By: PhebeAnn Wolframe-Smith
Students often learn best by doing. Dr. Kathy Sanderson’s fourth year Human Resources Planning Class at Lakehead University offers just such an opportunity. Through a partnership with Resolute Forest Products, students in the class get to work on real-world challenges.
“The partnership with Resolute allows students to learn more about Northwestern Ontario and the specific challenges of recruitment of target populations, such as women, people from the local area, or newcomers to Canada,” said Sanderson, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration.
“The students learn not only how to do the research, but to present what they have learned in a professional manner,” she said.
In 2017, Sanderson partnered with Resolute to allow her class to help address human resource challenges identified by the company. The class has tackled issues like recruitment, retention, training, and worker diversity.
In groups of four or five, students work on a specific aspect of the project. For example, one group may look at an HR challenge in the Thunder Bay context, while another considers the same issue in Atikokan. Students may ask follow-up questions of Resolute’s HR team, who are available throughout the project.
As a whole, the class works together to conduct an environmental scan – gathering information about the organization’s internal and external environments – and then designs a survey around the research questions to be distributed to front line workers.
When the survey is complete, all students work together to organize the data, and then each team analyzes and interprets the portion of the data that applies to their specific research question. At the end of the class, each group presents a report of their findings along with recommendations to the human resources team at Resolute.
Following the first year of the partnership, staff at Resolute were impressed with the recommendations the students presented at the end of the project – in fact, they were so impressed that they hired a Lakehead Business graduate. That student was Jillian Labossiere, a Human Resources Advisor for Resolute Forest Products, Ontario Woodlands. Labossiere is now involved with Sanderson’s class as a Resolute employee rather than as a student.
Sanderson’s partnership with Resolute Forest Products is now in its fourth year, and the class is popular among business students because of the opportunity it presents.
Jamie Manitowabi, a Lakehead alumna from Wiikwemkoong, Manitoulin Island, took part in the class last year, and graduated with her Honours Bachelor of Commerce in the spring of 2019. “It was a great learning experience where we got a chance to act as consultants,” she said. The group Manitowabi was part of worked with the Atikokan sawmill to develop a strategy to promote the community of Atikokan as a place to live.
“We learned what people in Atikokan liked about living there – the sense of community, abundance of outdoor activities – and what they didn’t like: fewer events and places to shop than in larger centres,” Manitowabi said.
“Understanding real-world human resource problems, having research skills, and being able to show that I can complete a project on a tight deadline will all be helpful in entering the human resources job market,” she added.
One of the recommendations that came out of Manitowabi’s class project last year was to create a recruitment video for the Atikokan Sawmill to challenge stereotypes that the industry is male-dominated, to promote a diverse workforce, and to highlight the sense of community at the Atikokan mill.
“Our video is one example of a great idea that was implemented. The class brings fresh new perspectives and current theories to the company, and students have the opportunity to learn about industry issues taking place in their communities,” Labossiere said.
Sanderson’s Human Resources Planning class is once again working with Resolute in the 2019/2020 academic year. You can see some of the Resolute recruitment videos developed as a result of their consultation with previous classes at their YouTube channel, including the project featuring the Atikokan sawmill, which is available at youtu.be/gMwSx9s8z7g