Making Connections – Halifax Regional Municipality and Greater Halifax Partnership

Business needs talent. Talent needs opportunity. A networking program completes the equation. This story was originally published by The Cities of Migration.

Most highly skilled newcomers face a common challenge when looking for work – a lack of local connections and networks. How can a city help its newcomers quickly leap over this hurdle? By keeping it simple. The Connector Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia starts from a simple premise: connect established community, business and government leaders with new talent and help them build professional networks.

For cities, the potential is obvious. Newcomers get jobs, cities get skilled residents and thriving labour markets. Recognizing that the availability of jobs is the primary factor in a newcomer’s decision to stay or leave, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has made workforce recruitment and retention a primary goal of past (2005-10) and current (2011-16) economic plans. To put good policy to work, HRM engaged the Greater Halifax Partnership (the Partnership), the city’s lead economic development organization, to deliver the Connector Program.

The program’s innovation lies in its simplicity. Its approach:

  • Taps into a willingness among knowledgeable business and community leaders to share their professional networks with newcomers;
  • Uses face-to-face interactions – 30 minute meetings – and networking events such as speed interviewing to facilitate connections between employers and newcomers;
  • Provides newcomers with opportunities to learn about the local job market, enhance their networking skills, build a professional network, and improve their job search

A Multiplier Effect

The Connector Program was designed to meet recruitment and retention goals by building and expanding networks between newcomers to Halifax and established members of the community.

Partnership President and CEO Paul Kent explains: “Connectors meet one-on-one with participants, at their office or for coffee, to share their knowledge about their organization or industry sector and current labour market demands. And then they give the participant referrals to three other contacts in their network.” Because Connectors are employers as well as established community members and business leaders, when the professional network of the newcomer grows, “the potential job pool for the Connector also expands” (HRM Council report).

This multiplier effect addresses local labour needs, by connecting newcomers with opportunities to contribute and settle in their new community and by enriching the talent pool available to employers. The Program has ambitious objectives: to raise awareness and change perceptions on the benefits of hiring immigrants; help newcomers establish a professional network and find employment in their field; connect local employers to skilled, employment-ready newcomers; and establish Halifax as a welcoming city and make it the destination of choice for talent.

While the challenge is complex, the program provides a simple solution. Dick Miller, a Connector from The Shaw Group, explains: “Businesses connect with immigrants to try to develop business leads for them, employment opportunities, talk to them about the benefits and to also help them develop a network. It creates an opportunity for an immigrant to engage with the business community.”

Don Sinclair of Halifax insurance company Fraser & Hoyt recently met with newcomers interested in the insurance industry and came away both impressed and committed to help: “I met a group of “ very bright, focused and keen young men and women who see a positive future for Nova Scotia. I’ll be chatting with my contacts in the local insurance industry this week.”

The low tech, high touch approach is working. Prasad Ranay, a program participant, says: “For me, being a person from outside of Halifax it makes a lot of sense for the initial touch and contact with the community. It’s expanded my network as well as expanded my skills and reach in the community.”

Success

According to the Partnership’s Paul Kent, the Connector Program illustrates the power of relationships. Over 500 local Connectors representing over 300 organizations – including all three levels of government – have already participated, working with 428 international students and newcomers. As a result, 177 new immigrants have found jobs. Given that the model is easily adapted for use with various talent pools, it’s no surprise that the program is being replicated in 14 other Canadian cities.

The Connector Program is not just growing externally, but within Halifax as well. GHP has expanded the program to young and emerging talent, adding a campaign to welcome international students studying in Halifax. A recent Speed Interviewing & Networking event using a ‘speed dating’ model brought together nineteen HR and IT professionals from Halifax’s leading digital industry companies with 40 international students and immigrants.

Even though it’s a relatively young program, past participants have already become Connectors, helping other newcomers establish themselves in Halifax. Program participants like Evgenia Tumik are thrilled at the opportunity the Connector Program offers:

“Through meetings I had while participating in the Connector Program, I was able to develop a strong network of professionals in my field. The referral process led me to apply to the position where I am currently employed. With the help of Connector program, I managed to find a position in my field right after graduation. I am so happy to be living in Halifax and hope to give back to other newcomers in the future.”

The Halifax Connector Program is funded under the Canada-Nova Scotia Labour Market Agreement. The Connector Speed Interviewing Event Series is funded by the RBC Foundation. Its work has been recognized by both the Conference Board of Canada and the International Economic Development Council.

Since the publication of this article the Connector Program also received Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s IQN Workplace Integration Award.

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