Alyssa Spagnolo's big day at the Canadian Football League was action-packed: meetings with the organization's top brass in finance, business operations, football operations and marketing.
That's all in a day's work when you're witnessing what it's like to run the country's premier professional football league.
Ms. Spagnolo, a fourth-year student in the commerce program at Queen's University in Kingston, got to experience first-hand what it's like to be commissioner of the CFL. Last month, the 22-year-old Ottawa resident spent a day with the league's top executive, Jeffrey Orridge, as part of CEO x 1 Day – a program that gives third- and fourth-year university students a chance to shadow a CEO for a day.
"It was a great way to gain real-world insight into the key aspects of the business and see how things work at a high level," says Ms. Spagnolo, one of the students accepted into the program.
"I aspire to lead a company some day and this program provides an amazing opportunity to learn from an extremely accomplished and influential leader."
She certainly learned a lot from her day at the CFL, which is headquartered in downtown Toronto. To ensure Ms. Spagnolo got an authentic and unvarnished view of life at the top, Mr. Orridge kept to his usual schedule, which included several meetings with senior managers in key departments.
"I think the way the day went, it was perfect timing because Alyssa was exposed to senior management meetings, which surfaced a lot of issues – things that had been percolating for a while as well as things that came up within the last 24 hours," Mr. Orridge says. "These provided her with opportunities to gain insight into how decisions are made at the CFL."
This type of real-world experience is invaluable for young people making the transition from school to work, says Jasminn Berteotti, president of the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education, a Toronto-based national organization that promotes the integration of practical work experience with academic study.
Immersing students in an actual work environment – even if it's just for one day – allows them to apply the theories and principles they learned at school, Ms. Berteotti says. This makes them better prepared for the transition from academics to employment.
"There are other benefits as well. Real-world experience can provide guidance to students who don't have a clear idea of what they want to do after they graduate," Ms. Berteotti says. "And let's not forget the tremendous value in making those important contacts and connections, and building those relationships."
Employers also gain from the experience because young minds often bring fresh perspectives to the workplace, Ms. Berteotti says.
Mr. Orridge agrees. Engaging millennials as football fans is a key initiative at the CFL, he says, and Ms. Spagnolo offered some good ideas on how to advance this goal.
"She told me that people from her generation are looking for experiences rather than just purchasing products, and that's very different from other generations," he says. "People from her generation also consume content in a different way, from different platforms at different times – not necessarily appointment viewing."
For Ms. Spagnolo, the most enlightening part of the day was watching how Mr. Orridge interacts with people.
"From employees to cab drivers, he treats everyone with integrity and respect – the way he wants to be treated," she says. "I found a lot of value in that."
CEO x 1 Day was Mr. Orridge's first experience with job shadowing. Would he do it again?
"Absolutely," he says. "I think it's a really unique opportunity for a student and growing up I wish I had had this type of opportunity to be involved in a real-life, real-time experience and exposure. There's no substitute for experience."
The CEO X 1 Day program matches third- and fourth-year university students with some of Canada's top CEOs. Executive search firm Odgers Berndtson has been running it globally for 10 years, and The Globe and Mail is a program partner.