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 co-oordinator 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, month-in-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 much-needed 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.”
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.