Originally featured in Business in Vancouver
Alpha Technologies Ltd. is in a space race – the warehouse kind, not the galactic. With a goal of expanding sales by 2020, Alpha needs to ready its space for more inventory. Right now Alpha, which designs, manufactures, installs and services powering solutions for telecom, cable TV, traffic and other industries, is at 98% warehouse occupancy, but only 60% utilization.
Who’s going to solve Alpha’s space challenge? Vice-president of operations Alex Chassels and his team are focused on near- and mid-term opportunities. To work with Alpha’s warehouse and logistics teams and plan long-term, Chassels called in International Business Management students from the British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Business. Through the school’s innovative Business Consulting Projects (BCP), “the students are collecting, validating and analyzing data that will give us a range of possibilities and a chance to improve our value chain, a direct win for our customers,” he explains.
“The students are researching forecast accuracy, procurement lead times, assembly times on the factory floor and movements within the warehouse. Do we need more space, staff, assets – or do we need to manage these areas differently?”
Chassels calls it “reverse bi-directional mentorship.” The company educates students about Alpha’s supply chain, manufacturing and distribution. In return, the students deliver a different perspective: all research data collected, a marketing/business plan and a presentation of their findings.
This two-way learning flow distinguishes BCP from traditional, lower-key internships. “BCPs give students the added experience of helping move a company forward,” says BCIT marketing instructor and BCP co-ordinator Tom Jopling.
Jopling describes BCP as the capstone course in the two-year marketing management diploma. “At BCIT, there’s naturally a certain amount of hand-holding from instructors. The students don’t get that at a business. They’re given a task and expected to do it. This builds confidence, so that when they graduate in June, they know what the real world is like and they’re ready for it.”
Phillip Lee, a student consulting with Alpha, attests to the advantage of graduating with experience versus classroom theory alone. In his native Korea, Lee thought he wanted to be a journalist. Four years of journalism theory later, he tried working in the field – and hated it.
Lee then became fascinated by the supply chain: who’s sending what to where and why. His career goal now is to become a key person in supply-chain management. Through BCP he’s able to get actual experience in the field.
Lee says, “At Alpha, we talk to buyers about what they want, they need; what kind of data they want to see in a purchasing tool for betterment of their work. We’re getting insights into what the job looks like.”
This time, upon graduation, unpleasant surprises won’t await Lee in the work world. He knows this is the career he wants.
Companies also benefit from BCP – and far beyond the commitment fee of $750 (for a for-profit) or $500 (for a non-profit). Says Jopling, “We ask clients to rate how much the work is worth to them. Many say $5,000, but we’ve had clients come back with values of up to $50,000.”
Paul Reichard, director of the remote site and environmental division for SEI Industries, says he uses BCP as a secret hiring weapon. “I’ve spent years trying to hire people through interviews and headhunters. And I keep making hires that cost me money. They come with problems. They don’t fit.”
At SEI, a manufacturer of industrial-strength fabric and pumping products, Reichard and his staff get to know each member of the BCP student teams. “We’re trying to evaluate these students for a fit within our organization in sales and marketing roles, or to be able to recommend them for somewhere else. We get them to do cold calling. We get them to team up with a salesperson or an engineer and visit customers. We get them to meet technical people, buyers and decision-makers.”
Reichard has been using BCP since 2012 – and he plans to continue. “You bring someone new in who looks at what we’re doing. They start to ask questions. It helps me and other staff. You get tunnel vision if you’re in a place for a long time. You don’t necessarily lift up your head to say, ‘We could do this differently.’ The students give that to us.”