Tackling Atlantic Canada's Outmigration problem

Women sitting on stairs

It’s a comment I’ve heard all too often over the past few years; “I’ve graduated with my degree and I can’t find work in Nova Scotia so I have to leave.” I don’t believe this is a new problem as Atlantic Canada lacks the larger head offices of central and western Canada, limiting the opportunity for certain types of roles. However, many new grads just entering the workforce seem to be developing this mentality prematurely. As a result, they are less likely to spend their time putting in the effort to find work here when they graduate, fueling the pattern of out-migration of bright, young workers that we have witnessed for years. 

I have had the privilege to support the recruitment efforts of some fantastic Atlantic Canadian organizations over the years, but I have found that when new grads leave our economy to find work elsewhere it becomes very difficult to get them back regardless of how great an opportunity is.  With an aging population and shrinking workforce, Nova Scotian organizations are on the hunt for intermediate to senior staff to meet their human resource needs, and as our current workforce continues to shrink, the competition will be fierce and the local candidate pool smaller still. Yet there is a disconnect between planning for the needs of the future and hiring for the opportunities of today. Many employers I deal with are looking for a minimum of five years of experience when they go to market to hire a candidate. However, this begs the question: where are these candidates getting their initial experience and training?

Many of you reading this article have a role to play in solving this problem, whether it’s as an employer, a mentor, or as a new graduate yourself – both sides need to make adjustments for an improvement to take place. 

Employers bare some of the responsibility to ensure their firm is doing its part to contribute to the growth of the provincial candidate pool. Organizations are often looking for someone else to do the training and then reap the benefits, but that is not how we will engage new grads and continue to build a sustainable workforce in our province. Firms that suggest they cannot afford to invest in training are failing to take a longer-term view of the benefits of hiring new graduates. At a glance some of these benefits include:

  • The ability to mould a new graduate to your organization’s way of doing things and limit the bad habits picked up elsewhere
  • An influx of new ideas and innovative approaches
  • A higher speed to value as new graduates often learn quickly and are willing to take on more challenges (or less desirable tasks), making them an asset to any firm
  • A stronger succession plan. Employee turnover rates are higher today than ever before making succession planning important to every organization. By hiring new graduates into your team, you are building your internal talent pool and will find your organization in a better position when you need to replace a more experienced employee.

The more organizations in Nova Scotia recognize the long-term benefits of hiring new graduates, the stronger the candidate pool will be down the road when the same organizations need to hire more experienced staff. However, the responsibility for stemming the tide of outmigration doesn’t rest with employers alone – new grads needs to reconsider their outlook on career growth in the region.

The perception of many new graduates, that there is limited work in Nova Scotia, may be due – at least in part – to their approach to seeking employment. If you are a new graduate who wants to stay in Nova Scotia, you need to take a more proactive approach to your job search to successfully land employment. This means going beyond applying to jobs online and incorporating a significant amount of networking into your search.  Grads can tap into the “hidden job market” by optimizing their presence on social networking sites like LinkedIn, reaching out to organizations they have an interest in and setting up informational conversations, and leveraging existing relationships with those already employed in Nova Scotia to ask for referrals. 

I often encourage new grads to challenge their notion of what an ideal job looks like. Many local employers don’t enjoy the same brand recognition as organizations in larger city centres but their entrepreneurial spirit and smaller scale can provide more hands-on exposure to a wide range of challenges, making a new grad a more valued employee in the future. For many new grads, the first job will look differently than they might have imagined, but will often lead down a very rewarding career path. 

By expanding their horizons beyond city centres like Halifax, new grads will also have a wider variety of opportunities. There are a number of organizations in the rural Maritimes that provide a great training ground for new graduates and struggle to find talent because of their locations. A new grad is often more mobile than more experienced candidates and so they should leverage this asset as much as possible while looking to build their first few years of professional experience. 

Both Employers and new graduates in Nova Scotia have an essential part to play in changing the employment landscape so that the next generation of employees have the opportunity to establish strong careers without leaving the province. The best result for businesses, new graduates, and the growth of our economy will come from both parties taking the initiative to address this challenge.

Katherine Risley
Katherine Risley, BBA, FEC (Hon.)

Katherine Risley is a Partner with Meridia Recruitment focused on connecting organizations with top talent for engineering, manufacturing and construction roles. Community minded and an active volunteer, Katherine is the President of Canadian Progress Club Halifax Citadel and a Board Member for Women in Engineering – Nova Scotia.