Want to start your professional network? Join the Connector Program

"Match, share, refer" illustrations

Image  by Winnipeg Connector Partnership.  © Used by permission

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Interview with Rany Jeyaratnam, Labour Market Specialist of Success Skills Centre and Coordinator of the Winnipeg Connector Partnership

You may have heard it said that to make it in Canada’s job market, it’s not what you know but who you know that matters. To some extent, this is true. While your credentials do matter, knowing people in the industry is the key to opening the hidden job market and finding job opportunities. This requires developing and building your professional network.

For many people, networking can be intimidating. But just imagine if you are a newcomer. You are in an entirely new environment, which may make it difficult even to start. This is why the Winnipeg Connector Partnership was introduced. The Connector Program gives newcomers a boost by providing them with the tools to start building their professional network in Canada.

The National Connector Program.

Winnipeg officially became a Connector Community when it was launched here in November 2017 with Success Skills Centre as the lead partner organization. We spoke to Rany Jeyaratnam, Labour Market Specialist of Success Skills Centre and the Program Coordinator of the Winnipeg Connector Partnership to know more about this wonderful initiative:

English Online (EO): I understand that the Winnipeg Connector Partnership is relatively new, can you tell us how it started in Winnipeg?
Rany Jeyaratnam (RJ):
It took us about two to three years to bring the program to Winnipeg, and launch it as part of the National Connector Program under the Halifax Partnerships. All service providers were preparing newcomer clients, giving them the tools and assisting them in everything that would lead them to successful careers, but supports for networking was lacking, and this was an essential part of the process. So we decided to go ahead and launch the program even without funding. Fortunately, IRCC funding came later and this enabled us to run the program fully.

“The connector gets to help cultivate new local talent making their industry and our city grow stronger while the experience provides valuable insight into the local job market and sets the connectee on the path to their own success.”

EO: How does the Connector Program work?
It connects local community and business leaders and employers (Connectors) with employment-ready, internationally educated and trained newcomers (Connectees). You could say that it is almost like a referral service. There are two factors for matching: the Connectees’ occupations and their related industry.

As you can see in the brochure, it says, “Match, Share, Refer.” So first, we match the Connector and Connectee. Then they meet and share information. They talk about the labour market here in Manitoba, about the details of their jobs, tips on how to make it in their field, so on. Then the Connector refers that Connectee to at least three professionals within the same occupation or field to expand his/her network.

EO: How do you choose the connectees and what criteria do they need to meet?
Connectees are referred by service providers who are our partners. These are: Manitoba Start, Edge Skills Centre, Premier Choix, Immigrant Centre, Pluri-Elles, Winnipeg Transition Centre, and Osborne Village Resource Centre. Connectees are newcomers who are internationally educated and trained, permanent residents and must have at least CLB 6 language level.

The service providers prepare their referrals first to ensure that they are employment-ready and ready for the next phase of their job search: networking.

EO: How do you prepare the connectors and connectees in order to have a productive meeting?
Before the initial networking meeting, we conduct orientation and training for both Connectors and Connectees. The orientation briefs them about the program, tells them what is expected, and their responsibilities. The preparation for the Connectees includes Networking 101, LinkedIn Basics; we stress a lot about soft skills in the process.

We usually hold the first meetings on a Saturday or evenings. Connectees exchange business cards with the Connectors and have their initial talks. They then also arrange when and where they can meet after that. Our offices are also available for them if they want to meet here.

EO: When a connector and connectee meet, are there guidelines as to what they can talk about or how a meeting should go?
We give each a toolkit to help them prepare ahead of time. The Connector discusses about his/her own career experience. We emphasize to Connectees that they must build a relationship with the Connector first. We highlight that this is not a job search activity. This is a networking activity. They should focus on getting advice and wisdom from their Connector.

EO And then after the initial meeting, they can meet as many times as they want?
It’s entirely up to them to build the relationship. Building a solid relationship can be a long process. SSC has built professional relationships with volunteer Connectors over many years. So they are willing to refer the Connectees.

EO: So one of the main benefits of the program is that newcomers learn more about the local job market, right?
Yes, it’s a great way for Connectees to learn more about their professions, about their field, about the industry. They gain a lot from the Connectors’ advice, guidance and resources. Also, because of their interactions, when a job opening does arise, the first person Connectors might call could be one of their Connectees. But we are always talking about the benefits for Connectees when really, Connectors have an advantage too. They get connected with Winnipeg’s diverse population and tap into diverse, local talent.

When employers interview someone for a job, it’s done in about 20 minutes to an hour. How much will they know this person? Through this program, employers (sometimes as Connectors) can meet and talk to the Connectees many times and get to know them well. So it’s not only helping newcomers. It’s helping the whole community. It’s all about community-building and economic empowerment. We always say that “we ALL are Connectors” and encourage everyone to make connections.

EO: After one year of running the program, how has it performed so far?
As of the end of March, we have 128 Connectees and recruited 76 Connectors. We have made 231 direct connections or initial meetings, which led to 70 additional meetings to expand Connectees’ network.

We are looking to connect more people this year. We are evaluating our progress to see where we succeeded and where we can improve. For example, one challenge we found is that some Connectees are too polite to make an appointment to meet their Connectors often. They think, “oh my, he’s the president of this company, or he’s a senior principal in an engineering company, how can I bother him?” We advise and practice how to approach them.

I love this program because so many people are working together for a common goal. The referral service partners and volunteer Connectors are awesome! The volunteer Connectors come to the Centre and make time to participate and mingle. And in the process, they’re also networking with other Connectors from the larger business industry. Everybody benefits from building relationships. It is a win-win situation.

EO: Do you have a message to newcomers reading this?
Be an optimist. Success is all within you. We, as service providers, give you the tools to discover this, and if you persevere in networking, you will discover your strengths and succeed in your career goals.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

If you have questions about the program, please contact:
The Winnipeg Connector Partnership
Contact person: Rany Jeyaratnam
2nd Floor, 310 Broadway Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0C4
Phone: (204) 975-5112
Email: ranyj@wpgconnector.ca

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