BY MARTHA WILSON
What do you do if you move to a new place where you don’t have a job, family or friends? You try to plug into an existing network.
Creating that network for newcomers has been the goal of the Connector Program of the Greater Halifax Partnership economic development organization, says Fred Morley, executive vice-president and chief economist with the organization.
The International Economic Development Council this month recognized the program with two gold awards of excellence. The program has been emulated in 10 other Canadian cities, Morley notes, ranging in size from Montreal to Truro, and is being implemented in Calgary and by the province of New Brunswick.
One of the keys to the program’s success is its simplicity.
Morley explains: “We have recruited about 400 business volunteers . . . and we simply ask them to sit with an immigrant, a young professional or a recent grad and have a low-key conversation about opportunities in Halifax."
Significantly, this conversation is not a job interview.
“It’s just about reaching out. Each volunteer connector is asked to provide three contacts for the person to follow up with. Each of the three new connectors repeats the process, and in this way the person quickly builds their business and personal network, acquires and refines interview skills, and often ends up in a quality job."
Program participant Doris Du says the program helped her define what would come next for her.
“It provided me with a big picture of my future career path." She says she got to know more people and also gained confidence, “in both work and personal
life." Lurace Lee, another participant, says finding employment is challenging without local connections, even if there’s no significant language barrier.
“It helped me with confidence, and networking in particular, and getting established here in Nova Scotia. Usually, people feel more secure if they are employed and have stable income."
The program helps answer real questions employers might have, she says.
“I can see employers, especially small (to) mid-size, may feel unsure if new immigrants know enough about Canada to be able to work well. The Connector Program is a good example of connecting us with potential employers.”
And new employees are needed to make the economy grow. As Morley says, citing figures from the Canadian Occupation Projection Survey, the number of young Nova Scotians is dropping; the province’s 14-and-under population has declined by about 27,000 over the past decade.
Yet the coming five years are expected to open up around 75,000 jobs, either in new positions or as replacements for retiring workers.
According to the Greater Halifax Partnership’s Krista Hall, more than 130 people have found jobs through the program since its launch in 2009.
“This year, there are 170 immigrants, international students and young and emerging professionals participating in the program. So far this year, 21 participants have found jobs.”
Like Morley, she emphasizes that our lives encompass much more than our work.
“Finding employment is a measure of success, but it’s not the only one,” she says.
“The knowledge participants gain about the local job market also equips them with the information they need to upgrade or retrain for the career they’d like to pursue in Halifax. Gaining professional and community contacts is also a benefit for someone trying to settle in a new community.
“The program really is about connecting people to opportunities in Halifax, whether they be education, employment or community related.”
Thriving in Tough Times is a series developed by the business development centre at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.