Kevin Walker, the Strait regional centre for education’s youth pathways coordinator, speaks with students from Inverness Academy and representatives from Parks Canada at the 2019 Business Youth Symposium.

SYDNEY: High school students from across Cape Breton, as well as Guysborough County, were give a golden opportunity recently.

On October 29, over 80 high school students and 30 business representatives from across Cape Breton met in Baddeck for the 2019 Business Youth Symposium.

Cape Breton Partnership President and CEO Carla Arsenault said participating Strait reginal centre for education centre schools included Canso Academy, SAERC, Dalbrae Academy, Richmond Academy, and Cape Breton Highlands Academy.

Hosted by the Cape Breton Partnership – in collaboration with the Business Education Council and Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development – the symposium was a day-long event meant to make young people aware of the career opportunities in Cape Breton.

Photos by Jeremy Martell — Lynne MacLenn (left), the Cape Breton Partnership’s economic development officer for Inverness County, collaborates with Richmond Academy student Kate Sampson at the 2019 Business Youth Symposium.

“The purpose was two-fold: it was to help promote awareness career opportunities for students in the area, but also to have a conversation as well that there are opportunities for students to consider living here in Cape Breton,” Arsenault noted. “There are opportunities for students to have a great career here at home after they graduate.”

Youth retention is a priority for the partnership, which is Cape Breton’s private sector-led economic development organization that supports companies and entrepreneurs by promoting the island as a great place to live and invest. The partnership is tasked with growing a culture that values and celebrates creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship and it is mandated to connect entrepreneurs and companies to the resources they need to succeed.

Arsenault recalled that when she was a student at Isle Madame District High, the message was that young people had to leave the island after graduating to have any opportunities.

“I think that the world has certainly changed from when I was in high school,” Arsenault noted. “There are a lot of opportunities that students just aren’t aware of. The global economy has changed. There are lots of opportunities now for people to live in rural areas and have careers that they may not have considered years ago.”

The 2019 Business Youth Symposium Youth Panel included students from across the region who shared their thoughts on what local employers can do to support their development, what they are looking for in a workplace, and what they value in a future in Cape Breton.

The first symposium was held in 2017 in Sydney for the Cape Breton centre for education, then in 2018, a symposium was held in Port Hawkesbury for the SRCE, and this year’s incarnation combined all schools in Cape Breton, Arsenault explained.

“It was a host of private sector employers who were there to talk about different types of career options that are available but also to have a dialogue about what career options are available right here at home,” Arsenault explained.

For the symposium to be a success, businesses and government departments volunteered their time and expertise to talk about what employers are looking for in future employees and the labour market. Those represented during the symposium included: 45 Drives; Protocase; the Canadian Armed Forces; Cabot Discovery Tours; Cabot Links; the Canadian Coastguard College; Cape Breton Regional Municipality; Cape Breton University; the Centre for Distance Education; Common Good Solutions; East Coast Credit Union; Island Employment; Learnability Cape Breton; MacLeod Lorway Insurance; Nova Scotia Business Inc.; Nova Scotia Community College; Parks Canada; Port Hawkesbury Paper; Sara Rankin Creative; Securicy; Stantec; The Municipality of the County of Victoria; Victoria County Creates; and Victoria Co-operative Fisheries.

Stantec’s Willie McNeil and Port Hawkesbury Paper’s Heidi MacInnis answer questions during the 2019 Business Youth Symposium Employer Panel.

Through a number of panel and roundtable discussions, networking opportunities and some healthy high school competitive spirit, topics covered included strong work ethic, resume skills, attention to detail, industry specific requirements, portfolio building, and managing an on-line presence.

“Each table had two employers and a teacher or two, plus students,” Arsenault said. “At an individual table level, students were able to interact with companies, and they were rotating tables throughout the day. We also had a series of panel discussions. There were panels led by youth and there were also panels that had employers talking about different career-related topics as well.”

The partnership hopes that as a result of this year’s successful symposium, there will be another next year.

“I think it went really well,” Arsenault added. “There’s a tremendous amount of energy in our youth today and I think that some of the conversations that were had in the room were incredibly positive, and left me certainly with a sense of optimism for the opportunities students are taking. It’s very encouraging for the region that’s for sure.”

Robyn Lee Seale, the Cape Breton Partnership’s connector program coordinator, emceed the 2019 Business Youth Symposium at Baddeck’s Inverary Resort.