Retaining smart, young professionals

Retaining smart, young professionals

< Back to Articles | Topics: Positive business environment


Heather Laura Clarke

Graduate to Opportunity program provides incentives for employers and new grads

Jeehan Javed was born in Pakistan and raised in Dubai, but she knows all about the perception that it’s difficult for recent university graduates to start their careers in Atlantic Canada.

When she graduated from Mount Allison University’s commerce program in 2016, many of her classmates moved to Ontario and Alberta for traditional banking and consulting jobs. She chose to move to Halifax instead because she says living here offers something her friends simply aren’t getting.

“When I talk to people living out there, it sounds like we have a much better work/life balance here in Atlantic Canada. The region itself kind of promotes that, which was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to stay,” says Javed. “I can push myself professionally, but my career doesn’t take over my entire life.”

Just a few months after she graduated, Javed was hired full-time at BlueLight Analytics Inc., a dental technology firm based in Halifax. She started as their first official Sales Associate, but her role evolved quickly as Javed put her critical thinking skills to work.

“I came in and assessed where we were and then developed processes and systems for inbound and outbound sales,” says Javed. “Now, I’m still involved with sales and business development, but I focus more on operations, marketing and special projects — helping out wherever there’s a problem to be solved.”

Leeza Hack, BlueLight’s Director of Operations, says it worked out perfectly to hire Javed when they did.

“She enabled us to have the right systems in place before our sales started ramping up,” says Hack. “Everything was already organized, which facilitated an easier onboarding of the rest of our sales department.”

Even though Javed’s help was instrumental in building BlueLight, Hack admits they may not have been able to hire her — at least, not when they did — if it hadn’t been for a provincial government program called Graduate to Opportunity.

It covers a portion of a new graduates’ salary for the first two years. Since the program launched in February of 2015, more than 500 recent graduates have used it to secure full-time work in their chosen fields.

With a startup, Hack says you’re “hyper-aware” of every single financial decision, so hiring anyone is a big deal.

“Programs like this ease the strain of adding a new person to your company because you know you’ll be reimbursed for a portion of their salary,” says Hack. “It’s allowed us to grow our team while still being conscious of our budget.”

Statistics show that while new employees need time to learn the ropes before they can be productive, they more than make up for that with enthusiasm and fresh perspectives.

“The value and diversity of experience these recent graduates bring to an organization is invaluable,” says Hack, who has since brought on two more recent grads through the Graduate to Opportunity program.

“They’re always willing to take on a new challenge and be flexible — and those traits aren’t as easy to find in someone with more experience in an industry.”

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, Labi Kousoulis, agrees that young employees can have a tremendously positive impact on a company.

“They energize us. They bring a different perspective,” says Kousoulis. “In any workplace you want diversity, you want a range of ages, you want people with different outlooks on life.”

Kousoulis says hiring new graduates had been an important part of the Liberals’ platform commitment back in 2013, but he later realized they weren’t practicing what they preached. Every ad for jobs within the Public Service Commission was still requiring “a minimum of two years’ experience.”

“If there’s no opportunity here, our youth won’t stay here — they’re going to go where the jobs are. But when our new graduates go out into the job market, many times they’re competing against people with a lot of experience,” says Kousoulis. “If you’re hiring someone and your candidates are equally matched, but one has experience and one doesn’t, chances are you’re going to hire the person with experience.”

Kousoulis says the Liberal government knew they needed to lead by example, so they scrapped the “minimum two years’ experience” standard and created MakeItHere ( to showcase the programs that help grads enter the workplace. Since then, he says they’ve hired more than 1,800 youth into public service.

Kousoulis says there can certainly be costs associated with hiring someone fresh out of university. Since the recent graduate will need to be trained and mentored — and it will take time for their productivity to ramp up — the Graduate to Opportunity program offers a financial incentive to level the playing field.

Graduate to Opportunity is open to companies with 100 or fewer employees, startup companies incorporated within two years of the application date, social enterprises, not-for-profit organizations and registered charities with recognized standing. The employer must create a new, permanent, full-time position based in Nova Scotia, that pays at least $30,000.

Approved employers are reimbursed 25 per cent of the first year’s salary and 12.5 per cent of the second year’s salary — a total of 37.5 per cent over two years. If the new graduate is a member of a designated diversity group, their employer will be reimbursed 35 per cent of the first year’s salary instead of 25 per cent. This includes aboriginal Canadians, visible minorities, people with disabilities, women in under-represented occupations and international student graduates.

“Employers will get a bright, young individual who’s eager and motivated — and graduates get their foot in the door so they can stay in the province,” says Kousoulis. “It’s a win-win.”

After a lifetime of living in large cities in Asia, Javed had liked the idea of living and working in a smaller city like Halifax.

“I absolutely love Halifax. I grew up by the water, so being in a city on the ocean is absolutely wonderful,” says Javed. “I love how close to nature we are, and how close-knit the community is here in Halifax.”

Ross Whyte isn’t a native Nova Scotian, but this is where he and his family have made their home. Originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, Whyte moved to Nova Scotia during the summer of 2015 for his father’s career.

“The culture of Nova Scotia is very much like home in Scotland,” says Whyte. “I knew I wanted to build a career here and this is where my family is.”

Whyte went to NSCC to study architectural drafting and part of his coursework included completing a co-op term at Campbell Comeau Engineering in Halifax.

It was working out well and his boss, Michel Comeau, learned that the Graduate to Opportunity program would make it even easier to bring Whyte on full-time after he was finished school.

“In our business, the technology we use is always changing and recent grads are trained in that newer technology,” says Comeau. “They’re able to come in and know what to do right away — and that’s an asset for us.”

When Whyte graduated last June, Comeau hired him as a CAD/BIM technician at Campbell Comeau Engineering. Today he does computer-aided drafting and building information modelling, something he’s been training for since he was child sketching every building in sight.

“If a company was on the fence about hiring someone or not, this might make the difference for them,” says Comeau. “It’s a way to hire young talent more affordably.”

Thanks to programs like Graduate to Opportunity and increased co-op placements, Kousoulis says Nova Scotia is now retaining more youth than it’s losing, the first time that’s happened since the 1980s.

Since Graduate to Opportunity launched in February of 2015, more than 500 recent graduates have used it to secure full-time work in their chosen fields.

Kousoulis says he likes to remind university students to mention the Graduate to Opportunity program during job interviews, since their potential employer may not have heard of it.

“If you’re the only candidate that tells them about it — ‘Hey, if you hire me, you can get reimbursed 37.5 per cent of my salary over two years’ — you’re probably going to be the one they choose.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Positive business environment

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