Chris Thomson, Head Coach , Student WorksChris Thomson, Head Coach
Student Works is a coaching firm that has designed a management program to develop the next generation of Canadian leaders. The program is designed to help hardworking students obtain first-hand exposure to the world of business, giving them a competitive advantage when they graduate.

In an Interview with Manage HR, Chris Thomson, Head Coach, and Helen Thomson, CEO of Student Works, break down the details, approach, and results of the company’s management program that is shaping the Canadian leaders of tomorrow.

Challenges in the management space

Chris- A long-standing challenge for young people is the gap between theoretical knowledge and the practical skills required to apply in the workplace. Most academic institutions believe education is the priority over equipping students with the skillsets required for their careers. Universities are focused on making students interact and perform case studies, group projects, and presentations, but these abstractions are far from real-world experiences. The real world is far grittier and complicated than a case study makes it out to be and implementing a solution is far harder than thinking of one.

An overview of the Student Works management program

Chris- Our management program is aimed at helping highly motivated students who are focused on becoming future leaders. They are trained in every aspect necessary for a business leader—hiring, project management, marketing, sales and leading a team—while applying that learning to their business and everyday experiences.

Students get first-hand experience building a business and understanding the results of their actions, like delegation. They also learn to overcome the fear of rejection while they learn to market and sell within their business, a lesson that becomes invaluable at developing their overall sense of confidence in themselves. One cannot simply learn by watching videos and listening to the best coaches. Experience is key and that is precisely what students gain through our program.

The target audience for the Student Works management program

Chris- This program is not for everyone. We work only with hardworking and motivated students, who can keep up with the rigorous workload a business requires. These students are elite in terms of communication skills, performance track record, and most importantly overcoming adversity. The typical students who enroll with us pursue full-time education and handle their school workload while spending at least 20 to 25 hours a week setting up their business during their winter school term.

The onboarding approach of the program

Helen- The approach to recruiting and interviewing students for the program is selective, very involved, and entails four stages. It starts with a one-on-one conversation to determine eligibility, followed by a two-hour discussion in small groups where we explain everything the students would have to do during the program, like supporting themselves in terms of finances, marketing, transport, the time they need to spend, and balancing school and business. We also perform personality profiling, which we do not completely depend on but is an additional part of the interview process.

A majority of these students study intense programs like engineering, business or pure science, and we make sure they understand the level of commitment required for our program before diving in.

As a result, the students who are selected to work with us, also known as operators, are the cream of the crop, they are committed to growth and willing to put in the work to achieve incredible results. In our program, these operators are thrown off their usual winning streak with the many challenges and new experiences they encounter. This is significant as overcoming challenges allows for personal and professional growth.

The training process starts over the fall period, in November, as an online introductory session. This is followed by a three-day training course in Ottawa and Toronto, and students from the east coast are flown in. This part of the program is intense as they are expected to dress and work like professionals. The students are then divided into teams and assigned a business coach. Our staff also provides them with the required material, admin support and takes care of their payroll and accounting.

After the training seminars end in January, the students have a one-on-one business planning meeting with their respective business coaches and are monitored over the program’s course, where different training seminars are hosted every six weeks. For example, sales training in February, project management training and safety in March, followed by advanced training in production.
  • The experience students gain through our program is a complimentary factor to their education and especially comes in handy when they are job hunting as it puts them ahead of their competition

Student Works also focuses on personal development, accountability, and integrity. We encourage our operators to take up personal development courses like the one offered by Landmark Worldwide, which further elevates their training.

Chris- The recruiting process is intense, and we have a retention rate of 50 percent of the operators we recruit who come back for multiple seasons. Referred to as veterans, they train and mentor incoming rookies as they recognize that one of the best ways to learn is to teach what was learned.

That’s the most important success factor in our business as we have this incredibly handpicked group of people who went through our program and were operators at a point in time, became successful over the years, and came back as future business coaches.

Helen- It is the legitimacy and the culture that draws veterans and rookies to return for 2nd or 3rd seasons. Our current number of veterans who returned is 100, with about 80 referrals for this coming season.

The differentiating features of our management program

Helen- The experience students gain through our program is complimentary to their education and especially comes in handy during job hunting as it puts them ahead of the competition. The program has an all-round approach and covers everything a student would need, including training, admin, and coaching. Our process follows a structure, and we also have our own CRM, which is an additional feature of our program. The CRM helps operators run their entire business with aspects like scheduling, finances, manage systems, processing, and training.

Chris- Another feature we offer is exchanging valuable information and experience among the veterans and their teams through curated meetings. Review meetings and weekly meetings with business coaches add to their knowledge pool while increasing teamwork and integrity.

Bringing in industry experts to share knowledge

Chris- We are approaching 300 interviews on the ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ podcast. The podcast is dedicated to young entrepreneurs and students and features young millionaires and business coaches who talk about some of the values and beliefs of Student Works. Our first podcast featured Nick Eaves, Chief Venues and Operations Officer at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Another interview featured Rick Eastwood, recognized for running one of Canada’s 50 best privately managed firms for 14 years in a row.

Advice for leaders of tomorrow

Chris- What resonates for our alumni are the four referability habits they build during the program, punctuality, keeping one’s word, finishing what you started, and saying please and thank you. These values are essential in building a career in the management space and becoming a leader.