Token welcomes interns from the ELITE Program for Black Youth
In March 2021, Token welcomed two interns from the Experiential Learning in Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Program for Black Youth, or the ELITE Program.
The ELITE Program was designed as a practical solution to enable Black youth to develop hands-on skills. These skills will be immediately transferable to disruptive technologies including robotics, automation, advanced manufacturing and tissue engineering. Interns are matched with hosts for full- or part-time internships of up to 8 or 16 weeks. All interns participate in leadership and entrepreneur training, including counselling and coaching for resiliency and managing the demands of professional careers.
Here we share Token’s experience as an ELITE Program host to give you a deeper look into the program.
Why participate as a host in the ELITE Program?
Token initially got connected with the program through the University of Alberta. Our CEO, Keenan Pascal, is one of the mentors in UAlberta’s Venture Mentorship program and did his Bachelor of Commerce degree at the university.
The ELITE Program stood out in terms of internship programs for several reasons. People in the business community are increasingly having conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion. After the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement last June, we started to think more critically about where we could walk the talk and put time and effort back into our community.
In the past, we’ve done projects with Startup Edmonton and the Black Founders group. Working with ELITE was a natural progression of the conversations we’d been having. We began to ask questions like “how can we get more Black people into positions of influence?”
The answer was largely that it starts right out of school. Young professionals are commonly asked about their work experience and how their network positions them for success. We felt we could contribute by creating opportunities for Black youth to get hands-on experience in a manufacturing facility and gain mentorship from a respected Black founder in the Edmonton community.
Our experience with the ELITE Program interns
Our ELITE Program interns – Kadiatou Diallo and Adwoa Boadu — impressed us right from the get-go. They’re well-rounded, open, and it’s evident that they appreciate the time and effort our business is putting into them. They’ve consistently shown that they’re eager to pitch in where needed and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
At times, the manufacturing space can be unglamorous. It’s been a breath of fresh air for Token to have interns who are curious about every part of the process. The questions they ask, or “the why” are the most powerful for us. Oftentimes, they’ll ask “why do we do it this way?” This spurs us to look at our business more critically. In these moments, we might realize that a particular method is out of date or perhaps there’s a better way of doing things.
Why internship programs like ELITE matter
When our CEO Keenan thinks back to being a Black student in the community himself, he remembers not having a clear path. As a second generation immigrant, he didn’t have a strong network from his parents that he could tap into. Instead, he had to go knock on doors and find his own opportunities.
The ELITE Program addresses a big gap left by systematic racism. It addresses questions like, “how do we get these students a seat at the table? How do we open those doors?” Many Black youth may not have come from a background of business owners who’ve tried and failed businesses. Instead, they might come from a more tight-knit community with mom-and-pop style shops. The ELITE Program helps Black students bridge that gap and expand beyond their community.
ELITE is already well on its way towards becoming a reputable funnel for student interns. Our hope is that in the next five years, businesses will look at the ELITE Program and think “I hope I can get an ELITE intern this year.” This would show the business community that it isn’t just about hiring for diversity. These are the cream of the crop students you’re bringing into your business and there are numerous opportunities for them to add value.
In the future, we hope to see many of these internships evolve into full-time positions. This is the best way for ELITE alumni to give back to the program and ensure their businesses create space for ELITE interns down the line.
Want to learn more about the ELITE Program? Visit their website to learn how you can become an ELITE Program host.