Con­nec­tor pro­gram build­ing busi­ness con­nec­tions

The Casket - - Local - SAM MACDON­ALD sam­mac­don­ald@the­cas­ket.ca

Four months af­ter its launch, the East­ern Strait Re­gional En­ter­prise Net­work (ESREN) Con­nec­tor Pro­gram has been cre­at­ing the very thing its name im­plies – con­nec­tions. The pro­gram has also been set­ting the foun­da­tions for a strong busi­ness com­mu­nity in the Antigo­nish area and be­yond.

Con­nec­tor Pro­gram coo­or­di­na­tor Matt Ber­ri­gan spoke to the Cas­ket about how ex­cited he is with the pro­gram’s progress so far.

To date, the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram has gained 22 con­nectees (po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees), and 27 con­nec­tors (in­dus­try con­tacts and em­ploy­ers). Out of the 22 con­nectees, 18 con­nectees have been con­nected with busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers in the east­ern Strait re­gion, and there are five con­nec­tions that have led to em­ploy­ment.

Ber­ri­gan ad­mit­ted it was "a bit of a slow sum­mer," since there are fewer peo­ple in the east­ern Strait area dur­ing the sum­mer months, "but where we are to date, I am very sat­is­fied with the number of clients that are part of the pro­grams, and the con­nec­tions be­ing made."

Ber­ri­gan ex­pressed grat­i­tude to the conectees and con­nec­tors for the feed­back they have pro­vided him. That feed­back has en­tailed the stuff of suc­cess sto­ries, with con­nectees stat­ing they are more driven to pur­sue a ca­reer in the field they want, lo­cally.

Some of the feed­back that he has re­ceived from peo­ple look­ing for jobs were a sign for Ber­ri­gan that the East­ern Strait re­gion needs some­thing like the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram, since, "of­ten­times, the feed­back I got when I sat down with some of my clients was that it gets ex­tremely dis­cour­ag­ing, ap­ply­ing for jobs, mon­thin-month-out, and not hear­ing any­thing."

That dis­cour­age­ment, Ber­ri­gan hopes he can min­i­mize, with the part­ner­ships the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is meant to cul­ti­vate.

"This pro­gram en­cour­ages peo­ple to con­tinue look­ing for em­ploy­ment, but this pro­gram also al­lows peo­ple to build a net­work of their own, which ul­ti­mately, we hope, leads to em­ploy­ment down the line." Ber­ri­gan said.

The core con­cept of the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is to at­tract and re­tain qual­i­fied tal­ent in the East­ern Strait re­gion – a chal­lenge in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

"Since Aug. 1, we’ve started part­ner­ships with St. F.X., the Port Hawkes­bury NSCC – along with the part­ner­ships we al­ready have, like the one with Nova Sco­tia Works, and the Im­mi­grant Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion of Nova Sco­tia (ISANS)."

Ber­ri­gan said the or­ga­ni­za­tions are in the process of col­lab­o­rat­ing and open­ing a much­needed con­ver­sa­tion, com­ing up with ways to pro­vide re­sources to clients of the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram.

"For ex­am­ple, last week we hosted a busi­ness sup­port fo­rum with ISANS, Nova Sco­tia Works and the cham­bers (of com­merce), di­rect­ing em­ploy­ers to learn about the im­mi­gra­tion side of hir­ing and con­sid­er­a­tions when hir­ing im­mi­grants," Ber­ri­gan said.

"We need the com­mu­nity and part­ners to re­ally get be­hind it, to see the suc­cess of the pro­gram. If we didn’t have great part­ner­ships with in­sti­tu­tions where a lot of the clients come from, the pro­gram wouldn’t be nearly as suc­cess­ful as it is to­day," Ber­ri­gan said.

From within the re­gion, the pro­gram aims to bring in grad­u­ates, post-grad­u­ates and "boomerangers" – peo­ple who move away for work for a few years, and re­turn to the re­gion – by pro­vid­ing them with the op­por­tu­nity to build pro­fes­sional net­works in the East­ern Strait area.

"Fif­teen years from now, we’re go­ing to look a lot dif­fer­ent, with our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion," Ber­ri­gan said. "If we don’t start at­tract­ing or re­tain­ing qual­i­fied tal­ent right now, a lot of busi­nesses will not be sus­tain­able, strictly be­cause of the em­ployee-side."

Ber­ri­gan stressed the im­por­tance of tal­ent stay­ing in the East­ern Strait re­gion, to help the economies grow – and even just main­tain what busi­ness pres­ence there al­ready is.

One area where the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is an­tic­i­pated to make a big im­pact is in ar­eas like Guys­bor­ough County, the Dis­trict of

St. Mary’s and Mul­grave.

"We’re try­ing to build an en­trepreneur en­vi­ron­ment, where we en­cour­age busi­ness own­ers to pur­sue their dreams; es­pe­cially with the projects go­ing on in those ar­eas," Ber­ri­gan said.

"In about five to ten years, Guys­bor­ough and the Dis­trict of St. Mary’s are go­ing to be com­pletely dif­fer­ent," Ber­ri­gan said, ref­er­enc­ing large projects with sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial eco­nomic im­pact, such as Ana­conda Min­ing’s pro­posed Gold­boro-based gold mine project.

Ber­ri­gan hopes that in light of the po­ten­tial in those ar­eas, the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram can help con­trib­ute to any po­ten­tial eco­nomic growth.

Ber­ri­gan said he has "a number of clients with some sort of en­gi­neer­ing back­ground," and hopes to start mak­ing con­nec­tions for them.

The ESREN Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is mod­eled af­ter the na­tional ver­sion of the pro­gram that ex­ists in 36 com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. The idea for the ESREN Con­nec­tor Pro­gram in Nova Sco­tia was more specif­i­cally in­spired by a two 2009 pro­gram started by the Hal­i­fax Part­ner­ship – an im­mi­gra­tion pi­lot project. A com­mon­al­ity be­tween the orig­i­nal Hal­i­fax Part­ner­ship pro­gram, and the ESREN Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is a fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment through bring­ing tal­ent into an area – a re­sponse to Ivany Re­port. The Ivany Re­port urges Nova Sco­tia to take mea­sures to bring em­ploy­ees and tal­ent into the prov­ince – mea­sures like in­ter­provin­cial mi­gra­tion and im­mi­gra­tion – or suf­fer se­vere eco­nomic de­cline.

"We had a lot of Syr­ian fam­i­lies com­ing to Hal­i­fax. They had the skills to work in high-qual­i­fied jobs, but be­cause of their net­works, they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily work­ing those jobs. So, through the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram, they were able to build a pro­fes­sional net­work, and were able to pur­sue op­por­tu­ni­ties."

Fol­low­ing on that, Ber­ri­gan aims to bring a very sim­i­lar ap­proach to the East­ern Strait re­gion, where the ESREN Con­nec­tor Pro­gram is build­ing net­works.

"I’m proud I went to Aca­dia Univer­sity, where Ray Ivany was a great men­tor of mine," Ber­ri­gan said. "[The Ivany Re­port] is kind of his legacy he left be­hind. Be­ing able to pur­sue a ca­reer in that av­enue is ex­cit­ing."

Up­com­ing Events

The next step in the progress of the Con­nec­tor Pro­gram will be one that is done in con­junc­tion with St. F.X. Con­nect at X, a net­work and con­nect event for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees and po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers takes place Nov.

22. The event be­gins at 6:30 p.m. at St. F.X.’S Bloom­field Cen­tre. To pur­chase tick­ets or find out more, visit www.in­no­vatenorth­east.ca/ con­nect-x.

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