Halifax Partnership’s Connector Program providing newcomers with greater opportunities to find a permanent place in Nova Scotia
There are several reasons Adriana Angélica Angarita Martínez is a fan of the Halifax Partnership’s Connector Program.
Launched in 2009, the networking program connects recent graduates and immigrants—the connectees—with local industry professionals. Since its inception, the program has matched more than 4,400 connectees with almost 1,500 connectors, with an aim to “enhance your networking skills, build your professional network, improve your job search in Halifax, and connect you to hidden job opportunities,” according to its website.
Angarita Martínez arrived in Nova Scotia from Colombia in February 2021 to study in NSCC’s international business program. The start date for her schooling was September 2020, but travel restrictions delayed her from travelling until early the following year, so she learned remotely in the meantime.
Set to graduate in June, the connector program is helping Angarita Martínez settle in Halifax.
“It’s a really nice experience knowing all of the people,” she says. “Also, the knowledge they share with you, letting you understand the market and what is going to happen and maybe creating a strategy… it’s valuable information. When you come here and you don’t have family, friends, anything, they become like family.”
Angarita Martínez left Colombia because of the country’s economic instability, but primarily to provide a safer upbringing for her six-year-old son. One of her goals is to get Canadian citizenship.
For newcomers and recent graduates, the inability to find work in their fields has traditionally been a reason they’ve left Nova Scotia for bigger cities.
However, the connector program has helped break that trend. Robyn Webb, director of labour market programs with the Halifax Partnership, says about 1,800 connectees have found jobs within six months of enrolling in the connector program.
“And these jobs are meaningful in their field,” she says. “They’re full-time jobs.”
Webb says the program has made it easier for employers to tap into labour markets they were having trouble reaching.
“I think it was an opportunity for small businesses that really hadn’t had an opportunity to be introduced to newcomers as much as they would have liked to, or maybe they hadn’t hired a newcomer,” she says. “It built their confidence and it really impacted their hiring process… and the same with recent grads. Ten years ago, everyone needed three to five years experience. And with a newcomer, they wanted Canadian experience. That has totally shifted. Now, businesses, they couldn’t care less where you graduated from, as long as you can do the job.”
Webb believes the program’s simplicity is also why it works. In fact, more than 45 communities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe have connector programs using the model developed here. Much like a franchise, it’s a turnkey operation. The Halifax Partnership even has a program manager who delivers the training for other communities to implement the program.
The program uses a database that tracks details about connectors and connectees. Through identifying what connectees are looking for, officials determine what connectors have the relevant backgrounds to connect them with.
Nathan Laird is the manager of the connector program. He says for immigrants and international graduates, the program helps answer a simple question: Where do they begin?
Laird says the program helps newcomers build their network—and it’s not just about getting it started.
“Understanding the labour market and having a professional network really does have an impact on not only finding the first job, but your career prospects after that,” he says.
Laird says a testament to the connector program’s popularity is what happened to it when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. While the program went virtual, almost all connectors kept participating.
Laird says there have been instances where the first connection a connectee makes results in a job offer, even if that’s not the program’s goal.
“We do try and promote the program as a networking initiative and not a job search because we don’t want to set that expectation that your connector is going to give you a job,” he says. “But have people used it for talent acquisition? Absolutely.”
For Angarita Martínez, the connector program has helped her better understand the local labour market.
“It was really nice for me because I have some ideas I want to do, but through the process I learned I can’t do all of the jobs I want,” she says.
For example, she’d like to work in international business development. She says she wondered why she wasn’t hearing back from prospective employers when she applied for jobs. Through people she met in the connector program, she learned that because of the need to travel and because she doesn’t have permanent residency, she wouldn’t get selected.
Angarita Martínez has started working with a start-up firm called Rising Tide BioAcoustics, which offers “acoustic systems for fish deterrence, guidance and attraction, marine mammal deterrence, and control or eradication of invasive species,” according to an Innovacorp website posting.
She didn’t land the job through the connector program, but rather, another form of connection: through one of her professors.
Angarita Martínez says one way the connector program could be improved would be to improve its promotion to students. She says while presentations about it are given at colleges and universities, it can be tough to reach students.
“You have so many emails at college that you start to ignore them because it’s too much information,” she says.
Asked what advice Angarita Martínez has for recent graduates or international students looking to begin their careers in Nova Scotia, she says it’s important to make connections to have local references.
As she begins her working career here, she’s also doing something Laird says isn’t uncommon: Angarita Martínez is becoming a connector. In his five years with the program, he says he’s seen at least 100 instances where a connectee has become a connector.
Campaign encourages hiring of refugees
A national campaign is underway to highlight the social and economic contributions of refugees, and encourages employers to hire them.
Launched May 12, more than 50 organizations across Canada, including the Halifax Partnership and Peace by Chocolate, are taking part in the #WelcomingEconomy for Refugees campaign.
According to a press release announcing the initiative, 51 per cent of refugees have broad experience and in-demand skill sets, and can help fill positions in architecture, software engineering, and health care in Canada.
“Refugees not only bring diverse perspectives and a wealth of skills and experience. They have grit, they are adaptable, and they are self-driven,” says Darrell Pinto, co-chair of the Refugee Jobs Agenda Roundtable. “Through this campaign we hope to connect business leaders to the resources and tools they need to ensure they create a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse workplace, a place where refugees want to come to work and stay to work.”
The campaign is part two of an initiative that was established to support Syrian refugees and connect them to positions in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area.
The Roundtable plans to focus on Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
For more information on the Welcoming Economy for Refugees campaign, visit: www.welcomingeconomy.ca/