Since its inception 30 years ago, FedNor has played a key role in helping more than 1761 young post-secondary graduates land their crucial first job. FedNor introduced its youth internship initiative in 1997 to help curb the outflow of talented young people in Northern Ontario. Since then, the initiative has helped skilled young workers like Meredith Armstrong who, after completing the Ecotourism Management program at Fleming College in 2002, secured employment in her field as Coordinator of Partners in Eco-Adventure Tourism (PEAT), an industry-led not-for-profit organization she helped incorporate. PEAT was a consortium of Northern Ontario operators who worked collaboratively to develop and market tourism product in the outdoors sector.
Born and raised in Stratford, Ontario, Armstrong says a job in Sudbury would never have been on her radar were it not for the FedNor Youth Initiative. Having subsequently planted roots in the Nickel City, she credits her experience with helping to advance her way into her current position as Manager of Tourism and Culture for the City of Greater Sudbury.
"I think one of the biggest benefits was that it helped me establish a strong network of contacts in Sudbury and across the region," revealed Armstrong. "I had a steering committee that provided an engaged and experienced sounding board for my ideas, as well as the freedom to kick start some things, such as the organization's incorporation, which was a fantastic experience."
In addition to helping youth launch their careers in Northern Ontario, the initiative has been invaluable in assisting private sector and community organizations find the expertise they needed by offering funding to offset eligible salary and benefit costs. Just ask Paul Beach, Geographic Information System (GIS) Program Manager with Acorn Information Solutions, a division of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.
"As a not-for-profit organization, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (and its Acorn Information Solutions) has no capital or funds in the bank to expand our organization or services," disclosed Beach. "The only way we can grow is to develop new markets, and we have done that very successfully through FedNor internships."
Originally starting with four employees, the division develops and markets a range of technology-based solutions using GIS, and is now home to 20 staff, many of whom are former interns. The centre is able to support them through the contract work the interns have generated with various partner organizations such as the Algoma Health Unit, Sault Police Services and PUC Services Inc. Other interns have accepted employment with some of the centre's clients. Beach says the centre's objective is to keep or attract talented youth here in Northern Ontario.
"Our goal is to develop computer mapping expertise in the areas of municipal, utility, health, and human services in the North, and create a team of local talent, and we're accomplishing just that," revealed Beach. "We're competing against companies in Toronto, and winning. As a result, our unit has done work in Kingston, Fort McMurray, Guelph, Toronto, and Nova Scotia, and has assisted with the G-20 and G-8 Summits, as well as US Homeland Security. We have established ourselves as leaders in the field and have the awards to substantiate that claim."