Course to position students to make a greater difference to industries they join
Drew Wolsey knows that not every student comes to the JR Shaw School of Business intending to start a business of their own. But, in recent years, the chair of the school’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation stream has been hearing from industry members that they’re looking for grads with fresh ideas and the confidence to share them.
That is, they’re looking for intrapreneurs.
Wolsey has responded with a new course to develop that mindset. Launched this September as a first for NAIT, “Intrapreneurship & Innovation” will be required curriculum for all Bachelor of Business Administration students and an elective for those in the diploma program.
It will better position them, Wolsey believes, to make a difference not just for the industries they join but for the future of the province.
Here, Wolsey, who created the course and will teach it with three fellow instructors, explains this next stage of evolution for the school.
Techlifetoday.ca: Let’s start with the fundamentals of intrapreneurship. What is it?
Drew Wolsey: The term has been around since the ’70s. But, especially outside of business circles, it would not be a term that many would have heard of. Ultimately, intrapreneurship is acting and thinking like an entrepreneur inside an existing business [to] make a business better.
Learn more about NAIT's Bachelor of Business Administration program
What characteristics are important to that?
Key ones would be problem-solving, creativity, being willing to take risks, working independently. Those would all be characteristics needed to be successful if you are an entrepreneur.
Industry is telling us that these are the characteristics they want from employees.
We’re finding that industry is telling us that these are the same characteristics they want from employees. So what are we doing as a school to train people [to be that way]?
What was involved in creating the course that would do that?
We started from scratch based on what we were hearing from industry. The basic concepts were already in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program, so it was fairly easy to put together the bones of the course.
But there are no textbooks [specifically] on intrapreneurship. There are some popular Pressbooks; I read a whole bunch of those. I read tons of articles and blog posts and things like that. But it was quite a bit of work to compile all of that into a course.
Is there anything unique about the structure of it?
One thing is the final assignment. There are no exams.
We want students to actually put this [knowledge] into practise. The main assignment for the class is the intrapreneurship application assignment. We basically ask students to create their own assignment. That can be anything. They could create a website, they could go find a business and figure out how to make that business more intrapreneurial – we leave it completely wide open [based on the expected course outcomes].
It's a little bit terrifying! But I think it's essential for us to be able to say, “OK, use your creativity. This course is about action.”
Does that structure say anything about the changing nature of education, and specifically at the JR Shaw School of Business?
With the many options that people have now, in theory they could not go to school at all, and just learn from YouTube or LinkedIn Learning. So I think we're being forced to be more creative in how we present things.
[Education] needs to be hands-on, and it needs to be relevant to what students are actually going to be doing in the real world.
Obviously, I'm biased but I think the JR Shaw School of Businesses is leading that in many ways. [Education] needs to be hands-on, and it needs to be relevant to what students are actually going to be doing in the real world. So the more that we can get them to do what they'll actually be doing [on the job], the better.
How would you like to see this course develop in the future?
We hope eventually we’re able to expand this idea outside the School of Business. The trades, for example. If you're a heavy duty mechanic, does your boss want you to think creatively and independently? Absolutely. So the hope is, we can extend this beyond business students to include every student at NAIT.
Alberta may be seeing record surpluses right now, but because of the pandemic we’re still in a state of recovery. How could a course like this contribute to that recovery?
Whether it's COVID or it's dropping natural resource prices, we're going to go through all of this again. It's a constant roller coaster, up and down.
So when [face those challenges], are we going to have people who can handle that, who are adaptable, who are creative, who can solve big problems? The hope is that if we can get more employees thinking like entrepreneurs, we as Albertans will continue to thrive – if we continue to innovate.