Meet Lana Fitt, the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society’s Economic Development Manager. In partnership with the College’s Salmon Arm campus, SAEDS hired three OC students over the summer of 2020, aiding a new initiative called the Digital Transitions Program.
Okanagan College sat down with Fitt to hear her perspective as Manager and having students take part in Co-op education with SAEDS as well as the launch of the Digital Transitions Program in Salmon Arm..
Okanagan College (OC): Tell us more about what your work entails with SAEDS.
Lana Fitt (LF): I’m the Economic Development Manager for SAEDS. Our organization works to support the growth of existing businesses in Salmon Arm, attract new talent and investment to the community and undertake initiatives that result in a betterment of quality of life for our residents. We also operate the Salmon Arm Innovation Centre Powered by SASCU and Salmon Arm’s Municipal and Regional District Tax program.
OC: In what capacity did OC students work in Co-op positions this past summer with SAEDS?
LF: The Digital Transition Program was an initiative of a broader group of community service providers, SAEDS was only one partner. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we collaborated with Shuswap Economic Development, Shuswap Tourism, Community Futures Shuswap, Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Network and Chambers of Commerce across the Shuswap Region. We worked together to create an immediate economic response plan to support regional businesses with emergency challenges related to the pandemic. The Digital Transition Program was one of the response programs launched.
The goal of the Digital Transition Program was to help businesses across the Shuswap Region launch e-commerce sites in order to connect with their customers in new ways and expand their revenue channels. As was consistent around the globe, we saw many of our businesses forced to close their store front during the pandemic and as a result, some lost 100 per cent of their ability to earn revenue during this time. With the support of Okanagan College, our regional partners, and funding support from New Ventures BC and Canada Summer Jobs, we were able to hire three OC co-op students to help our businesses launch e-commerce sites, at no cost to the business.
OC: What are some more specific tasks that OC students worked on within the Digital Transitions Program?
LF: The three OC students worked with a mentorship group to help develop a framework for this program and to establish direct connections to Shopify leadership for additional support. The students settled in with ease and have naturally become a part of our team here. In a very short timeframe, they completed training, developed program processes and policies, supported the development of program marketing materials and intake forms, and we were able to launch the program. To date, the students have worked with about a dozen businesses, helping them to develop impressive, highly functional, e-commerce sites and providing them with support to ensure they are sustainable.
Originally this program was set to run for a 16-week term, from May to September. However, the program has been so successful and the co-op students have been so valuable, that with the financial support from Community Futures Shuswap we have been able to extend the students positions until the end of November.
OC: What benefit do you believe Okanagan College and Co-op students bring to the community and workplace of SAEDS?
LF: Our experience was extremely positive. I can’t say enough about the knowledge, confidence and capabilities of the OC co-op students we were lucky enough to work with on this program. They are exceptional people, each with different passions and areas of expertise, that when packaged together have made an incredible team.
We had the opportunity to learn a lot from the students, as did the businesses participating in the program. They brought fresh perspective and an eagerness to produce exceptional results for the clients they were working with. From the student’s standpoint, I think this program has provided a great opportunity to gain direct work experience in the field they are pursuing, as well as the opportunity to broaden their network and relationships with community organizations.
OC: With the addition of funding to Co-op and Work-Integrated-Learning at the College, how does that further benefit the community?
LF: We are so excited about the opportunity this additional focus and support for co-op students brings to our region. Workforce development is a priority for our organization and even more so during this time of economic uncertainty. Having a dedicated position focused on making the important connections between industry and talent will support the sustainability and growth of our businesses and our economy. It’s a great program that has produced real results for the Shuswap region!