– Last fall when College of the North Atlantic (CNA) introduced CNA CAFÉ, a mentoring and networking platform powered by Ten Thousand Coffees, no one had any idea just how vital this service would become.
Today, several months into a global pandemic, offering students a virtual forum to access potential mentors and network across industry sectors has become vital to their employment prospects.
Anna Peddle, Manager of Alumni and Advancement at CNA, says these past few months have proven that building relationships online is now possible. And necessary.
“COVID-19 has really changed how we go about our work,” said Peddle. “It has changed the way we see and think, and it has changed our world view. We now know that relationships can be built online. The fact that Ten Thousand Coffees is around to help facilitate that change in the way we do things is important.”
Ten Thousand Coffees was founded by Canadian David Wilkin in 2014 as a platform to help organizations find innovative approaches to employee collaboration across generations. Employees choose their goals and interests and they are matched with other colleagues to facilitate mentoring, talent development and connectivity in the workplace.
Today, over 70 Canadian post-secondary institutions are also using the platform to connect their students and alumni with seasoned professionals.
Jeff Martin, CNA’s Director of Student Affairs, says the largest percentage of participants last year was seasoned alumni – potential mentors – and to a lesser extent, students or new graduates. Having a large pool of mentors to draw from is the idea, but Martin wanted to get the word out to more students and recent graduates to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity. Thanks to two enthusiastic CNA employees – Sandra Harnum, librarian at Gander campus, and Matthew Evans, library clerk at Corner Brook campus – participant numbers across several groups have grown and the total number of members has almost tripled.
“Sandra and Mathew have been doing a phenomenal job!” said Martin. “They’ve really taken hold of this project as administrators, and I think we’re going to see some good things.”
Contests have been one way to generate membership and interest. Currently, CNA has a “Latte Love for Ten Thousand Coffees”
contest will run from November 2-6.
The first contest ran in July and brought in 217 new members in nine days across the roles of: early career alumni, industry partners, mid-career alumni (up to 10 years working), new graduates, seasoned alumni (10+ years working), staff and faculty at CNA, and students.
“It’s encouraging to see more students sign on for networking opportunities, particularly now with COVID-19 and the challenge our young graduates are going to have finding their place in the world of work,” said Martin. “If they can establish some robust networks, that’s going to give them a foot in the door. Sort of like a co-op program, where if you have some working experience and connections while you’re studying it helps you to really start building your network. If you already have those connections established and potential employers have that relationship with you, that’s going to be very important.
Martin says an added benefit for students and graduates is making sure they’re in the loop with what’s happening in their industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the associated factors.
“The more informed you are, the better prepared you are,” he said.
Harnum also sees the benefits first-hand; she isn’t just one of the administrators of the CNA CAFÉ hub, she is also taking part as a young professional, availing of the connections through the platform. She says she was intrigued by the opportunity to access seasoned colleagues throughout the network of CNA’s 17 campuses.
“I think it was the idea of mentorship that really grabbed me and pulled me in. The idea that you can advance your career by asking questions of your colleagues and see if they have any career advice or just to get to know them,” shared Harnum.
“I really like that it sort of brings organizations closer together, both internally and externally. But also, as staff at a college, we can really get to know each other on a personal level. You can schedule a call and it takes out that awkwardness of wondering, ‘Who can I contact?’”
The Ten Thousand Coffees platform selects people for introduction based on the criteria each person fills out when they register. For example, when creating a profile, one can choose to participate in the role of student, staff, alumni, industry partner, etc., and a particular area of study or career. The program selects the best fits and provides guidance for newcomers. Each month participants will get notice of a viable connection made on their behalf by the platform. Then it’s up to those people to pursue the connection outside of the platform in the way of a phone call, video or email.
“And that’s the beauty with this platform,” said Harnum. “We’ve got some fantastic partners out there who are always looking for ways to help students build their careers, which is so valuable, especially now in today’s era of COVID-19. Initially with this tool, you’d meet someone in person for coffee. But now it's kind of moved more to an online space, but you can still get that connection and you don't have to be in the same city now.”
To sign up for Ten Thousand Coffees, click here
College of the North Atlantic