Cluster Employment

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Patrick Adeyemi for Cluster Employment

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Making Co-op Education history on the South Shore

By Margaret Schwartz

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An international co-op student from Mauritius is taking his placement to new heights in Nova Scotia this summer
Azhar Raman, a Sobey School of Business commerce undergrad, is working for three employers at the same time during his co-op placement: one in HRM, and two in rural Nova Scotia.

“This is an opportunity like nothing else,” he says. “As a business student, my placement includes activities related to everything I am studying, from marketing to financial management.
“My first co-op placement was with a large corporation where I had a singular role, but this experience is giving me variety and the chance to become confident in a number of different skill areas.”
Metroworks, an HRM-based social enterprise, joined with Rural Roots Market and New Ross Country Stay to share the cost of a co-op student, one with talent and skillsets they typically don’t have access to.

“Sharing a co-op student across multiple employers provides a wonderful opportunity, because as a non-profit, overhead costs are tight. By sharing the financial burden, we all end up paying a small portion of Azhar’s wage,” says Dave Rideout, Executive Director and CEO of Metroworks. “In return, we’re all benefiting from his capabilities and knowledge.
“Sometimes employers like us are not even aware of what we need, until someone younger, with knowledge we don’t have, introduces us to something new that can better our company.”
The concept of multiple employers joining to hire a co-op student — or a permanent employee — was developed by ‘Placemaking4G, an Atlantic Canadian talent-matching agency working to attach diverse youth to meaningful careers in welcoming communities. They call this approach cluster employment.
“We came up with this concept as a way of creating stable, full-time positions for young people, while also helping multiple employers who share a common business need to acquire top talent,” says Matt Thomson, co-founder of Placemaking4G.
“Opportunities like this are going to offer a unique range of work experiences, which will no doubt contribute to the professional growth of students.”
Azhar’s work term is also subsidized by the provincial government’s Co-op Education Incentive, which offsets the cost of hiring a post-secondary co-op student.

“Young people are socially engaged and want to start making a difference the day they start working with you,” says Dave. “This is good news for small businesses who have room for the drive, energy and creativity that millennials embody.”
From designing logos, to managing bakery budgets, developing websites, and meeting Nova Scotians from communities all over, Azhar welcomes the break from every-day routine.

“I enjoy my time in the South Shore,” he says. “I moved to Nova Scotia in 2016, and there is so much of the province that I have not yet explored. I share my time flexibly across the three companies, and in the South Shore, which is new to me, people are graciously welcoming.”
Azhar’s New Ross employers feel the same way about him.

“We were very fortunate to have Azhar working on a marketing project for us,” shares Susan Larder, President of Rural Roots Market Society. “The cluster format was really the only model that would have worked for us. We’re a new, small, rural market and could only afford five hours per week.
“We requested Azhar promote our lunch packages to local bike touring companies. He saw the bigger picture, and now Rural Roots Market is listed on Bicycle Nova Scotia’s online map for all cyclists to discover.”
On top of this, Azhar enhanced Rural Roots Market’s social media presence by conducting Instagram influencer ‘takeovers’. “Through efforts like this, our Instagram presence took off! We will continue to use his content on Facebook, and to manage our website,” says Susan.
“This has been such a positive experience for us, we really felt lucky to know Azhar and his gentle, beautiful nature.”
The Sobey School of Business is into its third year of strategic efforts to connect their students with the thriving business community on the South Shore. Each fall, their Careers Here Tour — South Shore allows students to walk through employer doors and learn about potential opportunities for living and working in the region.

Coupled with this momentum, Placemaking4G plans to launch 10 more cluster employment opportunities for students and grads over the coming year, many of them in rural Nova Scotia.
These efforts support international student retention and keep talent like Azhar Raman in Nova Scotia.

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