Business student makes her mark with virtual international work placement
Business student Erin MacKay is gaining invaluable international work experience in her program — experience that’s helping lay the foundations of a future career as a sustainability consultant.
Erin is in her third year of the Business Administration-International Business program, and she’s among the first group of George Brown College students taking part in a virtual work-integrated learning experience with companies and organizations outside Canada. It’s a pilot program targeting students who, in pre-COVID times, might not have been able to participate in an international work placement due to financial barriers or other challenges.
“In this placement I’m able to incorporate my business knowledge and my passion for sustainability issues,” she said.
Erin works with Sweets in the City, a U.K.-based personalized candy gift business. She helps the company track industry trends and find new markets to expand. (Sweets in the City Founder Sarah Lynn won the U.K. version of The Apprentice in 2017.)
Preparing to enter the global workforce
In an increasingly global workforce being able to manage projects across time zones is an asset, as are strong digital communications skills and cultural competencies. In her U.K. placement, Erin is showcasing and developing these skills.
Erin said she times the delivery of her work to best meet her employer’s needs. For example, sending in her work in the evening so her colleagues in the U.K. receive it first thing in the morning, in their time zone.
“My manager gets the chance to review it, rather than waiting for our meeting at 10 a.m. my time and 3 p.m. her time — when her day is almost done,” Erin explained.
Erin said the international placement has also helped her improve her digital communication skills. She meets with her colleagues twice a week by video conference and they’re in regular communication via WhatsApp.
And most importantly, Erin has established a solid working relationship with colleagues in another country and has made herself an important part of the team. She’s also learning about business practices and trends in the global confectionery industry through her research.
Managing a virtual work placement with a company in a different time zone along with two courses and extracurricular activities requires excellent “time management and self-discipline,” Erin said. She is the Co-Chair, Community Outreach and Communications, of the college’s student-led Sustainability Squad.
Find out how to apply for an international virtual work-integrated learning opportunity.
Concepts from class used in the real world
As Sweets in the City aims to expand into new markets and develop new products, Erin is researching potential distributors as well as marketing avenues and platforms in different parts of the world. She’s applying concepts she’s learning in class this semester to her work placement, specifically from her Market Entry Strategies course.
“I couldn’t have taken the class at a more perfect time because this is exactly what I’m doing in this placement,” she said. (Fun fact: In her research, Erin found demand for mints and gum decreased in 2020 due to the pandemic and, presumably, people being less concerned about their breath.)
Creating change and planning for the future
Erin’s passion for promoting sustainable business practices has had an impact on her placement. The non-recyclable plastic gift jars the company uses have now been replaced with jars that have recyclable materials.
She is also working to help the company become a Certified B Corporation. Companies that earn the certification strive to increase sustainability and inclusivity.
“It means being a company that cares about its employees, its customers and the environment,” she said. “I was happy to open their eyes to that.”
Erin has mapped out a plan to further her education and eventually work toward a career helping businesses become sustainable.
“I want to be able to go to big corporations and help them realize how to make their business more environmentally friendly.”
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