measure.
The implementation of the practice was to Boréalis’ advantage. As the only business in its sector in the region, the company can rely on specialized training centres. In fact, Boréalis was established in the Eastern Townships to be near students. Its head office is in Magog, a small municipality some 30 minutes from the university.
The company’s first employees were former interns. President Jules Paquette reveals that the core team was established after the program had ended: “The Cégep and university constitute human resource pools that are unique to the region.” Boréalis currently employs around 40 people – geomatics strategists, computer technicians, applications developers and, very plainly, people passionate about information technologies. For Mr. Paquette, “study trips impart an openness to the world, and that’s a prerequisite for working at Boréalis.”
Boréalis’ involvement in the community earned the company a Young Entrepreneur Award from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), which recognizes the entrepreneurship, leadership and achievements of young people between the ages of 19 and 35, the social commitment of the business owners, the originality of their business ideas, their successes and the company’s growth potential.
Perennia, a Montréal-based sustainable design and environmental communications firm, also relies on the services of university interns. Each year, some four internships of between one and three months are offered.
Interns are industrial design students from Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and abroad. They are each assigned a supervisor for the duration of their internships. The supervisor is chosen based on their interests and areas of expertise.
Like Boréalis, Perennia keeps close ties with the university sector. In fact, Cédric Sportes, designer and cofounder of Perennia, teaches at Université de Montréal and the École de design at UQAM.
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