NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Re: Graduate to Opportunity Program
& Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. David Wilton
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
Ms. Marian Mancini
[Mr. Keith Irving was replaced by Mr. Iain Rankin]
[Ms. Karla MacFarlane was replaced by Hon. Alfie MacLeod]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Mr. Duff Montgomerie
Ms. Lora MacEachern
Associate Deputy Minister
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. GORDON WILSON (Chairman): I call the meeting to order. This is the Standing Committee on Human Resources. I’m Gordon Wilson, MLA for Clare-Digby, and I’m filling in for Keith Irving as the Chair.
In addition to reviewing appointments for ABCs today, we’ll be receiving a presentation from Labour and Advanced Education on the Graduate to Opportunity program. I’d like to take this time right now to ask the members to introduce themselves for the record by stating their name and constituency.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d also like to remind everybody at this time to please put their phones on vibrate or, preferably, turn them off and save power. The washrooms are outside, to the left, down the hall. If there’s a case of an emergency we will be gathering at the Grand Parade.
I’d like to welcome Mr. Montgomerie and Ms. MacEachern here today to give us a presentation. I ask them to introduce themselves and begin. The floor is yours.
[The committee witnesses introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: It’s all yours.
MR. DUFF MONTGOMERIE: I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to be in front of you once again. We were here for Sandboxes and thoroughly enjoyed the interaction and comments. You’re going to see some things similar to those you saw in Sandboxes. In our world, it’s absolutely critical that the private sector be a key player with our post-secondary world - whether it’s university students, community college students, apprenticeships, and so on - to get the private sector more engaged in helping to promote those, and engaging with our young people is really one of our major goals.
Two years ago we met with Valerie Payn, the head of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, and Dianne Kellerman, the head of the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce to seek their advice on how we can get the private sector more engaged. Valerie in her wisdom said, Duff, you know what it’s like to try to find the right door in government. It’s the same with universities. The more you can simplify how the private sector can interact and benefit from that relationship the better off that you will be.
We are blessed that we have university presidents who are really focused on that approach. Dalhousie has actually done major workshops and so on with the chamber of commerce. Acadia has a scenario called a LaunchBox where they have the wine industry, they have tidal, they have analytics, but more importantly they have an outreach program for small businesses in the Annapolis Valley where they had over 1,000 that they worked with. To have university professors sitting in front of you and saying how excited they are to work with community businesses, that didn’t happen a decade ago. There was more looking inward rather than looking outward.
What excites us about the program we’re about to share with you - Graduate to Opportunity - it’s one of those programs that highlights our brightest young people and tries to connect them with private sector individuals who can see an opportunity to use those bright minds to further their business. After years going, you’re going to see some really good stories.
With that, I’m going to turn it over to Lora, who will take you through the presentation, and welcome any questions or comments.
MS. LORA MACEACHERN: Thanks very much. In terms of the presentation, we’ll provide you a little bit of background and a program overview, then move on to the experience to date, some farm marketing efforts, and then a look ahead to the future.
The Graduate to Opportunity program was launched in February 2015. It was just about a year after the release of the One Nova Scotia report. Ray Ivany and his commissioners reminded us that our workforce is shrinking as our population ages, and among the goals and recommendations they said that we need to help our youth to find reasons to stay and build their lives here in Nova Scotia.
The number one reason that Nova Scotian youth tend to leave is if they don’t feel that they can successfully pursue their career goals here at home. However, many new graduates do find it difficult to find that first full-time job opportunity because employers are often looking for people who have some experience. We want more young people living and working in the province and we want more businesses to be able to grow their operations. That’s the context behind the Graduate to Opportunity program.
We’ve added it to the two other student employment programs that have been in place for years, which is the Co-op Education Incentive and the Summer Skills Incentive program. All of those programs were transferred to LAE about a year ago.
As was mentioned, the purpose of GTO is to help hold on to more of those well-educated, young, and ready-to-work youth and strengthen Nova Scotia’s workforce. It helps businesses to grow and to innovate. The way it works is to provide an incentive to employers to hire recent graduates for permanent full-time jobs in their chosen field of study. The employers are reimbursed 25 per cent of the graduate’s salary in the first year and 12.5 per cent in the second year.
The expectation, of course, is that those jobs will carry on well beyond the two years covered by the incentive. The applications are received year-round and online, and once the employer is registered into our computer system, staff typically turn around the applications within two or three days.
GTO is available to private-sector companies of 100 employees or less, and also to start-up companies, charities, social enterprises, and non-profits. To qualify for the program, the employer has to pay their new hire at least $30,000 a year, and it has to be a permanent full-time job.
The upper limit for the incentive is $60,000 a year but we’re happy to say that some employers are paying higher than that. The website you see pictured there is Xeos Technologies, which produces sophisticated ocean instrumentation devices, most of which are for export. Xeos has hired a mechanical engineer through the program with a starting salary of $55,000 a year, and the young graduate is in charge of technical development for the company.
Another feature of the program is that the job is to be a new one, it can’t displace an existing staff, and the new hire has to be a recent graduate. By that we mean they must have graduated from a post-secondary institution within a year of the employer’s application for the program. Of course the new hire has to be living and working here in Nova Scotia.
The website you see pictured there is for TruLeaf. It’s a plant science company based in Truro that focuses on indoor farming. They’ve already promoted the lab tech who they hired last year through the program into a supervisory role.
In terms of our experience so far, since the program was launched a little over a year ago, we’ve approved more than 150 positions through 130 employers, so more than 100 graduates are now working in all regions of the province. The average salary is just shy of $40,000 a year and the range is from the $30,000 minimum up to more than $90,000 a year, so as you can see, these are good jobs. There’s a tremendous variety in the sorts of jobs that are coming through the program, and we’re also finding them to be highly skilled jobs.
The occupations we’re seeing the most include electrical and mechanical engineers, programmers, system analysts and other jobs in the ICT fields, paralegals, and various types of technologists. These jobs are drawing on the skills and knowledge the grads have acquired in school. This is unlike many jobs that youth tend to find themselves employed in, including retail sales and service.
Pictured here is a technical trainer who we’ve approved for the program. His name is Gordon Crowley. He works for LearnCorp International in Sydney. LearnCorp develops and provides specialty training services to people in the energy sector. They are paying Gordon $60,000 a year. When we checked with the company last Fall, Gordon was in Papua, New Guinea. He was delivering a training package that was developed back in Sydney, and the company is thrilled with his work.
There has been only one naval architect who has been hired through GTO so far. He works for Rosborough Boats in Lakeside, Halifax County. We have a video at this point that we wanted to show you that showcases the program.
[A video was played.]
MS. MACEACHERN: That video was developed as part of our recent marketing effort. There are two components to the campaign: a print and a social media portion. The print campaign has included ads in local metro papers, the Cape Breton Post, New Glasgow, and in Truro. There has also been social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Last week, the Premier held an event marking the first year of the program. We also have television spots in development as well.
Looking ahead, Graduate to Opportunity is one of the many programs that government is working on to prepare young Nova Scotians for work and to help them get a foot in the door here at home. Government is also expanding its co-op program, launching new programs like Experience Through Opportunity, improving the apprenticeship system, helping youth transition from school to work, and connecting industry with a skilled workforce.
We’re also working with our education partners to make sure that students are developing the knowledge and skills they need. The university and college presidents have joined with us to create an experiential learning innovation team that’s looking at ways to expand and enhance on-the-job learning opportunities for post-secondary students.
We’re also working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on a business education council that will bring together leaders in business, industry and education, and provide a forum where business can identify the skills students need to be successful in the workplace.
We’re also doubling the budget for the Graduate to Opportunity program next year, continuing to market the program, including the profiles of the successes. We’ll also be evaluating the program.
So as the deputy said off the top, we’re really grateful to have the opportunity to be here today and we’re looking forward to answering any questions that you may have, but we did want to take this opportunity to ask for your assistance in spreading the word about this strong program. As you can see, it’s helping to open the doors for our young graduates. We’d very much appreciate it if you would take the opportunity to let employers know about the benefits of the program and the benefits that smart, well-educated, young youth can have on business.
Thanks very much for your time and attention. Again, we’re happy to answer any questions that you may have.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We’ll now open up the speakers list for questions. Mr. Orrell.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you for your presentation. I guess the obvious question I have is, when this program was developed it was developed out of the cancelling of the Graduate Retention Rebate where there was $50 million available to graduates to maintain graduates in the province. It looks to me like there is going to be in the second year probably $3.2 million spent. Are there plans to use the rest of that $50 million in retaining young people in the province, and what would the cap be on that program if in 10 years’ time we hired 100 people every year - 25 per cent and then 12 per cent the second year? Does it just go the two years, or does it go on to five years and so on and so forth?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I very much appreciate the question. The government obviously made a decision on a program that they felt wasn’t meeting its prime objective and wanted to focus more on areas we felt we could make a difference, given our own financial challenges.
It’s kind of like when you raise free tuition - and we have a great relationship with our students. We don’t always agree, obviously, but we say we can’t afford free tuition, but we need to be smarter and sharper where we do invest so that we make sure we’re helping young people. So the Graduate to Opportunity, to the honourable member’s point, is one of those areas.
We have others like the Graduate Scholarship Program, which is $3-something million, which goes to graduates to help them do research here in the province, and of course the Sandbox program. Those are all newer programs, along with the Graduate to Opportunity that we think will really help students on the ground be engaged in the workforce.
MR. ORRELL: I guess my other question is - you say it was 100 people that had uptake in the first year - is that the goal that was set or is there a different goal? What are the benchmarks of other provinces that may be doing similar programs, and if 200 people applied, would 200 people qualify? Is there a higher limit or a lower limit? If the uptake wasn’t there, would this be something that would be looked at as not using the same uptake as the Graduate Retention Rebate or, if it wasn’t working, what would be the plan going forward?
MS. MACEACHERN: Our target was 100 for this initial year, and we exceeded that target so we were quite pleased with that. We are very encouraged by our social marketing campaign that we undertook over the last month or so. February was our highest month for applications by employers under the program so we feel the first year has been very successful. We’ve exceeded our targets and we’ll continue to promote it and, as I said, we encourage everyone to get the word out about the program and how strong it is.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilton.
MR. DAVID WILTON: Thank you for your presentation. I’ve used the START program in the past and I own a business and stuff and it has been very effective with hiring people and teaching them and relating them to your own business. How does this Graduate to Opportunity program differ from the START program?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes, an excellent question. The START program is another example of government’s efforts to advance employment and connect people with work here in Nova Scotia. The START program is broader, the Graduate to Opportunity program is focused specifically on recent post-secondary graduates. The START program is available to that group of workers, as well, but it’s also available to a broader scope so, for example, those who have been self-employed and are looking to re-enter the workforce as an employee, they can make use of the START program. It’s also available to people who perhaps have been off work for a period of time, perhaps taking care of children and who have decided to re-enter the workforce, the START program is something that’s available to them, so it’s a bit of a broader scope but also quite successful.
MR. WILTON: How do you connect the business with the worker or the graduate? Is it a process where the employer puts in an application and the graduate puts in the application and you match them, or is it something that the graduate goes out and finds an employer?
MS. MACEACHERN: Through the Graduate to Opportunity program the employer makes the application into the department. Sometimes they have an employee in mind who they may be interested in utilizing the program through or they may have a new position they are creating and once they get approval through the program, they will go out and advertise for that position. That’s the way the Graduate to Opportunity program works.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MARIAN MANCINI: I’m just wondering, sort of a really basic question here, do you have a sense - the individuals you showed in the presentation appear to be quite skilled, quite highly educated, would they have gotten the jobs anyway? I’m wondering how you measure that. Would those companies have hired these individuals, regardless of the money that they are receiving to offset their salaries?
MS. MACEACHERN: I can answer that question absolutely. The criteria of the program are that it has to be a new position so it is a new position that the employer otherwise was not intending to have. The information that we’re receiving back so far in the early days of the program is that the employers are saying that had it not been for the program, they may not have taken the step to hire this individual and the work of the individuals is exceeding our expectations of what a new employee, a new recent graduate, can bring to their organization.
MS. MANCINI: I wonder if you have a breakdown - you alluded to it again in your presentation - of the individuals who have been placed in the program, in terms of gender and the type of work they are doing and their salaries - do you have a little of that breakdown?
MS. MACEACHERN: We do have some initial information that we’re gathering together. I don’t have it today but we could certainly provide some more information to the committee if that would be helpful, in terms of the breakdown.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: If I could add to the honourable member’s question, one of the scenarios we looked at two years ago was Waterloo - Waterloo has the best co-op program in North America. They started it with the premise that private sector is key to engaging around this so it became a continuum at Waterloo.
We’re trying the same model here where we have co-op programs where young people get engaged with the private sector and then the extension of that can be the Graduate to Opportunity. So you have a young person who is suddenly in the environment of your business and you are going, wow! We have 10 of them, co-op students, at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and you are blown away by their calibre.
Once the private sector engages co-op, that’s usually the experience they have. That may incent them to say maybe I can keep that young person or maybe, through the Graduate to Opportunity program, so hopefully it’s a bit of a flow-through too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have a very passive group here. Ms. Treen.
MS. JOYCE TREEN: I keep writing questions down and people keep asking them and I have to think of a new one.
Thank you for your presentation. My question is, you’ve doubled it, was that because all the funds were used up and are you going to continue to do it? If you keep being successful with the amount that you’ve budgeted for this program, will you keep increasing it?
MS. MACEACHERN: The plan from the initial stages was to double the budget after the first year, so when the program rolled out we knew that and we’ve been working towards that. As we said, we’re very pleased with the results of the first year and well within budget with 150 applications approved in that first year. We feel with the momentum that we now have that there will be more employers stepping forward in that second year and we’ll reach our target of doubling by the second year.
MS. TREEN: And we could continue doubling the program?
MS. MACEACHERN: We at the department are very much open to that, we’ll see how the results of the second year are.
MS. TREEN: My other question is, I’ve seen all your commercials and different ways you are communicating and stuff, but how are you directly connecting with businesses to network? I know all that stuff tends to happen and people don’t necessarily tend to pay attention, but is there a way you are directly connecting with businesses to make them aware of this program?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes, there is. We’ve communicated with all of those employers that have participated in the co-op program because obviously that’s a group that has shown an interest in hiring and engaging those younger workers, so we’ve connected with all those employers. As the deputy minister mentioned a few minutes ago, we feel there’s a bit of a pipeline from those co-op employers through to the Graduate to Opportunity program.
We’re also connecting through our social marketing efforts. As I said, we’ve had strong uptake as a result of that, as well, and we’re just spreading the word generally. Our career centres across the province are very familiar with the program and are promoting that as part of their work as they connect with employers and employees. We’re taking opportunities like today to kind of spread the word about the program.
MS. TREEN: Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomerie.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I spoke of Valerie Payn a while ago. What Valerie and the chamber have done since then, they have instituted an award system for their own members that do co-op students so they will acknowledge them.
Some of you may have been at one of their major suppers here a month or so ago, they had a co-op student at each table. They are helpful in trying to spread the word too. They’ve become advocates for us with their members.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Just getting back to where I finished off the last time, I guess my interest is, we talked about the first year 25 per cent and the second year 12.5 per cent - how many years is that person going to be attached to the program? If it’s 25 per cent, 12.5 per cent, does it go down to 6 per cent, does it go down to 3 per cent? Or is it just a two-year program that that person is on for two years and then the decision is made afterwards to keep or not keep that full salary?
MS. MACEACHERN: The incentive lasts for two years so it’s 25 per cent in the first year and 12.5 per cent in the second year, and that’s the extent of the incentive. However, as part of the initial criteria, the employer has to confirm that it’s a new permanent, full-time position, and certainly our anticipation would be that the position would continue well beyond those first two years of the incentive.
MR. ORRELL: If the position doesn’t continue, is there a penalty to the employer or how are we going to ensure that is continuing and that these young people do stay here in the province after those two years of the program?
MS. MACEACHERN: During the incentive period, if the position doesn’t continue through that two-year period, there certainly is a provision that the amount paid is prorated so if the employee does not continue or the employer lets the employee go or is laid off then certainly the amount that was anticipated - the 25 per cent and the 12.5 per cent - would continue to be paid out during that period of time.
However, after that, the premise behind this is that gives the employer that start and the employee that start - the employment relationship has been established. If the employee is able to show the great work that they’re able to do and the business feels the benefit of the growth of their organization, the employment relationship will continue beyond that two years because it is well established.
MR. ORRELL: But nothing to guarantee that they would either stay with that company or stay in the province after the two years?
MS. MACEACHERN: It’s the two-year incentive and so that’s what it’s based on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacLeod.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you for your presentation. You said you had about 150 applications that qualified. How many applications were there overall - just 150 or did you have 300 or 400 or 7,000?
MS. MACEACHERN: Not 7,000. I actually don’t have that exact figure. There were certainly more than 150 who applied. Some don’t meet the criteria. There is a criteria process and we have that on the website, which sort of sets out what the requirements are. We have that data back at the office and we can certainly provide it. There would have been more than 150 - not 7,000, I’m sure.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Staff indicate to me there is approximately 200, but we can definitely give you the exact number.
MR. MACLEOD: My next question is quite simple. Geographically, how does it break out across the province in the different zones? How many people would be in metro versus the rest of Nova Scotia where unemployment rates are soaring - places like Cape Breton Island? How many of these positions would actually be in the areas where the highest unemployment is in the province?
MS. MACEACHERN: Again, I don’t have the exact numbers for you, but we can certainly provide those to the committee. Metro is certainly our higher area of uptake for the program. There are obviously more businesses in the metro area so more opportunities for them to partake in the program, but as we said in the presentation, there are applications from every region of the province and my recollection is that Cape Breton is quite a strong participator in the program.
MR. MACLEOD: I appreciate the answer. I guess what I would be really interested in is the number of - not just the number of applicants, but the number that have actually been approved in the different areas and how that works out.
MS. MACEACHERN: That’s my response to that particular point as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MANCINI: Why was the decision made to cap year two contributions at 12.5 per cent? I guess what I’m thinking of is that you’ve included not-for-profits in there and that would be - even if they were paying $30,000 it would be $15,000 that would have to come out from their budget, and they’re so heavily reliant on government funding anyway. So I am wondering about that. It’s straight across the board - there’s no variation depending on what organization is involved, it’s still 12.5 per cent, is it?
MS. MACEACHERN: It is, yes, still 12.5 per cent. The feeling was that providing an amount in the second year - often programs will provide that incentive just for the first year. The feeling was that providing an amount - be it a lesser amount for the second year - allows that opportunity for the employment relationship to continue on past that first year and establish itself. That was the idea behind having a more substantive amount in the first year, to create that incentive to connect and then having the amount for the second year to allow that employee more opportunity to sort of show their work in the organization and have the employer be able to see the benefit of the growth of their organization as a result of that employee being there.
MS. MANCINI: How many jobs would have been created in the non-profit sector do you think? Do you have a sense of that?
MS. MACEACHERN: A very good question. We can provide that information to you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Wilton.
MR. WILTON: We’re losing a lot of our young people to the trades. I’m just wondering, is that part of this, the apprenticeship program? Is this any part of that?
MS. MACEACHERN: The apprenticeship program is not part of this Graduate to Opportunity program. For apprentices there’s another stream of programs which is called the Apprenticeship START program. That’s a very successful program, lots of uptake for apprentices and that.
The reason the Graduate to Opportunity program is not focused on apprentices is because apprentices are still going through their trades so while they are connected with an employer, they are still students and this particular program is focused on post-secondary graduates. Apprentices are not quite at that point, but as I said, there’s another strong program that’s available to them through the START program.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Just to build on Lora’s point, the same kind of dynamic faces the Apprenticeship Agency as faces post-graduates, of young people trying to get engaged with support by the private sector. So the new Apprenticeship Agency board has heavy private-sector engagement on that board and they are absolutely focused on getting companies more involved but also using money strategically to support those young people, like START, on a go-forward basis.
We’re also looking to try to simplify the apprenticeship side. We have a transition task force with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development that has the Apprenticeship Agency on that task force and several private-sector people. How do we make it easier for young people to get into the trades and get into the apprenticeship side? An excellent question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacLeod.
MR. MACLEOD: Just going back to the application process, I’m very curious to know if, when you’re reviewing the application, if there’s any weight given to areas of high employment or areas where jobs are hard to come by. Does the program take that into consideration or is it just straight across the board even, it doesn’t matter where you are? I’m just curious as to how that works.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: We’re in the enviable position right now that anybody who has qualified has been accepted so we haven’t had to turn anybody down because of lack of money or lack of budget. If you qualified, you meet the requirements, you’ve been accepted so it doesn’t skew one region against another.
I do apologize to the honourable member, we should have had a regional breakdown for you and we will get that.
MR. MACLEOD: So far we’ve been lucky. If the program is successful, is there any consideration for those areas that have high unemployment and it’s difficult for graduates to find work?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I’ll go out on a limb and indicate that . . .
MR. MACLEOD: I won’t cut it off yet.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Knowing that the budget will double next year and so on, that if we have an extraordinary demand, particularly from Cape Breton, I think we’ll bust our tails to find a way to make sure those young people are hired, to be quite frank.
MR. MACLEOD: But I do want to make the point, deputy, that it’s not just Cape Breton, if you go outside the metro area . . .
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Sorry, Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLEOD: . . . it is a real challenge for young people to find work and to stay in their communities and be successful in their communities. So as much as I am concerned about Cape Breton, outside of metro it becomes a real challenge for everybody so I would hope that the program takes that into consideration. It’s a lot easier for some young person to find a job in metro, because there are more jobs to be had to begin with, so those areas that aren’t as fortunate, I think we need to be looking at them and offering them an incentive for the small companies to stay alive, because we need those companies in order for our economy to be successful but also they need the new skill sets that are coming on stream at the time. I would ask that the department and you folks really look at how you can help the areas that are at a real disadvantage when it comes to providing employment for young graduates or young specialized people that are trying to stay in Nova Scotia and keep companies alive.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Absolutely. I think some of the examples you saw are companies throughout Nova Scotia, and a lot of them are technology-based, there’s no question. Lora and I meet with what we call 100 successful businesses and we try to go out and meet with them and see what makes them successful - how does government help; how do we get in your way or how do we get out of your way?
As a matter of fact, one in Sydney that we met with, the gentleman talked about his ability to get the best coding graduates he could out of the community college in Sydney. So keeping that linkage, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying: it is important.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Rankin.
MR. IAIN RANKIN: Thank you for the presentation. Obviously there’s some success with the program. I’m just wondering in terms of the overall effectiveness and how you’re measuring it - obviously, I think it was a key point - are these new incremental jobs or would they get a job anyway? I think that’s really the most important part. Do you have a cost amount of how much has been spent to date on the program?
MS. MACEACHERN: At this point just over $1 million has been expended, which is what we had targeted at this point. With 150 applications approved, that takes us up to about our budget in the first year.
MR. RANKIN: This is quick math here - you have an estimate that between, say, 100 or 150 people are working at $40,000, so that’s $4 million to $6 million of salary when you do the math. If we put an assumption that, say, 20 per cent of that goes to provincial income tax revenue, it brings that income tax to over $1 million. Do you view the program as a whole as a cost-neutral program? Do you look at the numbers to make sure that we’re really taking a close look at whether they are new jobs? Maybe that’s the reason you started with a smaller budget so that you can ensure that level of effectiveness.
MS. MACEACHERN: The employers are required to confirm that they are new jobs and our initial survey results in this first year are really showing that employers are feeling the benefits and that it’s really impacting those workers in a positive way. They’re making decisions, as you saw in the video, to stay here in Nova Scotia when they were potentially looking to go elsewhere across the country for jobs.
We’re finding it to be very positive, and in terms of the benefits to the province, I think when a company is feeling that they have the ability to grow through the engaging of a new worker and are feeling the benefits of that energy and talent to their company, that’s a positive economic benefit for them, and certainly the more that we’re able to keep our talented youth here in the province, it’s a positive for them and for the spinoff effects that it has in the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomerie wanted to add to that.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I just wanted to add to the honourable member’s question. The recent youth retention numbers from Statistics Canada on a year basis for Nova Scotia were very encouraging. It was the biggest growth of youth retention that we’ve seen in eight years, I believe, and we were the best in Canada. I know that’s a snapshot in time and there could be variable factors, but we’re trying to change the conversation. It’s more like Graduate to Opportunity, the graduate research program, the START program, where the private sector can work with us and utilize those very talented young people that we have that may tend to go elsewhere. We’re just starting down the road, but it was encouraging to see that data.
MR. RANKIN: I appreciate that. This program really provides incentive for job growth, whereas I believe the Graduate Retention Rebate - really was there any incentive for the private sector to grow out or was that available whether or not you worked in government or if you were a teacher or any other profession? Was there any incentive? Where do you see the better return on investment?
MS. MACEACHERN: I would say that the province is really focused on working with businesses to create those opportunities for youth here in Nova Scotia. We see the Graduate to Opportunity program as one positive step and it kind of fits into the overall plan of a number of steps that were taken that are really in a positive way with government taking the lead in hiring more co-op students. The Experience Through Opportunity program that was recently launched where government is hiring youth into the civil service, the improvements to the apprenticeship program, so there are so many examples where I think that government is really taking a positive step to work with employers to keep youth here in the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Just to follow up on Mr. Rankin’s question about the return on investment. I know they cancelled the Graduate Retention Rebate, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record when I say this because they said the return on their investment wasn’t great. Is there any comparison about the amount of people who were hired or stayed in the province using the Graduate Retention Rebate, compared to the amount of people who are hired and stay in the province with the Graduate to Opportunity program in the first year? Was it more than 100?
If the amount of people who stayed with the Graduate Retention Rebate was more than the Graduate to Opportunity program, will this face the same kind of scrutiny after the trial period? What will happen if that’s not the case?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I apologize because I think I came just after the program was cancelled, but high level, the sense was that for the amount of dollar being invested, it was not a good return for the province. There was more of an emphasis of how you get the private sector directly involved, which will contribute some money as well, but at the same time will result in real opportunities for young people. I’d have to check about data to see what kind of comparisons were done.
MR. ORRELL: I was listening to the numbers that Mr. Rankin said about $1 million invested with about $1 million return and the 20 per cent of income tax. That’s a break-even, which is great if we can do that, that’s perfect, but if the other program was providing 2,500 young people to stay in the province and it was less than that, then obviously they’re staying, they’re contributing somehow, I hope, and they’re not just sitting home to get their income tax done so they can make $2,500 a year.
If that’s the case, we haven’t been great at return on investments when we look at other things in the province such as Bluenose II, the Yarmouth ferry, and so on and so forth. If we’re going to talk return on investments, I’d like to see that that would happen and that we make sure that this works because I think it’s a great program if it works, and if people stay afterwards, I think that’s a great thing. Let’s just hope that we can make that work. Thank you.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: The only comment I would make from my experience, and I said it the last time to the committee, we spend $140,000 on a Sandbox and the return we get is phenomenal. It gets the private sector, it gets young people and it gets at least two universities in a room together to help drive those young people to better opportunities.
The same with this Graduate to Opportunity, the same on the apprenticeship side, and the same on the research grants that we give to our young people. I just view those as money well spent, is the best way I would put it. It’s not a boatload of money, quite frankly; it’s almost $3 million for Graduate to Opportunity, $3 million for the research, and so on. I just view it as my sense of where I’ve been for the last couple of years; it is paying solid dividends for the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacLeod.
MR. MACLEOD: I’m just wondering - and you may have answered this, and if I missed it, I apologize - but is there any onus on the employer or the employee after the program is finished to stay involved? Can the employer get his 25 per cent the first year, his 12.5 per cent the second year, and then in the third year say we don’t need you anymore? On the other side of that coin, is there any incentive for the employee to stay as an employee?
Is there anything that is required by the government, on either part, to make sure that this just isn’t a transaction for dollars and cents? I’m sure it’s not, but when we invest this kind of money, you want to know what kind of safeguards the government has put in place to make sure that the investment is not just a short-term thing but is a long-term thing.
MS. MACEACHERN: The requirement is that it be a permanent, full-time job. That is what we look for when we’re making a determination whether to fund the program through the incentive. So that’s what we look for.
We also do surveys and are in contact with the employer and employee throughout the two-year time frame, so we have an ability to monitor how things are going and whether there’s a feeling of continued commitment to the work.
At the end of the day, it is our anticipation that at the two-year time frame that that is a sufficient period of time for the employer and employee to establish a strong working relationship and feel the benefits for both of them, so the work would continue beyond that point. To require both the employer and employee to stay within the company for X period of time may be counter-beneficial to both of them, so that’s not a requirement that we have at this point.
Certainly we’ll be doing evaluations as part of the program and we’ll certainly be looking for long-term retention as something that’s a desired outcome, and we’ll be looking for that and seeing how things play out through the evaluations of the program.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: It’s like anything in life. What you’re doing here is giving an employer and employee a two-year opportunity: the employee to prove themselves, and the employer to see the employee. It’s like life. At the end of it, maybe it doesn’t work for the employee or maybe it doesn’t work for the employer, but we certainly make sure it’s a fair scenario.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MANCINI: The program started in February 2015 so by the time - I was going to ask you, too, about the average processing time for the applications, but I’m saying it would take a couple of months. So you’re getting to a point now where many of them are finishing their first year?
MS. MACEACHERN: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Do you have a sense if there’s 100 per cent success rate or 50 per cent who are going to stay on for the second year?
MS. MACEACHERN: We do. For the most part, most of the employees who have started are continuing on. There has just been less than a handful of arrangements that haven’t worked for whatever reason - the employer has laid off or the employee has decided to take another job elsewhere, but the lion’s share of them have worked quite well and we’re receiving really positive responses from both the graduate and their employer.
MS. MANCINI: Of the 150, how does that break down in terms of actual companies? Is it 150 companies?
MS. MACEACHERN: Not quite - it’s 130. At last count it was 150 applications that were approved for 130 employers. So there are a couple of employers in there that have more than one Graduate to Opportunity approval in their mix.
MS. MANCINI: I had just asked about the average processing time for the applications.
MS. MACEACHERN: I’m happy to say it’s quite quick. It’s a continuous intake program so it doesn’t have to line up with a particular time, which we understand employers appreciate, and grads do as well. It’s an online system so they register online, and once they’re registered, we are able to process really quickly - less than a week.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No further questions? The committee usually allows the chairman to ask a couple of questions, so if you don’t mind. One question? (Laughter)
I guess the one thing that wasn’t mentioned maybe is the fact that a student’s first job is the most important job that they can get. It sets the foundation, and I think the focus on that is paramount in this whole process. This is a new program also and I doubt there has been a program created new that has been perfect from the start.
You’ve mentioned a few challenges. There have been a lot of good questions here. I know you’ve also mentioned that there’s going to be an evaluation, and it might be a little early to ask this, but what do you see right now - starting to foresee - as maybe some of the potential tweaks? Maybe there’s none, but is there anything? Would it be around eligibility? Would it be around marketing, are we falling short there? Is it the scope of the job? Should it be, as we’ve heard, maybe three, four years? Are you starting to get any sense of maybe where some of the challenges might be in making it perfect?
MS. MACEACHERN: What I would say is that what we will really be looking for is whether it is meeting the objectives, so the objectives are creating those opportunities for workers, post-grads, to build their lives here in Nova Scotia, create more jobs for them and allow the companies to feel they are able to grow and innovate. That’s the premise by which we’ll be doing our evaluation work.
So is it creating those long-term opportunities? Are employers feeling the benefits for their organization in being able to grow and innovate? We’ll be coming back to those issues. So as we do our surveys, as we do our evaluation in terms of looking at how long the employees are staying with the company, and if they leave, the reasons they are leaving - is it because they got a promotion and have another great opportunity here in Nova Scotia or are they leaving the province? Those are the kinds of things we’ll be looking at and our tweaks to the program will be based on whether we’re achieving those initial objectives.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomerie.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: When you look at the bigger picture and you talk experiential learning and you talk recruitment and retention and you talk START and you talk apprenticeship and you talk this, you go back to the private sector.
When we were dealing with Waterloo, Kevin Lynch, the former Chancellor of Waterloo, we asked him, how did you get the private sector buy-in at Waterloo? He said, peer pressure. He said the thing that you have to understand is that every survey they did in Waterloo, particularly with first-time companies that used their co-op program as an example, 90 per cent of them returned.
It’s us, with your help, selling to the private sector the value of engaging these young people - whether it’s through co-op, whether it’s experiential learning, whether it’s apprenticeship, or whether it’s Graduate to Opportunity - because we know they’re going to have a good experience and they’re going to see a good return on their investment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I appreciate your presentation and the questions for everybody. Closing remarks?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Again, we thank you for the opportunity. We obviously enjoyed coming and spreading the word.
MS. MACEACHERN: Can we just say we have some information on the program if you’d like to take that back to your offices, we’d really appreciate you helping us spread the word.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We’ll take a short recess and come back in about five minutes, please. Thank you.
[10:58 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:07 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I call the meeting back to order. We have correspondence, I believe everybody received the correspondence from Starr Dobson from the previous meeting. I actually believe that not only did the committee members get that but that was also sent to all MLAs in the province, which was very encouraging.
Other than that, we now move on to appointments for agencies, boards and commissions. We have three positions, actually, in two different commissions. One is with the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission and two are with the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission.
For the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission, Mr. Gough.
MR. STEPHEN GOUGH: Mr. Chairman, I move that Dr. John Nause be appointed to the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission as a member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The second position we have is the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission - we have two positions for that. Mr. Rankin.
MR. RANKIN: Mr. Chairman, I move that Mr. Fred Colaiacovo and Mr. Walter I. Yeadon be reappointed to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission as part-time directors.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you.
That concludes our official business. For our next meetings, typically when the House sits we continue to meet to do appointments but we waive witnesses, certainly for the sake of time. That has been the process in the past, and I assume we would carry on with that process during the next sitting of the Legislature. Okay, thank you.
The next meeting is April 26th at 10:00 a.m. That will be for appointments to agencies, boards and commissions only.
I’d like to adjourn the meeting - I move that we adjourn the meeting.
[The committee adjourned at 11:09 a.m.]