A solid strategic plan

A solid strategic plan

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Contributors:

Jon Tattrie

When Patrick Sullivan graduated from university in the 1980s, he left Nova Scotia to work for Proctor and Gamble in Toronto. He didn’t have the specific training he needed for the job, nor years of work experience — which is exactly why the company hired him. It sent Sullivan and 34 other students to an internal school each morning for their first three months.

“We learned our trade of marketing,” he says. “They only hired entry-level people and they never hired at a later date.”

Sullivan returned to Nova Scotia years later as President and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. As the chamber launches its strategic plan for 2019 to 2023, he says Nova Scotia-based companies may want to think about training up new graduates, rather than letting them get away because they don’t have quite the right qualifications. For years, employers could be choosy because the province had more willing workers than it did jobs.

“That’s no longer the case. We’re hearing from our members about shortages in particular skills areas. I suspect we’re coming to a time when Nova Scotian businesses need to invest in training, rather than getting people with all of the skills they require,” he tells Business Voice.

The new strategic plan focuses on seven goals:

• Optimizing the size of government;

• Reducing the regulatory burden on businesses;

• Growing the province’s export sector;

• Promoting Halifax as a major Canadian city;

• Increasing immigration levels;

• Keeping young Nova Scotians working in the province; and

• Improving entrepreneurial skills.

Don Bureaux is the president of the Nova Scotia Community College and also leads the Chamber’s Access to a Skilled Workforce Task Force. When it comes to retaining young Nova Scotians, he sees two solutions in need of a bridge: the colleges and universities produce a wave of talent each year and many of Halifax’s innovative and entrepreneurial businesses need smart workers.

“We have businesses going without the human capital they need and we have graduates going without the job opportunities,” Bureaux says. “We need to provide more opportunities for young people to be connected to the workforce earlier on.”

The task force wants to help create more work-integrated learning for post-secondary students. Internships, co-ops and applied research opportunities can bridge that gap, helping Nova Scotia hold onto its own young, as well as convincing people who come here to study to stay. “There’s more stickiness at the end of their schooling.”

At NSCC, every program comes with a five-week work term. Traditionally, they happen in April or May, but that doesn’t always fit a work schedule. Some students now do one day a week for the whole school year, or a block of time in the fall. “We find the majority of our students get jobs where they do their work term,” Bureaux says.

Sullivan thinks we can also better prepare young people to create their own jobs by offering high school courses in entrepreneurship. Bureaux agrees, but adds that we should flip the traditional way of thinking about starting your own business. Usually, would-be entrepreneurs are encouraged to study the market, find a gap and create a business to fill it.

But in his two decades of working with successful small-business owners, Bureaux saw a long-term problem. If the business doesn’t match the entrepreneur’s character, they often burn out and so sink the enterprise. “It’s a fundamental question of a lack of alignment between the entrepreneurial venture and the entrepreneurial values.”

Instead, budding entrepreneurs should study their personal values and vision and draw a business idea from that well. “I think the right starting point for entrepreneurs is more of an inward-looking activity,” he says. “I think the right question to ask for long-term success is, ‘What type of entrepreneur do I want to be?’”

By clarifying their personal values
and personal vision, entrepreneurs find more long-term success in creating a
lasting business in which they stay interested. His wife Margot Bureaux, for example, is a tea sommelier. She started Maritime Breakfast, famous for its perfect blend of tea. And in her downtime, she often reads tea magazines for pleasure. “She’s been able to blend those two worlds in such an exquisite way that there’s no fear of burnout,” he says.

As Halifax grows, Sullivan thinks it may be time to add an MLA or two to HRM to ensure the urban population is well-represented in the Legislature. But as Ontario makes do with 124 MLAs for 13.5 million people and Nova Scotia hires 51 MLAs for 950,000 people, the new MLAs would be taken from other areas, rather than created as new seats.

Sullivan says the provincial government already continues to increase budget spending at a rate greater than population growth or inflation. “That, unfortunately, cannot continue,” he says. That path could lead to ever-increasing tax burdens on a stagnant or shrinking population. “We need to not only find a balanced budget, but ensure our spending matches inflation or population growth so we can continue to enjoy the things we want to spend our money on.”

Nova Scotia remains one of the most-taxed provinces in Canada, eroding much of the cost-of-living advantage Halifax enjoys over bigger Canadian cities. The Chamber wants the government to reduce the personal income tax rate to let Nova Scotia be competitive.

As world trade deals go through a period of change and Nova Scotia businesses figure out what the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement mean for them, it’s a good time to think about intra-provincial exports. The 2017 Canada Free Trade Agreement removed many internal trade barriers, but left 144 exemptions in place. The Chamber also sees room to improve intra-provincial regulations, so skilled workers in one province are automatically qualified to work in all other parts of the country.

Paul Bent, chair of the Fostering Private Sector Growth Task Force, says provincial and federal governments are working to reduce those barriers. Writing about the new strategic plan, he says, “more needs to be done.”

“One need not look far to see the challenges to trade with the recent activities of the U.S., our historical largest trading partner. The growth of our economy and success of our business more and more will come from transacting in a global economy,” he writes. “That means looking beyond our traditional domestic borders, as well as north/south trade to get our products and services to market.”

The Chamber is upbeat about Halifax’s future. Sullivan notes house prices remain much cheaper here than in Toronto or Vancouver, and the city is slowly becoming more bikeable and walkable. Through the Sell Halifax initiative to promote Halifax as a big business city, tourism efforts to attract visitors, the developing Oceans Supercluster and increasing immigration numbers, he sees movement in a healthy direction.

“Our new vision states that we will create value and prosperity for our members,” Sullivan wrote in his November message to Chamber members. “We will provide services you need and we will continue to advocate for the conditions in the economy that enhance their prosperity.”

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