Shakisha Downey works full time at the Halifax Learning Centre (HLC) to develop partnerships within communities.

Recent Grad’s Career Journey Comes Full Circle

The administrative co-ordinator at Halifax Learning Centres Inc. knows first-hand the challenges that many marginalized youth face on the road to academic success. 
And that insight is helping Shakisha Downey, her employer and the communities they serve to develop a strong foundation for individual growth and literacy skills development across HRM. 
As a teen with some family support but mainly under the care of the Department of Community Services in Halifax — Dartmouth, Shakisha focused on centering her energy into school and education. This became her anchor and starting point for personal and professional development. 
Now a Dalhousie University graduate with a sociology degree, Shakisha works full time at Halifax Learning not only as an administer, but also to develop partnerships within communities to mirror the learning support they provide to communities such as North Preston. Halifax Learning assesses youth literacy needs and delivers programs to support youth in reaching their full learning potential.

“I first started at Halifax Learning, as an office administrator,” says Shakisha. “But we are now shifting my role to take on more outreach, to create more partnerships with communities who may not have access to such literacy programs and see what we can do together to encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds to get serious about their journey to literacy. I can relate personally to these kids on a lot of levels. Now we have an opportunity to build positive programs to support these youth in academic success.”

Executive director of Halifax Learning Sarah Arnold says Shakisha has been making an impact since the start. 
“Her ability to project manage, and to understand and upgrade technology has taken us to a whole new level — and this was just in the first year. Now she is actively developing outreach programs in HRM,” says Sarah.

“As someone who is a shining example of a successful, young African Nova Scotian, who used education as a foundational building block, she brings intelligence and insight into her role connecting and engaging community in a strategy to educate youth.”

Hiring well-educated post-secondary graduates in Nova Scotia is made easier for employers with the help the provincial funding program, Graduate to Opportunity (GTO). Eligible employers can receive 25% of a grad’s first year salary and 12.5% of the grad’s second year salary from the Government. This incentive made it easier for Halifax Learning to hire Shakisha right out of university. 
If the grad is a member of a designated diversity group such as aboriginal, persons with a disability, a visible minority, international student, women in a non-traditional occupation or African Nova Scotian, the employer will receive an extra 10% of the grad’s first-year salary.

“I am continuously inspired by my coworkers, who challenge me to want more.” says Shakisha. “Now I am position where I have colleagues to support what I am doing. In many ways I learn from them, and they learn from me too.”

Recently Shakisha met with a group home director for a facility that she lived in at a younger age, to talk about implementing literacy assessments to determine where the girls in residence need academic support. 
“We identify their strengths and the learning areas that need improvement,” says Shakisha. “I am thinking back to when I was living there, and I could have really benefited from that. It is amazing that now I am in a position to help it come together for others.”
The Graduate to Opportunity program helps build a stronger workforce in Nova Scotia by retaining young people like Shakisha in their fields of study and attaching them to meaningful careers in the province. 
Employers are eligible if they are small businesses with less than 100 full-time employees, start-ups, non-profits, registered charities or social enterprises. Since the implementation of the diversity bonus, over 130 diverse graduates like Shakisha have been employed full-time in their fields with the support of the program.
“Companies with diverse teams are better equipped to reach a broader audience and often deliver business more efficiently because they can understand their audience on a more personable level,” says Shakisha. “Having an African Nova Scotian who is familiar with the experiences of some of the people we want to reach is essential to understanding the needs of clients. I think other employers could see the same kind-of benefits that Sarah has seen. Most importantly, the community is thinking this person speaks my language. We are the same kind of human being.”

“Shakisha is one of three wonderful grads we were able to hire with the support of GTO,” says Sarah. “This hiring is essential to the growth, reach and longevity of Halifax Learning. They are the next generation of warriors to fight to eradicate illiteracy in Nova Scotia.”

Halifax Learning is looking forward to tapping into the GTO program again as it continues to grow. For employers interested in learning more about hiring recent post-secondary graduates like Shakisha, check out the GTO program.