Recent grad’s career journey comes full circle

Recent grad’s career journey comes full circle

< Back to Articles | Topics: Guest Post

Shakisha Downey, Administrative Coordinator at HFX Learning Centre (HLC), knows first-hand the challenges that many marginalized youth face on the road to academic success – she’s experienced them herself.

Watch Shakisha's story here.

As a teen with some family support but mainly under the care of The Department of Community Services in Halifax – Dartmouth, Shakisha focused on centering her energy into school and education. This became her anchor and starting point for personal and professional development.

Now, Shakisha, a recent Dalhousie graduate with a Sociology degree, is using that insight and working full time at HLC to develop partnerships with communities across HRM such as North Preston, to offer a strong foundation for individual growth and literacy skills development that supports youth in reaching their full learning potential.

Sarah Arnold, Executive Director of HLC, says Shakisha has been making an impact since the start.

“Her ability to project manage, and to upgrade technology has taken us to a whole new level – and this was just in the first year. Now she is actively developing outreach programs in HRM,” says Sarah. “As someone who is a shining example of a successful, young African Nova Scotian who used education as a foundational building block, she brings intelligence and insight into her role connecting and engaging community in a strategy to educate youth.”

Hiring well-educated graduates like Shakisha is made easier for employers with the help of provincial funding program, Graduate to Opportunity (GTO).

GTO provides a salary incentive to small businesses, start-ups, social enterprises, and non-profits who commit to hiring a recent post-secondary graduate. Employers receive 25% of a grad’s first year salary (35% if the grad identifies in a designated diversity group) and 12.5% of the grad’s second year salary.

Shakisha is one of three recent grads that HLC has hired with the support of GTO. This hiring has been essential to the growth, reach and longevity of HLC, and invaluable to their outreach efforts.

Recently, Shakisha met with a group home director for a facility that she lived in at a younger age, to talk about implementing literacy assessments to determine where the girls in residence need academic support.

“We identify their strengths and the learning areas that need improvement,” says Shakisha. “I am thinking back to when I was living there, and I could have really benefited from that. It is amazing that now I am in a position to help it come together for others.”

HFX Learning looks forward to tapping into the GTO program again as they continue to grow in size and diversity.

“Companies with diverse teams are better equipped to reach a broader audience and often deliver business more efficiently because they understand their audience on a more personal level,” says Shakisha. “Having an African Nova Scotian who is familiar with the experiences of some of the people we want to reach is essential to understanding the needs of clients. I think other employers could see the same kind-of benefits that mine has. Most importantly, the community is thinking this person speaks my language. We are the same kind of human being.”

For employers interested in learning more about the available funding to hire talented grads, check out the GTO program at

< Back to Articles | Topics: Guest Post

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