Thoughts on our Canadian youth from a first year college professor
It was my distinct pleasure this past fall to be a professor to third year business students at Canada’s leading poly technical college; Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Applied Learning. For the past few years I have been involved in various programs including their Mentoring program through their Centre for Entrepreneurship as well as judging several Dragon’s Den style business start-up presentations. I have also presented several topics to various programs including Building Trust, Building Your Brand and Networking.
Last fall I was asked if I would be interested in teaching Sales at their Business School and I jumped at the chance to get a sense of what it was like to see our youth in action AND understand what my wife has experienced for 20 years as an educator. How hard can this teaching thing be, right? Boy was I in for a surprise!
Conestoga College is a BIG school and the Kitchener Doon Campus is its largest. Once I had found my way around, been provided with my keys and assigned my numbers, the fun really began. My down-to-earth boss Barb Fennessy (who is a Ph.D.; Executive Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and International Business and Chair of the School of Business and Hospitality) introduced me to the two women who would lead me through the maze of becoming a professor at the college.
Julie Brown-Wolstat (MBA and Professor for the Sales and Marketing Program) and Julie Gibbons (Administrative Assistant for the Centre for Entrepreneurship and the School of Business and Hospitality) soon became my best friends at the college. I’m sure they collectively must have answered over 50 questions from where do I park, to how can I help this student with his/her particular challenge? Their patience and wisdom kept me afloat those first weeks as I maneuvered my way around the learning curve, built a routine of preparation and balanced running my company MoreSALES and other family and professional commitments with the requirements and responsibilities of providing our youth with a solid and real-world understanding of Relationship Selling.
Our text book; The ABC’s of Relationship Selling, was authored by Charles Futrell, federated professor of Marketing at Texas A &M and Mark Valvasori, professor in the business management program at Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology in Hamilton, Ontario. I must state for the record that it is an excellent book and captures quite comprehensively the major components of selling in today’s world. It includes sections on Planning, Prospecting and Performance – those three P’s that can make or break a successful sales career. I was equally impressed by the on-line support the publisher, McGraw-Hill provides educators. I had access to slides, images and exercises that made my teaching and planning so much easier.
But enough about the school and tools; let’s talk about the students. Now in order to protect the innocent I will, of course, not mention real names but use completely fictional names. Guys and gals; for those of you reading this – you know who you are – rest assured your identity is safe with me!
My class was off the beaten track of the main complex which was nice as I could park and basically walk right in from the lot without negotiating my way through throngs of students. When I entered the class the 15 or so students were all gathered towards the left side of the class, engaged in conversation. I smiled and introduced myself, glad to see some familiar faces from the mentoring program the previous spring. The students, for the most part, were either outgoing and pleasant or just plain shy or quiet. The first order of business was to spread them out and get them to write their names on table name tags I had brought with me.
Being a bit of media fanatic I started by showing them a couple of YouTube videos I thought reflected the Good, Bad and Ugly side of sales; “The Monorail Sales Pitch to the good people of Springfield” courtesy of The Simpsons and a scene from the motion picture Boiler Room featuring Vin Diesel and Giovanni Ribisi. These were welcomed with laughs and interest and we got right into their meaning and how we were going to learn about sales this semester and what my expectations were.
More importantly, I asked them what their goals and expectations were. Some were lofty; some less so but surprisingly a career in sales was not among them. I made it my goal to show them the importance of sales and how valuable it would be to their careers and even day to day lives in the future.
Ups and Downs
As the semester went on I discovered how bright and eager to learn our youth really are. The program is structured in such a way as to encourage role playing, group presentations and individual interaction. Much of their marks were comprised of their adaptability and affectivity to present and react/adapt under pressure and objections. I found that these students were not only bright enough to think on their feet, but were also not shy when it came to challenging convention and asking questions. This group, though a little green experience-wise, are anything but naive.
Many times I challenged them to provide examples in their lives of lessons application and I was amazed at some of the life experience and related stories they referred to. Quite a few of these students have worked for years to afford to come to school, some were married or about to be and several were international– making their way here to learn and start a business or new career.
During the semester the students proved, to be not only polite and professional in their approach to the class, but to their education as a whole. They would email me through the school’s system when they would be missing classes and respectfully challenge me when they didn’t agree with a mark. To their credit they were able to think empathically when evidence of their mark was provided and resolve to work harder to improve… and improve they did.
Two cases stand out in particular. One young lady, let’s call her Grace, was very disappointed in her mid-term results especially as she had done so well during the school year. When the time came to conduct her final role play sales pitch with her partner, she was a stand-out. Clearly, Grace had prepared; she and her partner handled everything I threw at them to knock them off their game and they professionally but aggressively pursued the final sale and successfully closed the deal for a hypothetical hardware company. When it came to exam time, this diligent student did well on her exam and passed with flying colours.
The other stand-out, William, was a slightly more mature student who struggled with the exams but was so diligent in class that he was able to overcome the collapse of his presentation team due to their illness and basically presented the entire project by himself. With deep respect and professionalism William requested to have his circumstance considered and passed the program.
By the end of the semester I was proud to report that all of my class passed the course and that each one of my students had enjoyed their experience with me (so they said at one time or another) and I with them.
From the moment I walked into class in September, what I soon discovered was that our youth are well mannered, dedicated and committed to making their careers and lives a success despite the doom and gloom often painted by the media. They use the incredible advances in technology and media with savvy and appropriateness.
As the semester unfolded, I realized these students balance their passion to learn with realism about the challenges they face in the business world. My class proved to me that our youth are bright, eager to learn and have promising careers ahead of them.
Now as I look back on my experience I can say two things; I miss them and I know I will see them make a positive impact in our community and country. Our future is in good hands.