Involve Youth: The importance of engagement to retain our top talent

The following is a guest post by Sasha Sears**

Why is youth engagement important? There are various reasons, but the main one I would like to focus on is a sense of belonging. Engaged youth who have a sense of belonging in their community are more likely to stay and contribute to the workforce, but also to the community as a whole as well.

In Nova Scotia, 60.6% of people aged 20-34 felt somewhat strong or a very strong sense of belonging. This is low compared to the overall number of 71.6% for everyone surveyed. In Halifax the number is even lower for this age group at 57.1% feeling somewhat or very strong sense of belonging to the community. These numbers come from the Halifax Index, a helpful tool that provides a wide angled view of what economic and community progress looks like.

Why do these numbers about belonging matter for our region? Demographics. The median age in Nova Scotia is slightly above the national average at 43.7. The youth unemployment rate was 14.8% in June, double the national average of 7.2%. By 2016, it is forecasted that the demand for labour will far succeed the supply in Nova Scotia, effectively creating a labour shortage and an even greater “War for Talent” than we are seeing today. That’s only four years away. So? This means you as a business owner will not be able to grow your business because you won’t have the man power to do so. It means longer wait times – from the hospital to the checkout line at Sobeys. Relaxing immigration policy is a great step to battling this demographic challenge, but its only one route. We need to engage our young people in our communities, to create that sense of belonging and keep them invested in staying here.

The Connector Program first implemented by the Greater Halifax Partnership three years ago, recognizes that finding a job has always been about who you know.  It is a simple yet highly effective program that helps immigrants, young talent and international students grow their professional networks by putting them directly in touch with business people who volunteer as Connectors.  The program has been replicated in 10 communities across Canada including Sydney and Truro and hundreds of participants have found employment because of their new connections and networks. It would be great to see this program spread across the Atlantic provinces.

The province of Nova Scotia is also providing debt assistance to our recent graduates if they stay here. The problem is these programs are not well advertised! I only came across them in my research. There is the Debt Cap Program as well as the Employment Bonus Award and Repayment Bonus Award. You can receive up to 50% debt reduction besides the Debt Cap if you meet the requirements.

So things are being done, but we can always do more! We need to educate employers on the troubling statistics mentioned above so they can build succession and recruitment plans to ensure their businesses continue to thrive. We need to lobby all levels of government to create solid action plans regarding the declining work force and hold them accountable to those plans. We need to break the “3-5 years experience needed” employment barrier you see on almost every job vacancy. Today’s youth are versatile, innovative and pick things up quickly.  Let’s show them we believe in them by giving them a chance to prove themselves. And to you; the youth reading this – Show your community you care and want to stay here! Get involved in an organization like FUSION Halifax or Saint John (or start one!), network, vote, volunteer, rally – do whatever it is that gives your time meaning and builds ties in your community. I have never regretted it, and I don’t think you will either.

** Sasha Sears works for the Greater Halifax Partnership, where she is the Program Coordinator for the Young & Emerging Talent Connector Program. She is doing incredible work in Halifax with young people who are looking for work, and she is also an active volunteer with ISIS and TEDxHalifax. She is originally from Truro, Nova Scotia.

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