Feature - Bridging the Gap
When David Girard initially moved to Kingston to pursue an MBA at Queen’s School of Business, he had no plans to stay here after graduation. Nor did he plan to find a job in the city after completing his program. But when he graduated on a Friday this past April, he began work the following Monday as a project manager of the Cancer Program at Kingston General Hospital.
“We didn’t realize it, but it kind of snuck up on us that we liked the city,” says Girard, 30, who is originally from Mississauga, Ontario. “The idea of going back to a big, busy city, after coming from one — my heart wasn’t in it. As it came towards the end of my year at Queen’s, my partner, Lyndsay, and I realized we had come to like Kingston.”
Yet Girard’s path is an uncommon one for Kingston’s graduates. According to Shai Dubey, director of Queen’s School of Business and a former chair of Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), only two of 117 graduates from the class of 2012 stayed in Kingston. In 2011, it was only one.
With baby boomers aging and the city’s youth population expected to decline in coming years, Kingston needs more young, skilled workers like Girard to settle here. “We need to demonstrate we have an available workforce for when companies move here or existing companies expand,” says Jeff Garrah, CEO of KEDCO.
Projections show that in 15 years, Kingston’s labour force will have shrunk by -.16 per cent per year, while the over-65 age group will have increased by 3.33 per cent per year (assuming no migration into, or out of, Kingston during this period). Currently there are about 28,000 young people between age 15 and 29 in Kingston. In 2026 this number is expected to drop by about seven per cent to roughly 24,000, according to Peter Kirkham, former chief statistician of Statistics Canada. “And many of this group are in post-secondary education, so they are not available for the labour force, since they are going to school full-time.”
To keep the city sustainable, Kingston needs to reverse this trend and attract about 1,000 workers a year for the next 15 years, says Kirkham, a turnaround that will greatly affect both the cultural and economic future of the city.
Quality of Life
With access to waterfront, 10- to 20-minute commutes to work, a thriving downtown, educational institutions, a lower cost of living and a mandate of sustainability, Kingston is ideal for some. With a reputation as a charming city, MoneySense magazine has rated Kingston among the best places to live in Canada for several years running. It was rated the smartest workforce in Canada by the Calgary Sun, and Next Generation Consulting ranked Kingston as a Top Canadian Hotspot for Young, Talented Workers (fourth of 27 urban centres) based on diverse career opportunities, a vibrant art and music scene, walkable neighbourhoods, lifestyle and social capital.
Yet in a recent National Post article on the most attractive environments for entrepreneurial aspirations, Kingston rated low on the list of cities at 84 out of 103. “I think Kingston ranks low in the list because we have such a high proportion of our labour force employed in public institutions (nearly 50 per cent of our jobs),” says Kirkham. “This economic structure in Kingston reduces the number of people who are available to pursue an entrepreneurial endeavour, relative to the communities out ‘west’ [Grand Prairie, Saskatoon and Regina], which are listed at the top.”
For cities looking to attract a younger population demographic, quality of life and work-life balance are values that are highly coveted by Generations X and Y — those born between 1965 and 1981, and 1982 and 1994 — writes Chuck Underwood, author of The Generational Perspective. This includes things like culture and lifestyle, easy access to the outdoors, sustainability, innovation and a green, diverse city.
When it comes to attracting young professionals, Kingston has some real comparative advantages in terms of quality of life, says Bryan Paterson, professor of economics at Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston. He researches economic growth and development and technical change, and also serves as city councillor of Kingston’s Trillium district.
“It’s a beautiful city, a wonderful place to raise a family and that’s really important when you’re thinking about a young professional,” he says. “When you think about relative affordability, the community and the natural beauty, Kingston certainly has a head start relative to other communities.”
The City of Kingston is now working on creating a quality of life that is competitive with anywhere in the world where people may want to work, says Cynthia Beach, commissioner of the Sustainability and Growth for the City of Kingston. “Quality of place is very important. Having character, making it unique, somewhere people have an identity with and some sort of personal attachment to a place.”
The City is working on a number of initiatives in this direction, including a “town-gown” working group focused on economic development and quality of life, with representation from the business community, RMC, St. Lawrence College, Queen’s, the City of Kingston and KEDCO. The goal of the group is to make the city more attractive for students who may want to stay here after graduation.
“When you think about relative affordability, the community and the natural beauty, Kingston certainly has a head start relative to other communities.”
Bryan Paterson, Professor of Economics at RMC
Other initiatives include a “cultural campus” involving the City of Kingston and Queen’s, which will include the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, a City of Kingston-owned heritage building on the waterfront, and the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s, slated to open in 2014. The arts campus, as it’s also known, will allow both the community and students to further take part in creative and cultural aspects of the city.
The City is also developing a youth strategy to assess programs and activities for young people, and is working on making The Grand Theatre more accessible to a younger demographic through different programming and pricing.
For Girard, the importance of quality of life values rings true. “We don’t have a desire to go back to the big city anymore,” he says. “A lot of it comes from a quality of life, but also the sense of community we have here. The value that people place here on work-life balance is unlike anything I’ve seen in big, metropolitan areas. We’re healthier than we’ve ever been, we’re happier than we’ve ever been. We socialize more. We see our family quite a bit because every two weekends or so they are driving through from Toronto to Ottawa or Montreal.”
At the end of the day, the biggest challenge for young workers is whether they can find a job in the city, says Paterson. “That’s critical to attracting young professionals.”
Kingston is known for its academic research and development, and has per capita the highest amount of public sector research and development with Queen’s and RMC. Despite aluminium provider Novelis recently announcing it will close its Kingston research facility and move jobs to Atlanta (but keep its manufacturing plant open), it is a sector that remains active in Kingston.
“While it’s hard to measure brainpower, on a per capita basis, we would be high,” says Paterson. “We have a lot of public-sector employers, but we also have a lot of top-notch private-sector firms that are doing research and development. This is really an asset.”
“The value that people place here on work-life balance
is unlike anything I’ve seen in big, metropolitan areas.
We’re healthier than we’ve ever been, we’re happier
than we’ve ever been.”
David Girard, a recent MBA grad at the Queen’s School of Business
Examples of global private-sector firms in Kingston include Bombardier, Dupont, Invista and Transformix. “We’ve got some real cutting-edge stuff that’s going on here,” says Paterson. “People sometimes have no idea of the opportunities that are out there.”
According to KEDCO, about 10 to 20 per cent of business in Kingston is global. MetalCraft Marine, which makes high-speed, technologically advanced fire and rescue boats, is known globally for innovation. It employs 120 people in Kingston, with about 25 per cent of its workforce aged younger than 35. As the company continues to grow and partner with programs offered through Queen’s and St. Lawrence, it expects to see the number of young professionals increase.
GreenCentre Canada, located at Innovation Park at Queen’s, works with academic researchers and industry partners to develop clean, less energy-intensive alternatives to traditional chemical products and processes. The centre, which takes sustainability ideas from university campuses to market, started off in Kingston for a number of business reasons. “We had a strong relationship with Queen’s and that made our launch much easier,” says Rui Desdes, executive director of GreenCentre. “Proximity to two world-class universities, proximity to three major centres is key, and cost of living makes it an attractive place for young professionals. If you work in the chemical industry in Toronto you will have a much different quality of life than you would in Kingston. So that makes it easy for us to attract the technical talent.”
Looking at potential areas for workforce growth, some identify the need for increase in industrial research and development and the private sector. “Traditionally Kingston has relied on its public sector, but I really think that to address these sorts of issues, you have to grow your private sector, because your private sector is what’s going to bring that diversity,” says Paterson. “The more you can do that, the more you can at least improve the odds that you can recruit both professionals [in a couple].”
Finding jobs for partners is among the challenges for GreenCentre, which hires a lot of mid-career professionals in Kingston, as well as those fresh out of school. “The number one problem is partner accommodation,” says Desdes. “That’s what prevents you from attracting young professionals… Professionals marry other professionals usually. At the end of the day you have a partner who needs to be accommodated.”
KEDCO can help provide information on jobs or at least provide support to help define a job for the job-seeking partner. Yet Garrah admits spousal employment is a challenge. “The opportunities have to precede the quality of life perspective,” he says. “As part of our labour market initiative, we work with local partners and we offer a particular service whereby if a company contacts us to say they’ve recruited someone, we will activate a network amongst our employers.”
Another area of concern identified by KEDCO is the shortage of skilled labour — jobs in sheet metal and fabrication, welding, power engineering and stone masonry — due to baby boomers retiring. “Given the historic sites around Kingston that’s a real concern,” says Garrah. “We’re working on a strategy with Kingston Immigration Partnership to not only attract students, but also attract more immigrants. We’re aware many go to larger urban centres.”
Part of KEDCO’s work involves ensuring the right services are in place, such as housing. “The housing and apartment market is very tight,” he says. “It has one of the lowest vacancy rates, which is difficult for young professionals.” He says this is often a concern for companies or people moving to the city. “When companies move here they ask questions like, is there a place to set up, doctors in the city, a place to live? We have to address those concerns and questions.”
Avoiding the Brain Drain
Students would be an obvious choice for a city with a declining youth population and “brain drain,” as it’s often called. According to KEDCO, about 96 per cent of students come from outside of Kingston and 92 per cent leave after graduation.
A 2008 study prepared by the Monieson Centre at Queen’s School of Business in collaboration with KEDCO found that many do not consider Kingston as a place to live post-graduation. Comments like “Kingston has limited employment opportunities in my field” or “I will move to Kingston tomorrow if I find a job in my field, even if this means a (decent) cut in my wages” were common in this report. Students were also more likely to comment favourably if they had spent summers in the city.
To keep a growing base of talented graduates in the city, initiatives such as job fairs and involving employers with the university and college are helpful.
Cathy Keates, director of Career Services at Queen’s University, says finding jobs means “learning more about the local market and building relationships with local employers in order to connect with opportunities in their fields.”
Queen’s Career Services has an ongoing partnership with KEDCO to connect students and graduates with local organizations. Last February, their popular “Live and Work Kingston” job fair filled to capacity with local employers for a second year. “Often the students don’t even know the jobs that exist, and often it’s just a matter of bridging the information gap,” says Keates.
Another initiative is the Queen’s Career Services Job Shadow program, which runs in February and March. Students spend a half day with a local organization, shadowing someone on the job.
St. Lawrence College is also joining with Queen’s Careers Services as an event partner for Live and Work Kingston 2013. The college currently enrols 6,700 students, and has seen a 43 per cent increase in enrolment during the last decade. “About 80 per cent of St. Lawrence’s graduates live and work within 100 kilometres of the campus, which speaks volumes for producing talent within a local domain,” says Cam McEachern, director of research at the college.
In addition to typical work-placement programs, the growing applied research activity and special projects at the college’s Corporate Learning and Performance Centre provide valuable career development and networking opportunities for students. “The college’s commitment to Kingston’s ‘sustainability’ priority offers a picture of how this all works,” says McEachern.
The rooftop solar panels on King Street are the largest installation at an educational institution in North America. Three diploma programs in energy systems engineering, wind turbine technician and geothermal technician make the college a leader in renewable-energy training. The college’s Energy House and NSERC-funded Sustainable Energy Applied Research Centre engage students and industry partners with new technologies and cutting-edge problem solving.
The snapshot of job opportunities for young graduates is not as promising, however, from the perspective of digital media specialist Sidneyeve Matrix, Queen’s National Scholar and associate professor in the department of media and film at Queen’s. Matrix has not been able to find a long-term job for any of her students in Kingston. This includes about 1,400 of her current students who are interested in job opportunities in marketing, creative arts, graphic design or public relations. She has received dozens of emails from students who have graduated and are still looking — some after three unpaid internships.
“My experience in Kingston is that it’s a small town with not enough opportunities and not enough payment for on-the-job training,” says Matrix. She has received so many requests from local employers for students or interns that she created a website to aid those connections, www.GenYTalent.net. Yet many companies in Kingston are reluctant to pay professional wages for these graduates. Ideally, she suggests employers hire a professional and task them with an internship program in the summer.
Bringing Talent Back
Paterson believes that Kingston’s greatest attraction is to returning Kingstonians or workers who are a bit older than those who have just graduated.
“When you’ve just spent four years of your life here and you might be thousands of dollars in debt, a job is important,” says Paterson. “If the job isn’t here, you will go where that job is. This often presents a difficulty even for academics, who are often advised not to be employed by the same institution from which their degree was granted.”
According to KEDCO, about 96 per cent of students come from outside of Kingston and 92 per cent leave after graduation.
“When you first come out of university you might be single, you tend to want to think big, and larger urban centres have an attraction when you’re younger,” he says. “When you get a few years older and the novelty of the three-hour commute starts to wear off, when you’re thinking about raising a family and affordability, then the attractiveness of Kingston comes into play.”
Students may also be less inclined to stay immediately after graduating because salaries tend to be lower than in a larger city, according Dubey of Queen’s School of Business, who notes that this is due to the public service component of the city. “But the cost of living is lower too. Younger people don’t often understand that, and look only at the absolute dollar amount.”
Working remotely or as an independent consultant, which is fairly common in Kingston, tends to work better for mid-career professionals, but is more difficult for young workers who needs to build up a few years of experience first.
Erin Boyce, currently a professor of graphic design at St. Lawrence College, is a perfect example of a graduate returning to the city. She and her husband left Toronto and returned to their hometown of Kingston, where Boyce had attended both Queen’s and St. Lawrence, in 2007 when she was 32. They decided to make the move while she was on maternity leave from her job as a graphic designer. “I could not imagine having to balance the family and working life because the work expectations and commute would have eaten up all of our family time together,” she says.
Boyce landed a full-time job as a graphic designer in the department of marketing and communications at St. Lawrence, and eventually, professor. Her husband, Shaun Withers, also a designer, was able to able to work remotely in his full-time position with an interactive design agency in Toronto for two years after moving to Kingston.
“When I got here, one of my goals was to bring the design community together,” says Boyce. She even started a Facebook group called “Designers and Creatives of Kingston” for designers, illustrators, writers and photographers.
“Everyone talks about the rise of the creative class and if it even exists in Kingston? I think it does, but we have to start coagulating a little bit… There’s a lot going on here. You just have to find the opportunity.”
In David Girard’s case, he wasn’t afraid to reach out to the community when he was searching for jobs. He asked his professors and people at the School of Business for introductions, and talked with people at KGH, KEDCO, the City of Kingston, and other CEOs and professionals.
“The people I spoke to were very welcoming. The face-to-face meetings were helpful — I think it’s something that the people of Kingston value more than in big, busy cities like Toronto.”
Girard, who volunteers as a member of the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and is the project advisor for current MBA students at Queen’s School of Business, recommends that students or young professionals reach out to the community and employers in Kingston as much as possible.
He also credits short-term consulting projects often available to students or initiatives run through the Queen’s MBA program such as the Kingston Venture Study tour, co-ordinated through KEDCO. “We spend a day going around to different businesses in the Kingston area to learn how they operate,” he says. “Essentially every student in the program gets to see at least three to four different companies, meet with manager, CEO, HR director and get first-hand exposure to businesses in Kingston all in one day.”
For young professionals, networking is the key, and some say it’s easier to do here. This might especially be true for those who want that diversity of interaction with a group of people that includes professor, CEO, scientist, designer and student, often spontaneously in an informal setting.
“How many cities can you pick up the phone and speak to a vice-principal or principal?” says KEDCO’s Jeff Garrah. “Our size is an advantage for us. It’s not so large you can’t meet people in key positions.”