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Can virtual conferences help students find the right skilled trades for them? Skills Manitoba proved they can with its Virtual Young Women’s Conference.
Skills Canada Manitoba is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1998. It aims to promote skilled trades and technology careers to young people in the country. It does this by holding events throughout the school year to make students aware of their career options. These subprograms are held throughout the year, and include some competitions as well.
The biggest competition it hosts is the Skills Manitoba Competition, which sees over 500 students participating in 40 different skilled trade areas. The organization hosts these events with the help of its sponsors, who provide funding, materials, and machinery, etc. These sponsors also use the national-level events and competitions as recruitment bases for certain skill sets.
The organizers at Skills Manitoba used to hold in-person events throughout the year, and would have skilled workers come and offer classes and demonstrations to students as well. These events would also include speaker sessions, where experts would explain their relevant industry and skills. However, as with every organization, it faced a new reality in a pandemic-stricken world, and its events immediately halted.
However, the Skills Canada national office offered it the opportunity to hold a virtual event using vFairs. The national office had an existing relationship with the company, so was able to extend these services to its Manitoba chapter.
Skills Manitoba decided to amalgamate its usual set of 10-11 events for young women into the Skills Manitoba Virtual Young Women’s Conference. They couldn’t possibly hold multiple events in the current circumstances, so decided to hold one large one for young women in grades 6-12.
This meant that they needed to reorient their event plans a little. Previously, they would have young women and industry experts come in for hands-on sessions related to skilled trades and technology careers. The virtual platform meant that they would have to sacrifice the hands-on element, however.
Therefore, they changed their goals and strategy for the Virtual Young Women’s Conference, and came up with the following:
With physical events, Skills Manitoba’s main aim was to have students try skilled trades and technology in person, and see whether they want to pursue them. However, it reoriented this aim for the virtual platform, by instead focusing on the networking, recruitment, and communication opportunities.
The Skills Manitoba Virtual Young Women’s Conference was held on April 7, and was a one-day conference with a set schedule. The organization decided to keep things as simple as possible in order to make up for the budget limitations that come with being a non-profit. However, they leveraged the components and features they did opt for in an efficient way.
Skills Manitoba decided to make things interactive and fun by having the students go for a scavenger hunt in the conference. This enabled them to keep the young women engaged for the whole day, as they had to find numerous elements peppered throughout the event.
The event also had an exhibitors’ hall, where there were booths representing what the organization does. This included ones where students could ask industry experts about the industry of their interest, and the career prospects in it.
In addition, these booths proved to be a good source of knowledge and marketing for the exhibitors as well. The exhibitors got to interact with the students, and promote the future of their industry.
There were numerous webinars throughout the event, with speaker sessions, panel discussions, Q&A sessions, and even live skill demonstrations. These were broadcasted live online and students could chime in as well.
This event involved a lot of interaction in the chat feature. The hosts, exhibitors, and students interacted with each other on various topics, and discussed different skilled trades and technology careers.
This level of personal engagement helped keep everyone interested and led to them making better interpersonal connections.
The hosts also made use of the metrics that come with vFairs events, and noticed interesting trends. While their physical events only accommodate students from certain parts of the community, many people from rural Northern towns could not make it to those events. They gathered this information through surveys and registration metrics.
However, taking the event virtual enabled the organization to involve this previously untapped segment as well. Over 1,600 students registered for this event, with a healthy mix of urban and rural registrants.
Maria Pacella, the Executive Director of Skills Manitoba, was particularly impressed by the visual aspect of the platform. She appreciated the versatility of the features, and the fact that anyone who spent an hour at the event could learn a lot by just visiting online, and listening to a panel discussion or two.
She stated that, “It was a fun and inviting experience. We got some great feedback, as people were really impressed. I didn’t think anyone in our sector had done anything like this, and it looked quite impressive. So, we felt proud of our event.”
This experience meant that the organization saw the potential of regular virtual events. Maria felt that this platform enabled them to reach a lot more people than conventional events, prompting them to appreciate the value of virtual events.
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