FROM MICROCREDENTIALING courses to certificate programs, more students are pursuing short-term training to gain the knowledge they need, just when they need it. Most often, these opportunities target working adults, but at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, we have adapted the model for students enrolled in our traditional programs as well.
In 2016, we created Bootcamps, an initiative that relies on peer-to-peer teaching to train students who want to develop certain skills sets as they complete their programs and co-op internships. Bootcamps train students in analytical skills, from using Excel and Salesforce to learning coding languages such as R and Python. Other topics include design thinking, artificial intelligence, comprehensive data scraping, agile software development, and data visualization platforms such as Power BI and Tableau.
Our Bootcamp instructors are almost entirely paid undergraduate students, who teach not only students their own age, but also those in their parents’ generation. Each day, seven days a week, student instructors deliver two or three Bootcamps. Each session typically lasts three hours—although one of our preparatory programs can last up to five days. Students can take our Bootcamps for free, unless we must partner with an external vendor to teach a niche subject; in these cases, we ask students to pay a subsidized rate.
The work students complete in each Bootcamp session is ungraded. The students who enroll in these training sessions not only appreciate that they can learn a skill without the pressure of earning a grade, but also enjoy being taught by people of their generation. With each Bootcamp students complete, they earn a badge that they note on their résumés and display on their LinkedIn pages.
The Bootcamp format allows our programs to be nimble as well. Once employers tell us of skills they need, we can have a Bootcamp on that topic ready in under one month. Within two months, we can train 60 students in that skill. So far, our Bootcamps program has had a measurable impact: More employers hired our students in September 2019 than in all of 2016.
HOW WE STARTED
Our Bootcamps began in the Ted Rogers School’s Business Career Hub (BCH), after a conversation between Allen Goss, then chair of the finance department, and Nelufur Bhasin, then a career consultant with the BCH. At the time, Goss, who is now associate dean of students, noted that industry partners were reporting that the new graduates or co-op students they were hiring were savvy in either business or technology—but not both.
“It was very clear that there was a huge need,” says Bhasin, who is now manager of our career preparedness program. “It was screaming at all of us, ‘We need to figure this out!’”
Soon after, Bhasin met with a student looking for career advice. That student proved to be a whiz at Excel, so Bhasin recruited him to work with Goss to design an Excel workshop for students—and paid the student to teach it in the spring of 2016.
Bhasin and her staff were shocked by the demand for the training. The BCH ran it five times that semester; the following year, they ran it 85 times. Each workshop was fully enrolled. “We were seeing 50 students register and 65 students turn out,” says Graham Sogawa, BCH’s executive director. “The biggest limitation for us was lab space. We couldn’t offer enough of these workshops.”
After the success of the first workshop, Bhasin and the BCH team began to identify other in-demand skills that could be developed via the same short, intensive, peer-to-peer training model. In May 2018, the BCH officially launched Bootcamps as a unit of the Business Career Hub.
The BCH now offers Bootcamps in 26 topics, ranging from capital markets to financial modeling to Python. Some programs, like Excel, are covered over multiple Bootcamps, each focused on different levels of proficiency. In all, the BCH employs 35 peer facilitators, who have engaged more than 6,000 students since the program’s inception. Recently, Bhasin and the BCH team were recognized at a Ryerson University award ceremony for their innovation in implementing a game-changing platform for students.
This training model can be transformative for both students and student facilitators. In fact, nearly 100 percent of our Bootcamp facilitators have employment offers in relevant fields before they graduate.
Allie Zheng is just one example. When she was a senior studying law and business, Zheng was introduced to Bhasin. At the time, Zheng was heavily involved in student groups on campus devoted to public speaking. She even worked through Toastmasters to design her own communications program, which she taught informally to student associations. After meeting Zheng, Bhasin realized that many students feared making presentations in front of audiences, and she knew then that this topic should be the basis of the BCH’s second offering.
Zheng and Alexandra Lincoln, a business technology management student, facilitated the next Bootcamp, which was called Communicating with Confidence. Since 2018, this particular Bootcamp has grown from attracting 30 students to more than 80 for each session. Today, even though Zheng has graduated, she continues to come back to campus to facilitate the course. Her current employer—the mobile payment company Square—asked her to deliver the same Bootcamp to workers over a lunch-and-learn session.
STUDENT FACILITATORS HAVE TRAINED MORE THAN 200 PUBLIC SERVICE STAFF IN EXCEL AND 157 PC FINANCIAL EMPLOYEES IN PYTHON AND R.
With the confidence she garnered in teaching this topic, Zheng launched her own public speaking coaching company, Standinnovation, in November 2019. She says that her experience at Ryerson “helped shape this entrepreneurial initiative. It has really changed me for the better.”
BOOTCAMPS AS OUTREACH
Once word began to get out about this training model, companies started to approach the Ted Rogers School to ask us to deliver Bootcamps for their workforces. So far, Bootcamps student facilitators have trained more than 200 Ontario public service staff in Microsoft Office Excel and 157 PC Financial employees in Python and R. Employers report that their employees enjoy being taught by students half their age, says Sogawa, because they find it refreshing to see members of the next generation thrive.
While the BCH doesn’t view the Bootcamps model as being a revenue generator, it is now nearly self-funded—some companies have even offered to sponsor Bootcamps on particular topics. In fact, Sogawa believes that one of the biggest benefits of Bootcamps is the link it creates between the school and its industry partners.
“There are so many emerging technologies and tools and approaches to solving business problems that it’s hard to keep up,” says Sogawa. The Bootcamps model ensures that employers keep us up-to-date on the skills they most value in new hires. “Industry will tell you, ‘Yes, those skills are in demand,’” he says. “Then, we run with the ideas.”
DEMAND AND SUPPLY
Any school that wants to implement a similar training method for its students should view the process as a team effort, says Sogawa. It’s important to bring together students, faculty, alumni, and industry partners who can highlight where the biggest skills gaps exist in the curriculum and “who can identify where you should start,” he emphasizes. “For us it was Excel, but it may be different for others.”
This past spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic required Ryerson to close its campus, the Bootcamps program proved its value once again. The BCH was able to pivot the program instantly, shifting these sessions to online learning. Within the first few weeks, 1,000 students participated in web-based Bootcamp sessions. For us, it highlighted just how a nimbler training model can transform business education.
Daphne Taras is dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.