Symposium brings together youth and employers


Western Nova Scotia, May 7, 2018

Spoiler alert: There are great opportunities in Western Nova Scotia. There are also plenty of young people who want to stay in the region.

Dispelling many of the narratives that youth must leave to find opportunities and that employers cannot rely on young workers; the Business Education Symposium was hosted May 2nd by the Western Regional Enterprise Network (Western REN), in partnership with Nova Scotia’s Business Education Council and the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development.

“Western Regional employers continue to face chronic labour challenges,” explains Western REN CEO Angélique LeBlanc, “Working with the Business Education Council, this event provided an intentional networking opportunity and fostered an open dialogue between employers and high-school students throughout the region. This is a part of a long-term solution to the labour challenges.”

Chair of the Business Education Council, Calvin Gosse, says, “It is extremely important for the future economic growth of our province that the business community actively engage with students to create a two-way understanding of what each requires.” Mr. Gosse, Atlantic Public-Sector Client Executive at IBM continues, “That is what makes opportunities such as these symposiums so important.”

“What an amazing day for students, teachers and employers in the Western Region.” Lynn Hogan Gillespie, Director Career Exploration and Experiential Learning from Nova Scotia’s Department of Education. “Conversations were rich and impactful giving everyone the chance to learn what employees are looking for but also what our students have to offer. Kudos to the Business Education Council and the Western REN for their leadership and partnering on this initiative.”

The event was aimed at engaging business and youth in a meaningful dialogue to best prepare for success in the workplace, and to highlight the opportunities for youth seeking careers in Western Nova Scotia. Fifteen regional employers shared their experiences and insights with 42 students from 9 of the region’s high schools.

Claudia Winterhalter, Recruitment Advisor for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, participated on the employer panel. “I was very impressed with the caliber of students and it was great for employers to meet them in this environment. It will be exciting to see where their career paths take them. I feel our future is in good hands!”

The Symposium is the first business event hosted by the Western REN that provided a platform specifically designed to engage youth.

Success by Design

Success by Design

A democratic system is synonymous with change.  Along with our electoral cycles come changes to our economic development landscape.  How do we remain focused and effective when surrounded by so many moving parts?

It may seem counter-intuitive but being nimble and operating in a constantly changing environment does in fact require a strategy.  It most definitely requires certain skillsets.

A solid economic development strategy must begin with a scan of the current environment, which, as noted earlier, changes rapidly.  Political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal factors all play a role in shaping the environment.  These factors change on a daily, even hourly, basis, and must constantly be revisited.  Consider how the organisation is impacted vis à vis these factors, and revisit strategy often enough using tools such as SWOT analysis to determine if tweaks, or course corrections, are required.

A strategy is a road-map forward but must not be so rigid as to limit opportunities.  The most successful strategies allow for a balance.  We can choose to drive, to fly, to go by rail or by boat; even a combination of one or more of the above.  You can choose the fastest route, the cheapest route, or the most scenic.  Although the ultimate destination remains the same, travel plans may change.

Most Canadians attempting to travel anywhere in the winter are well-aware of this challenge!  Environment is often uncontrollable.  Flights are delayed; weather happens.  What is controllable is your reaction to that environment.  Rare is a journey that goes exactly as planned and your ability to stay focused on your ultimate destination is key!

Leading the implementation of a strategy requires that ability to focus on the goal. Organisational core values, vision, and mandate must be defined and revisited periodically.  These values are at the heart of any strategy and must permeate the entire culture of the organisation.  With this foundation, when the organisation is being pulled off course, and it most certainly will be, a solid strategy with a clear vision will provide the course correction.

Allocating resources, and leveraging those resources is key – from dollars to HR, from physical assets to technology, how will they be applied most effectively?  The greatest of strategies are meaningless without solid operational decisions. As with the strategy, implementation must be nimble and responsive to the constantly changing environment.

Communicating the strategy in a clear, succinct way is essential.  Partners and stakeholders must understand the strategy and how actions line up with both shared and individual goals. Clear lines of communications are critical to the success of all partnerships, we must all be pulling in the same direction. Internal and external communication are equally important and must be considered on an ongoing basis.

Success must be defined and measured.  When deciding what to measure, ask yourself and your partners ‘what is in our control?’.  What will be measured must be within the control of the organisation and its’ partners, otherwise it is not a true measurement of impact.  This is particularly true in the field of economic development, where success depends on activated and coordinated partnerships as well as criteria outside of any one organisations’ control.

A rational, clear-headed approach, grounded in core values, enhanced by communication, and informed through frequent environmental scanning will most certainly increase strategic impact in your region.  Keep your eye on the destination!



Angélique LeBlanc is CEO of the Western Regional Enterprise Network and teaches Strategic Management at Université Sainte-Anne.




Western Wins

Introducing Western Wins

A showcase of successes, innovations, and lessons learned from regional businesses. 

Yarmouth business, RennDuPrat Design & Fabrication, was created by Freshco owner and Yarmouth native Mandy Rennehan, and Dustin DuPrat, a designer and carpenter originally from Vermont.

Mandy and Dustin met on a job after Dustin moved to Yarmouth, the town his wife, Kelly, calls home. Dustin and Kelly owned and operated a successful design and construction business in Vermont before they made the move. They decided to work together to build RennDuPrat, a design and fabrication firm.

RennDuPrat is a design firm that not only does the interior and exterior designs, but also creates custom, one-off furniture/accessories/kitchens. They serve both residential and commercial clients. Their first order of business was to create their headquarters. They took 1.5 years to renovate a building on Main Street in Yarmouth and turned it into a beautiful place to do business, a custom woodworking shop, and an executive apartment.

Before renovations

After renovations

Establishing a new business can be a challenge, but as the quality of their work became known, the calls started coming in for new projects. Then they had to grow their team.

The business includes Mandy and Dustin, of course, Kelly, who is the Operations Manager, as well as 1 Executive Assistant, 4 Cabinet Makers, and 4 on the Construction Crew.

Dustin admits that early on it was challenging to find skilled carpenters willing to join his construction crew. Many local skilled tradespeople have built long-standing relationships with well-established businesses in the area and they felt joining such a new and seemingly unconventional business would be too risky.

However, once they got rolling there was no issue, and they started getting calls asking if they were hiring. The job is fun and creative, and the team is excited about the job and what they are creating. Every job is different, there is a lot of opportunity for problem solving, and for everyone to leave their own fingerprint. Their employees take pride in what they do, and that makes it easy to come to work.

RennDuPrat Team 2017

RennDuPrat is particular about the types of people they hire. Dustin and Kelly learned in their previous business, that a certain level of professionalism in a trade will set you apart from the rest. As an employer, RennDuPrat is infused with a high level of professionalism, including customer service qualities such as discretion.  To add to the professional atmosphere, all employees are dressed in branded RennDuPrat gear.

Like any business, there are challenges. “Yarmouth is a tough place to do business, geographically”, said Dustin. It’s not on the main drag, and getting materials here in a timely fashion is difficult. Sometimes it can take a week or more, where getting materials in Toronto or Montreal takes a day. RennDuPrat had to cut deals with their suppliers, to ensure that they could get materials on time.

Another challenge is that the Maritimes tend to be about 10 years behind on trends, including design and décor. Having lived and worked in the design industry in Vermont gives Kelly and Dustin an advantage here. Mandy’s presence in Toronto helps them keep their finger on the pulse, and bring the latest to Yarmouth.

Although there was a bit of skepticism when they first started out, RennDuPrat is proud to have its home base in Western Nova Scotia. They appreciate the supportive community, and have observed that it’s a great market for their product. The people in the Western region want to support local business, and are happy to see innovative businesses thrive.

RennDuPrat is currently running at max capacity in their current building, and are looking to expand to Toronto.

Summit Lessons Learned

Now that we’ve had some time to reflect on our recent summit we would like to share some of the lessons learned at this event.

The theme of the summit was Landing Talent. We went back to the fundamentals of how to find the right fit for the company and the position. We explored the importance of clear communication between employers and the workforce they hope to engage.


It may seem overly simple, but misunderstandings and conflicts in the workplace often arise from unclear or unrealistic expectations. These conflicts can become barriers to both recruitment and to retention in a workforce. When both employers and employees are clear with one another about their expectations, challenges can be identified and solutions found. This is a critical component of finding the right fit for the job.

Image: Closing the gap

Right Fit

The small population of the Western Region presents a challenge for recruitment of all skill levels. Finding the right people to fill jobs is an immediate challenge in the region, and will persist for the medium and long term if no action is taken.

Fortunately, there are available programs to help employers attract and access a greater array of potential employees. It always starts with clearly identifying your firm’s needs and services like those from Nova Scotia Works Employer Engagement Specialists can help with that process.


Another challenge we face as a region is youth outmigration. Many young people leave the region once they graduate high school. Workforce and entrepreneur programs exist in school settings and apprenticeship program at post-secondary settings. For these programs to have the desired impact of increased youth retention, willing employers are needed to support real life experiences.

We must demonstrate existing opportunities in the region in order to recruit back some of the youth who have moved away. The more young people that live and work in an area and are happy, the easier it is to recruit more, but only if they recognize the many opportunities available.


Two of the most important factors in successfully recruiting the right fit are 1) the job description and 2) the job posting.

A job description is to be used as a checklist of required skills and activities. This must be an accurate and clearly cover the full range of job duties required by the employee.

However, a job posting is your marketing tool to advertise the job to potential employees. It’s a sales pitch of the job and the whole package (the area, the workplace, the lifestyle, and all other benefits of a job.)


Workplace education is one of the ways that employers can access fundamental skills development for their existing workforce. Current employees can improve their skills in a specific area and the employer gains a more skilled employee. Training, especially in the context of advancing in the business, is a key element of successfully retaining employees. Again, it comes down to expectations – if the employer needs people to advance and if the employee wants to advance.

Other retention strategies discussed included accommodations for workforces with barriers to employment (for example: transportation and flexible schedules), enriching the workplace with social or community-based activities, and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement that engages employees.

We can help.

The Western REN can assist business-people to figure out what programs or services are most applicable to their needs. Contact us for more information.

Click the image below for a slide-show from the Landing Talent Summit.

Link to Summit Slide Show

Immigration for Employers

  • Are you facing a decreasing workforce?
  • How many of your employees will still be working in 5-10 years?
  • Do you find it challenging to find qualified employees?

You are not alone. Atlantic Canada, along with the Western region, is facing a retiring workforce and an impending skills shortage. Imagine if half the workers in our community were no longer working. How can we work together to lessen the blow of a declining population?

Immediately following our Summit on October 17th, our newest team member, Gino Thibeault provided a brief overview of how the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) can help regional employers and what it takes to get involved.

Gino Thibeault Western REN Immigration

This new immigration stream for Atlantic Canada is designed to fill immediate labour force needs.

The AIP is an accelerated way to bring in workers, along with their families, from other countries. This stream is different than existing immigration streams. It’s quicker than other ways, since Atlantic Canada is in a unique situation. It is also employer-driven, as opposed to current streams which are immigrant driven.

To take advantage of this program, employers must get designated. To become designated, the employer must apply to the province and meet the following criteria:

  • Have a business operating in good standing;
  • Provide information on labour needs;
  • Commit to working with a service provider organization on settlement and retention.

Once they are designated they can start to advertise and recruit internationally. Once the employer finds the right fit for their business, the province endorses the employer. To become endorsed, an employer must:

  • Demonstrate efforts to hire locally have not been successful;
  • Recruit a foreign worker;
  • Provide a valid, full-time, non-seasonal job offer co-signed with the foreign worker;
  • Provide an individualized settlement plan co-signed with the foreign worker.

Immigration Supports in Western NS: NSOI’s Mary-Jo MacKay, Y-Reach’s Dolores Atwood, Western REN’s Gino Thibeault

After the employer finds a candidate that is the right fit and offers them a job, the employer connects them with a participating settlement service provider. These organizations work with the recruit, conduct a needs assessment, and create a settlement plan for the employee and their family. This plan includes recommendations for schools, doctor, and other suggestions to ensure that the new employee has a good life here. This makes for a smoother transition and a higher retention rate.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot provides an avenue for regional employers to bring in new workers to bolster their declining workforce and address our impending skills shortage. Not only will this program help us bring in new workers fill job shortages, but also to add individuals and families to our region and help it grow.

Contact Gino for more information: or by phone at 902-307-2771.

Happy Small Business Week

The Western REN started the week off with a bang! Our 4th Annual Summit, Landing Talent, took place on Tuesday at the Clare Veteran’s Center in Saulnierville.

Seventy-four individuals attended from both the private and public sector, neatly divided at 50% from the private sector, including employers and employees, and the other 50% were from the public sector (including Western REN staff).

Attendees also came from a wide range of industries. The private sector participants were most commonly entrepreneurs (self-employed) and then fishery related industries. Some of the region’s largest employers sent HR staff.

Photo credit: Michael Carty

The Summit brought together employers, potential employees, and service programs for both. Our panel discussions explored expectations, challenges, and possible solutions from both the employer and employee perspective. These conversations revealed much.

Employee perspectives:

There is a need for more employers willing to invest in the region’s workforce, including: workplace education to keep pace with a rapidly changing work environment, implementing accommodations as required to access available workforce, and participating in co-op placements from high school program. The latter are intended to demonstrate to young people the types of vocations and opportunities that await them when they graduate or return from travels/studies.

Employer perspectives:

Finding and keeping the needed talent is a struggle for employers dealing with a large entry-level workforce, all the way down to highly specialized professions. Many employers are not aware of the variety of services available to them through public sector programs. Also, recruitment efforts need to be enhanced in order to access the right fit for the job and the organization. Finally, retaining an engaged workforce can be challenging for larger, entry-level employers; clearly identifying potential career paths and providing an enriched workplace are two tools being applied by some employers.

Shared learning is a core offering at our Summits and this year we focussed on some very basic requirements of managing human resources. Participants did a brief exercise around communication styles that impact not only how we get our messages across to one another, but also how we best receive information. This self-awareness is critical to successful HR management.

Employee challenges are employer challenges. One of our activities demonstrated the loss of productivity and increased frustration faced by employees provided unclear job descriptions. Finally, we explored the differences between writing a clear job description (which provides instruction) and developing an appealing job posting (which sells the position). Both are crucial for recruitment and retention – though they are not interchangeable.

Landing (and keeping) talent is an extremely complex issue and cannot be resolved in a half-day event. Our goal was to introduce small, but practical, tools for employers to apply right away. Our work doesn’t end here – we support regional businesses, year-round, through Western REN regular programming.

Our BusinessNow program, lead by Victoria Brooks, is for both developing relationships with individual business owners and providing evidence for advising solutions. Our Western Connector program (announced at our 3rd Summit) is headed by Brenda LaGrandeur. This program supports job seekers who lack networks to connect with employers. Our newest addition, Gino Thibeault heads the Immigration program providing information concerning reaching out beyond the province for talent needed. About 15 people stayed for an optional Immigration for Employers Clinic following our Summit.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone for another successful Summit and we look forward to continuing our work with the good people of Western Nova Scotia.

Landing Talent in Western NS

On October 17th, we will be hosting our 4th Annual Summit at the Clare Veteran’s Center. This year’s theme is Landing Talent. This theme was chosen because it’s a consistent challenge that businesses in our region face.

Finding the right fit for you and your team

Summit participants will explore employee and employer expectations and challenges, learn about available Human Resource services, and how to make Western Nova Scotia’s businesses the best places to work.

Labour force challenges are not new to Western NS and we are focused on ensuring solution efforts are aligned – that everyone is pulling in the same direction. There is no easy fix, so we want to explore the challenge from all angles. The objective of the day is to understand the challenges from the perspective of employees and employers, what opportunities exist, and possible solutions to overcome these challenges. Our agenda is set up to facilitate these discussions.

Pulling together works better

Our first panel, Workforce Challenges and Opportunities, will explore real challenges from an employee perspective. With these challenges in mind, we will explore the resources available to support a quality workforce – now and into the future.

Panel members include:

  • Jill Flynn-Comeau, Youth Pathways, Tri-County Regional School Board
  • Francine Thimot, Nova Scotia Works, Employment Services
  • Renette Muise, Workplace Education, Labour & Advanced Education

Our second panel, Recruiting Challenges and Opportunities, will dive into the challenges employers face when trying to recruit workers. With this perspective, we will uncover challenges and resources available to business at various stages of growth.

Panel members include:

  • Dr. Michel Comeau, Principle Dentist at SouthWest Dental
  • Christie MacDonald, HR Manager, Yarmouth
  • Kelly Lanigan-Gavel, HR Manager, Comeau Sea Foods Ltd.

After these informative sessions, everyone will participate in a hands-on shared learning activity which will:

  • explore expectations and experiences of both employers and employees, learning what expectations are there and how they can align, and
  • provide practical tools for planning and communication for improved understanding, leading to clarity and improved productivity.

We will of course share lessons learned in upcoming blogs!

Register for our 4th Annual Summit HERE.

People and prosperity

The team members at the Western REN have been busy bees lately planning our 4th Annual Summit, Landing Talent, which takes places October 17th, 2017, at the Clare Veterans Center.

Some of our team members are originally from Western NS, while some have moved here from other areas throughout Canada. But, one thing we all have in common, we are all committed to the region. We’ve all made a conscious decision to live our lives here. We live in Western NS because we have deep ties to the region, or because we love the more rural lifestyle and all that it represents.

However, economies must be resilient to survive. Living in a rural area means our economy is based on traditional resources, which must adapt in order to withstand changing pressures such as: global economies, price of oil, climate change, and international trade agreements.

RENs were created to ‘guide and navigate’ economic development. Well what does that mean? Supposing economic development refers to the ‘prosperity of a place”, then the Western REN’s focus is to help the Western region prosper.

To help the region prosper, means we need to know what assets we own as a region. It means we need to know our local strengths, which are people, the fishery, and affordable land, to name a few. Our local weaknesses, which are youth out-migration, our aging infrastructure, and a declining labour force. We need to be realistic about what opportunities our region is actually ready for. It’s also crucial that we identify what opportunities we still need to prepare for, such as renewable energy and information technology in rural areas.

We also need to plan: what can we do with our strengths, are there entrepreneurs or investors who would fill our weaknesses, where/what are the markets for the opportunities we already have, what investments would be needed to be ready for other opportunities.

Resource based economies are dependent on a large, reliable workforce and with so many young people leaving the region, many employers are experiencing limited growth.

The Western REN has made workforce a priority issue. Western REN has been learning about the specific regional challenges and has started working with employers to improve their access to local employment services and their workplace productivity.

Because workforce is vital to the prosperity of the region, it will be the theme at our upcoming summit: Landing Talent.

Employers, employees (and potential employees), and employment service providers are encouraged to register for this event. The day will include panel discussions on the perspective from both the employers and the employees with real life examples of their challenges, and some of the solutions.

To register for this FREE event, click HERE.


What does it take to make change happen?

The Western REN is a partnership between the Province and the Municipalities and Towns of Yarmouth and Digby Counties, as well as the Municipality of Barrington. As a rural region with a small population, we must collaborate to achieve the goals of the region together. Each partner involved in the Western REN has its own perspectives and strengths when it comes to economic development, and we work together to affect change in the region. But, what type of change do we require as a region?

Municipal leaders at this week’s Association of Municipal Administrators – Nova Scotia (AMA-NS) Fall Conference are exploring topics of perception, change, disruption, and attracting and retaining talent; challenges that have a particular impact on Nova Scotia’s rural areas.

So, knowing that our municipal leadership is exploring these same questions, where do we start? The world economy has been disrupted by big changes in technology, which can create big opportunities, as well as big challenges. Rural areas based on traditional industries, like Western NS, often struggle with keeping up with the changes. Open the Uber app anywhere in Nova Scotia, and you’ll get the note: Unfortunately, Uber is currently unavailable in your area. How can our rural regions implement change to help us “catch up” –  especially when staying stable is a challenge in itself? Western NS is seeking to overcome challenges of high infrastructure costs (high speed internet), out-migrating youth, and population decline.

What does it take to make change happen? How do we begin to shift our perceptions of change while continuing to respect and maintain our rural traditions?

The Western REN believes in people! Success requires partnerships and a positive, friendly, productive business environment. People are the heart and soul of the region. We must play to our own strengths, and people are Nova Scotia’s greatest strength.

By working together in partnerships, instead of in isolated silos, and by approaching old problems from new angles and sharing risks to implement new solutions, we can find innovative and exciting ways to not only catch up to the future, but be leaders in innovation ensuring a lasting impact for the Western REN’s business community.