Six finalists in Game Changers PitchIt! Competition. Photo: Jennifer Henderson
Six finalists in Game Changers PitchIt! Competition. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“I’m looking for my shot.”

“I’m not afraid to work hard but I’d rather work smart.”

“I won’t clock in and clock out, I’ll put in extra hours.”

All three lines are from separate, 30-second videos prepared by graduating Nova Scotia post-secondary students for the PitchIt! Competition.

The video competition was the first major event of  “Game Changers” — a three-year, private sector initiative launched last November by sponsors that include banks and IT companies, working with Halifax Partnership to raise awareness of the continuing exodus of twenty-somethings from a greying Province. Ron Hanlon, CEO of Halifax Partnership, estimates the budget (much of which will be spent on marketing to try to change attitudes) will be in the range of six figures.

Sarah Deveau won the top $1,000 award, but what the soon-to-be Dalhousie MBA grad (with a B.Sc. from St. Francis Xavier University and work experience in Montreal’s pharmaceutical industry) REALLY wants is a solid job offer in the life sciences field.

“I want to stay in Halifax,” said Deveau, who is also a marathon runner and just bought a house with her boyfriend. “Most of the people in my MBA class are heading to Toronto where there are a lot of opportunities, but I am hoping things will pick up here.”

Deveau has no job offers yet, but participated in a “speed interviewing” session yesterday organized by Halifax Partnership in conjunction with the PitchIt! Awards ceremony. Ten companies, including the Royal Bank, Scotiabank, Desjardins Insurance, Arrow, and NTT Data Canada, held eight-minute interviews with about 120 graduate or graduating students.

The majority of those lining up were international students, part of what Mayor Mike Savage called in his opening remarks the “changing face of Halifax, in a City that needs to be more open to young people and those who aren’t white.”

Elizabeth Shaw would agree. Of 30 entries to the PitchIt! Competition, she was the only person of colour to take home prize money.  She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Economics and has international work experience in health care, which she hopes will help land her a job in quality control. She moved to Halifax a few months ago and says she made a video pitch “to put herself out there” after discovering, “It’s all about who you know here.”

Nelson Xie started his networking while still an international student taking a Finance Degree at Saint Mary’s University.  He signed up for the well-established Connectors program through Halifax Partnership. It matches international students with local mentors in their field of interest. Over the years, Connectors has helped 564 people find full-time jobs, and Xie is hopeful a second interview with a big bank yesterday will result in a job offer. Asked to rate the degree of difficulty on a scale from one to 10 for international students seeking work in Halifax, Xie ranked it at “between six and seven.”

Halifax Partnership plans to follow up with companies who took part in the speed interviewing process (several of which are sponsors of the Game Changers initiative) to see how many new grads were offered jobs.

Grant Savoie, senior recruiter for the Cloud division of NTT Data Canada (formerly known as Keane Inc.) said the company “will be following up and making offers to at least two recent graduates as a result of  the speed interviewing event, so it was well worth our time. We are looking for computer science graduates with good communication skills who are eager to learn.”

NTT Data employs 850 people in downtown Halifax providing IT technical support to US-based companies such as Morgan Stanley and Fidelity Insurance. Entry level jobs start at between $35,000 and $45,000.  Savoie estimates his company hired about 85 new graduates from Dalhousie’s computer science program and community colleges in the last year alone, most of whom came to Halifax as international students. “We could use more people choosing to take IT,” says Savoie

NTT Data, banks, and insurance companies are too big to qualify for a 25 per cent wage subsidy the province’s Labour and Advanced Education department introduced a year ago to encourage non-profits and businesses with fewer than 100 employees to hire new graduates within 12 months of leaving college.

The program is called Graduate to Opportunity. Statistics from the Advanced Education Dept show a very modest uptake on the part of the business community during the program’s first year. Ninety-eight new graduates have been offered full-time jobs paying a minimum of $30,000 a year, and another 41 are in the works. Only 126 companies or non-profits have been approved to receive the subsidy — not enough to put a dent in the 1,300 people under the age of 30 the Province exports each year.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. “I won’t clock in and clock out, I’ll put in extra hours.”

    Nowadays that is used as a selling point for kids entering the workforce.

    JEEZUS! A recipe that smacks of exploitation and desperaton at the same time. We really have drunk the koolaid of the 1%. Workers’ rights be damned, just give me a job kind sir, most holy of holies.

    I pity the kids coming out of school now.

  2. So at $30,000 a year, assuming a 25% rebate, businesses are able to hire young graduates for a net cost of $22,500 per year, or just $2500 above the minimum wage line (assuming full-time, 2000 hours per year). How is this a win exactly? Businesses aren’t going to want to foster growth or any kind of attachment to those new employees at those rates.