This could turn out to be a very useful program and has the potential to become a model across the province.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON, February 15, 2012 In his State of the City message in January the Mayor announced a new graduate internship program, innovateBurlington.  The objective is to help drive growth and innovation in Burlington by using talented young graduates to complete projects for local companies that help drive their business forward.

The project has some very interesting potential and appears to be one of those situations where everything came into line at the same time and it was relatively easy to go from concept to becoming operational.

The idea was part of Rick Goldring’s election platform – a promise he is delivering upon you might say.  The Burlington Economic Development Corporation, the organization that keeps tab on the health of the city’s economic development, is the lead on the project and will be asking the private sector for the most part if they have projects they would like to get started on or complete but for a number of reasons have not been able to get off the ground.

The Mayor’s idea was brought to fruition by an Advisory Board made up of   Cheryl Jensen, Paul Bates, C. Brotten, Keith Hoey, Catherine Mills, Nigel Jacobs, and Mike Jane who handed off the facilitation of the program to the Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) who will administer the program during the formative years until it is clear how the program is going to be taken up by the private sector.

Kyle Benham, working with Anita Cassidy, )we will tell you more about her in a moment), take the needs a company has expressed and looks at the graduate students they are working with and looks for a match.

The students in the program are being given an opportunity many of today’s graduates feel they need to kick start their careers.  The deal for the students is that they are employed for a period of time – they get paid $23.00 an hour and work four days a week with their “client” and spend the fifth day in a classroom being mentored by some of Burlington’s success stories.

A piece of plastic got turned into a multi-national corporate endeavour. Innovative financing and a measure of moxie made it all come together. Foxcroft is going to share his experiences with interns taking part in the innovateBurlington program.

Ron Foxcroft, the basketball referee who turned a crisis, a piece of plastic and some entrepreneurial moxy into an internationally successful company.  Today’s students need time at the feet of people like Foxcroft – who also happens to be a heck of a story teller.

BECD’s Benham has taken the program one step further.  He and Cassidy look for situations where students work as team and for perhaps more than one client.  They get to share ideas and network in a way they just can’t when they are out looking for work.

Will some of the students find full time work out of the program?  That could happen but it is not the core objective.  The purpose is to give students an opportunity to get some experience and to expose the private sectors to students who were educated in the Burlington area and have a great deal of talent.

In these lean times many companies have put some projects on the side to focus on keeping the revenue side alive and healthy.  Projects that tended to be “future focus” got set aside either because existing staff just didn’t have the time or because a company wasn’t in a position to hire a new full time person.

BEDC has partnered with the Centre for Skills Development & Training and McMaster University.  Students will take their mentoring classes at the Centre and will, from time to time take in a class at McMaster.

What made this program close to perfect from BEDC’s point of view was that they were able to administer a program that is relevant to their base and use it as another feature for companies looking at Burlington for their operational base or perhaps their headquarters.

One of the problems the city has had is enticing new corporate entities to a city the Mayor and the people that oversee the growing of the city know is a great place to live and raise a family.  One of the problems they are up against is a form of apathy that says – “things are fine as they are” when many realize things are not all that fine.  Good – but not good enough.

Graduate students will be with the program for a minimum of four months with the possibility of putting in a full year.  The program isn’t meant to be a “full time” job for the students, even though they will certainly work full time and then some.  There just may be a situation where the project the employer has requires a full year and the student is picking up great resume building experience.  Most graduate interns will be involved in programs that last from between four months to a year.

Partnering with the Centre for Skills Development & Training,  a not-for-profit incorporated affiliate of the Halton District School Board, brought in seasoned educators with experience  at all stages of employment from youth just starting out, to older workers who have been laid off; from newcomers to Canada who need to improve their workplace English, to people interested in the trades who need to build their technical skills; and from small business owners looking to hire staff, to large companies who need help developing and transitioning their workforce.

The person in the trenches for this project is Anita Cassidy, who brings an almost perfect mix of academic training and experience to the task.  A Scot ethnically, Cassidy brings charm and a soft brogue in her voice to a sector in Burlington that is often neglected – the building of talent within organizations that are still working their way through the 2008 recession.

Educated at the University of Glasgow with majors in history and economics she went on to do a double Master program; an MSc with Merit in Economic Development, and an MA Honours in History and Sociology, both at the University of Glasgow

Anita Cassady, inovateBurlington program co-ordinator and Kyle Benham, Executive Director of the Burlington Economic Development Corporation work up the early staging part of a program that has been launched.

Cassidy went on to work as program assistant from 2005 – 2007with the Strathclyde European Partnership where she saw how funds from the European Union were used in the re-development of the ship building industry in western Scotland.  That experience gave her both an insight and an appreciation for how much benefit there is to programs like the one the BEDC is embarking upon. She then went on to work for the British Council and then back to Scotland where she was involved as the Funding Coordinator, for Glasgow’s Regeneration Agency.  Burlington is going to seem mild to this woman

Frank McKeown, the Mayor’s top aide, pushed to have mentoring as a critical part of the program and said in an interview that he hoped to see a situation where the people involved in the program came back from Monday to Thursday sessions with their clients and spent the Friday in mentoring classes where they might get an opportunity to listen to someone like Ron Foxcroft talk about how you take an idea and grow it into a business.

McKeown fears that the Burlington private sector is just a little on the complacent side.  He points to the co-op program at McMaster/DeGroote where some 140 students were put into programs with employers.  Less than 4% of the 140 co-op students were placed with Burlington firms.  “If they aren’t working for our private sector then they are working with private sector firms elsewhere in Ontario who might well be competitors of Burlington companies”, he said.

The project got off to a strong start when local company Global Mobility Products (GMP) was able to match up with a graduate to help them realize strategic projects.  Ryan Djordjevic, GMP President, is keen.

Another program objective is to recruit, and retain talented young graduates in Burlington economy.  James Maxwell, one of the graduate interns  sees the program as an opportunity  through which he can gain experience, and increase his employability.  The hands on experience the program gives graduates includes learning how the business world works, which they don’t get in a classroom.  The hope for the people at BEDC, and the wish the Mayor had in mind when he thought up the program, was that Burlington would become home to both their work lives and where they raises their families.  The city wants to create a workforce that is part of those high paying, high tech jobs that everyone is after.  Mayor Goldring found that the mountain wasn’t coming to Mohamed – so he took Mohamed to the mountain.

Great idea – let’s see if it work.  If you want more information on this – log into  Better still – give Anita Cassidy a call..


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