WR Connector program launched to help newcomers and international grads build networks

Making connections

Waterloo Region needs more recruits to help build the local knowledge-based economy.

With thousands of local tech jobs and advanced manufacturing positions still unfilled, it means casting a wider net for new talent and retaining some of the international students who have come here to study.

A new program called WR Connectors is giving those potential leaders of tomorrow more of a reason to relocate and stay here with a program that will match newcomers and new Canadians with mentors and help build their social networks.

The program will officially launch on Nov. 22 in Waterloo with support from the Royal Bank, the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Communitech. It is being administered by the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre and is modelled after successful similar Connector programs run across Canada in places like Halifax, Calgary and Toronto.

Dave Thomas, manager of the WR Connector program, said that Waterloo Region remains one of the top spots for new immigration after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“It has a tightly knit, well connected set of networks among a bunch of industries,” said Thomas. “Sometimes that can be hard for people to work their way into.”

Those social networks are important because they lead to job opportunities, investment opportunities and generally the type of capacity building the local tech ecosystem needs to nurture.

“If you come to a new country, new culture and a new community with a different language, it may be very difficult to make those connections at first,” said Thomas. “This program is to give people a head start on building their network.”

This region, along with other countries, is in a global competition for talent and anything it can do to smooth that transition is another tool in attracting people to not only come, but to stay.

The creative class, the technologically forward professionals and those with entrepreneurial skills complementary to the local tech ecosystem can go anywhere in the world to find their opportunities. WR Connectors wants to provide them with another reason to come here, while also exploring and supporting the talent that comes from natural immigration and migration to Canada.

“We’ve already begun to recruit some volunteer connectors and some connectees, those are the terms we use for people in the program,” said Thomas. “The connector is a volunteer from the community, someone who is well established and is willing to help.

“The connectee is the newcomer and in the small number we’ve already seen a distribution in different industries like engineering and IT (information technology) as well as administration and human resources.”

It’s tapping the human potential and skills that new immigrants bring with them while also delving into the expertise of economic immigrant who have heard the area’s is a great place to start a business, or the recent university grad who is encouraged to share their skills and talents here instead of taking them home with them.

“It will mirror the kind of immigration patterns of people coming here and the kinds of jobs they hope to get based on what they know of the industries and opportunities here.”

The program has already had success in talent recruitment and retention in the burgeoning tech ecosystem in Halifax, and is seen as complementary to the economic development and diversification goals of places like Calgary and Toronto. It also presents a more welcoming message than seen in other jurisdictions, like the U.S.

The National Connector program, supported by RBC, has stretched out across the country, and a grant from Status of Women Canada lead to a pilot program being established here two years ago.

The first program concentrated on immigrant women, and it was so successful that it precipitated the full launch of WR Connectors seen this week.

“There was some limited time funding and it ran for several months and there were some good outcomes from that,” said Thomas. “Now we have secured funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for the next two-and-a half years so we’ve been able to broaden the program and we’re hoping that it will be as successful.”

Some of those connectees from the first program will be back to help because they attribute a part of their success to the program.

Volunteer connectors also thought it was a helpful program, and some are back on board to support the talent that’s out there and foster the opportunities that arise out of  the program.

“Some of those connectors are still reaching out to us two years later,” said Thomas. “We don’t ask for an ongoing coaching commitment, the request is for a one time meeting, but people, of course, make a connection and keep in touch after that.

“That speaks to how the program can work on a human level and getting to know one another.”

The hope is those connections and the social network it creates also leads to other opportunities including newcomers who want to start and build their own business. It gives them confidence and the resources to take and idea an run with it. “We’re well placed in this community with people wanting to be helpful and to assist others to get established,” said Thomas.

For more information, visit www.wrconnectors.com.

This article is written by Bob Vrbanac, for the Waterloo Chronicle. Read the original article here.