Top News

AT A GLANCE: Should I stay or should I go? A look at graduate retention

- Belle DeMont

When the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission released a study in 2018 that found more than 40 per cent of students studying at Maritime universities leave the region after graduation the reality prompted renewed concern over Atlantic Canada’s changing and ageing, demographics.

Weeks later on Feb. 21, Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, announced the expansion of Nova Scotia’s, Study and Stay Program throughout the Atlantic region.

“It’s hard for us to compete with the diaspora in Vancouver and the GTA,” says Wendy Luther, President and CEO of EduNova — the only provincial education and training co-operative in Canada and the organization that oversees the pan-Atlantic retention effort.

“However, what we don’t have in critical mass we hope to make up for by being very deliberate about the welcoming messaging and actual supports given to the students building lives here post-graduation.”

Study and stay

The Study and Stay program, first announced by the Premier on a visit to Suzhou, China in 2016, was intended to support a group of international students from pre-arrival through graduation. Since then the program has expanded to include annual cohorts that receive support and assistance in their final year of school. It’s this version (now in its third iteration) that was rolled out across the region to encourage international students to put down roots in their adopted communities.

“It's a simple concept,” says Luther. “But one that requires dedicated and focused effort.”

And so far that effort is paying off — data shows 91 per cent of the second cohort are still working in Nova Scotia a year later.

That’s absolutely positive feedback, says Jennifer Wesman, Retention Coordinator at EduNova. And it’s just the beginning.

“The students are very proud of being in the program. I think that’s part of the beauty of the work that we’re doing. People really do want to work together, and they’re hungry to support students. The students are really eager to receive this support.”

Branching out

Although the framework for Study and Stay program is the same in each province, there were nuances built-in where required. New Brunswick’s plan, for example, is the only one that offers programming in English and French — and the difference is visible in its demographics, with equal numbers of francophones and anglophones, a balanced male/female split, and representation from over 30 countries.

As with the New Brunswick program, Newfoundland's version has a twist — an entrepreneurial stream that aligns with their government’s immigration goals.

Opportunity knocks

For the last three years, after almost three decades of decline, Nova Scotia managed to hang onto more young people than they lost to greener pastures.

Due to what Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, Labi Kousoulis, calls a “fundamental shift in how we do economic development” in Nova Scotia, the recent progress is more likely to be attributed to an overall change in the local ecosystem and less about the success an individual program. However, the early victories for Study and Stay and the proven benefits of Graduate to Opportunity are both worth noting.

Graduate to Opportunity (GTO) was a Liberal campaign promise in 2013 that came into effect 2015. The program offsets labour costs for Nova Scotian small businesses that hire new graduates — covering 25 per cent of the first year’s salary and 12.5 of the second. If the employee is a member of a designated diversity group, the first year contribution jumps to 35 per cent. Its sister program, Innovate to Opportunity, offers similar assistance to companies in the market to hire masters and Ph.D. students.

At the height of the years of decline in Nova Scotia’s population, nearly 4,000 youth left the province each year Recent numbers show that imbalance has now flipped, with a surplus of about 600 young people choosing to stick around last year. “That's huge. It's a huge swing of the pendulum,” says Minister Kousoulis. “We're not even calculating that those individuals are buying houses, cars, eating at restaurants, paying HST — and all that helps the economy. I think it's been a lot of little things that have amounted to a big shift in our demographics.”

Finding a place

When 21-year-old Adriana Badillo came to New Brunswick from Quito, Ecuador to attend Saint Thomas University, she was attracted to the small university that allowed her to dabble in liberal arts. In Canada on scholarship, she appreciated the opportunity to sample options in her small school community before deciding to pursue a double major in communications and economics.

In the fall of 2018, Badillo — who graduates this May — saw a job posting on a campus job board thanks to FutureReadyNB, a new government program that provides businesses funding for job training and recruitment of New Brunswick students.

After meeting with the on-campus experiential learning officer, Badillo secured an interview and eventually the job at Ignite Fredericton, which she’s had part-time for the last seven months. In June she’ll join them full-time as their marketing and client services coordinator. And she plans to stick around for the foreseeable future, at least.

“Opening up these internships allowed me to pursue a job in my field of study,” says Badillo. “I've always had a job, but I didn't really have the chance to work in my field. It's been a great experience. I've learned a lot. I've met a lot of people — I really like it.”

Making it stick

Around the same time as One Nova Scotia’s ‘Now or Never’ report was released to the public the team behind what would soon become Placemaking 4G were growing tired of the narrative that Atlantic Canadians need to go west to find good jobs.

Bradley Daye, Matthew Thomson, and Lauren Sears decided to build a business around that issue. They would combat negative stories by creating sticky places — places that people want to be, places that attract interest and foster community.

“You want to be able to showcase opportunities here locally, within the province and the region, to create that stickiness,” says Thomson. “To create that sense of place for young talent, and talent in general, to realize this is a home like no other.”

Developed as a social enterprise, Placemaking 4G is a recruitment agency that specializes in attracting new talent to the Atlantic region, retaining current talent and opportunities, and reinvesting in the Atlantic provinces, which they do by reinvesting 60 per cent of surplus revenue back into local initiatives.

“There's no shortage of people that want to come home,” says Daye. “I just don't think we do a good enough job of showcasing the successes we have and celebrating the wins in Atlantic Canada.”

“People will move for an opportunity,” adds Thomson.

“And an opportunity consists of not only good employment with opportunities for advancement but also a quality of life. Atlantic Canada is second to none in that regard, but we have to do a better job of showcasing that, and basically create an opportunity for collaborative impact.”

Recent Stories