Thokozani Sithole first came to Halifax for school in 2012, not thinking seven years later she would still be here.
“Most people are like, there’s no jobs in Halifax, you’ll have to go to Toronto or Montreal and, as an international student, I have to think about what happens after,” says Sithole, 26, a talent acquisition partner and claims advisor at TD Bank.
“I thought I had to move, but when I got into TD and I saw how many people had been through the process, I saw I could actually stay here.”
Originally from Zimbabwe, Sithole came to Halifax to study business at Saint Mary’s University.
“I knew I wanted to come to Canada; I was looking for something that wasn’t too big and not too small. Agents came down and sold Halifax to me,” she says, adding she eventually switched her academic focus to international development.
“At the time I wanted to work for the United Nations,” she says. “(With) international development, there were not a lot of people in that department, so there were quite a few opportunities.”
Still, at this time, she was thinking she had to leave Halifax to get a job. However, within a month of her 2016 graduation, she was hired by TD.
“One thing I realized being out of university is your idea of the world isn’t necessarily what it is,” she says.
She worked as an insurance advisor for about a year before becoming a claims advisor in 2017 and a talent acquisition partner in 2018.
While Sithole garnered a sense of community while at Saint Mary’s, it’s only become stronger since then.
“I don’t feel I have to be someone I am not,” she says. “Halifax embraces who I am and where I’m from.”
And work isn’t just work.
“Getting into TD, it felt like I found another home,” she says. “My colleagues are my friends and my managers became my mentors.”
To Sithole, this sense of community doesn’t just end here. It’s also in how the company treats prospective and current employees. When Sithole became interested in claims advising, TD helped her learn more about it, even before there were job openings.
“They said, ‘OK, work on a plan to get you to where you want to go.’ So, I was able to shadow people already working in the profession and figure out if I really wanted to do it,” she says. “And when the position came up, I was ready and sure if it’s what I wanted to do.”
Sithole went through another move scenario during this job transition. She thought she had to move to a larger city, but TD came through and “lo and behold” a position became available in Halifax.
Nathan Ward, another TD talent acquisition partner, says the banking company tries to help employees and potential employees where they can.
“I’ve lived through that (idea) you have to move out west for opportunities,” says Ward, who was born and raised in Halifax. “One of the things I love about my job, and working for TD, is I get to see the plentiful opportunities that are here in the market.”
This kind of support is what also drew Ali Massoudi to TD and, eventually, Halifax.
“The TD growth story, not only the organic growth but the acquisition growth, was very interesting to me during my MBA,” says Massoudi, TD Commercial Banking’s vice president for Atlantic Canada. “It kind of piqued my curiosity and there’s a ton of opportunity to engage with an organization who will have a growth trajectory for me and there are so many different job opportunities.”
In the last few years, Ward says, employment in general has grown in Atlantic Canada.
“People tend to associate Atlantic Canada with high unemployment rates, but it’s come down; it’s level now,” he says. “It’s more the employers chasing the candidates than the candidates chasing the employers.”
According to stats from Nova Scotia Finance and Treasury Board, in June 2019, employment (adjusted for the season) was higher by 15,400 than in June 2018, even though the amount of people working decreased by 500. In June, unemployment was at 6.6 per cent.
Regarding immigrants and newcomers, Ward says TD puts on workshops and information sessions with organizations like ISANS, Pier 21’s Welcome Home to Canada program and the Black Business Initiative.
After these sessions, hiring numbers vary. Sometimes it’s at 50 per cent and sometimes it’s higher or lower than that.
“Even at 20 per cent, that’s pretty good. You’ve created a lot of opportunities for people at that one event,” he says.
Like Sithole, Massoudi didn’t set out to work in banking or with TD. Born in Chicago and raised in Montreal, Massoudi earned a BA in geography and urban planning from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick in 1998. He planned on getting a masters degree in the latter, but got the banking bug while working as a sales representative for RBC.
“I was just sort of fascinated learning from other peoples’ experiences, as my family has been very entrepreneurial,” says Massoudi, 46. “Through my experiences and talking with other people I became very interested in helping other people find their solutions either from a business or personal perspective.”
He worked with RBC for about 18 months while earning his MBA. He then moved onto CIBC as a small business advisor, followed by senior manager with BDC before joining TD in 2011. Since then he’s worked in various jobs, including branch manager, manager commercial services, and district vice president for commercial banking in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. He became the vice president for Atlantic Canada in 2018, which is when he moved to Halifax.
“I think it’s amazing,” he says about his career goals and how they changed. “I think what you do is you find what you love doing in what you do. For me, I very much enjoy helping people. I’m a problem solver, I like finding solutions and connecting with people. The banking space is very much a relationship-based business; it’s all about helping people and finding solutions.”
When looking at schools and careers, Massoudi not only planned to be something else, he also planned to be somewhere else. He had always lived in larger cities, like Montreal, Paris and London, and he didn’t know much about this region.
“When I first came here, I thought I was moving to a large city on the East Coast,” he says. “It was a bit of a culture shock.”
But as soon as he arrived in New Brunswick for school, he found himself drawn to Halifax. He’d often visit family and friends who lived here during his undergrad years and liked what he saw.
“There were those aspects of the city that just reminded me of Montreal: the diversity, the multiculturalism, the lifestyle, the restaurants,” he says. “First, it was what drew me in and I’m a water person so being around lakes and oceans was appealing.”
It took him about 24 years after first coming east for school to move to Halifax for work, but he’s glad he did.
“I think there’s an interesting mosaic of different cultures living very harmoniously and when you look at Halifax it is a very inclusive culture, which aligns very well with TDs culture,” he says.
“It’s finding those little niche markets of people who have the right skillset who aren’t employed yet, and the other reason is we’re trying to strive for diversity,” he says. “We want our branches to reflect the community we’re in; we do see ourselves as pillars of the community, and we feel we should mirror that community.”
As for Sithole, she’s looking forward to the next stage of her journey. She says this could include buying a house and settling down somewhere with the municipality.
“It just feels like home,” she says.