Q & A Thunder Bay

Conversation with Gary Christian and Shannon Costigan

The Northwest Superior Workforce Planning Board in Thunder Bay, Ontario started their Connector Program in 2019, just before the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Their rollout of the program has been slow and steady, but it’s catching on now, and they are starting to see the impact of their work in the community, in the labour market and with their clients. We were able to sit down with Project Coordinator Shannon Costigan, and Executive Director Gary Christian, to discuss the program, and how it has been impacting their community despite a very tumultuous start.

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Alida Campbell

Interview by Alida Campbell.

Alida manages the National Connector Program and continues to be inspired by the stories of connection and growth that participants share across the country.
Alida

Alida:

Your organization is a workforce planning board – it doesn’t normally work directly with the community. How has the Connector Program fit into your organization, and why did you think to add it to your programming?

Shannon

Shannon:

Our organization doesn’t do a lot of forward-facing work, so bringing in the Connector program has given the Northwest Superior Workforce Planning Board a place in the community, a profile that it never had before, it’s given people a platform to become involved in what they do. The Connector program has given an opportunity to take what the organization has learned through their consultations and reports and act on it – to apply their own work for the benefit of the community as a whole. It’s different work, but it’s very successful in raising awareness of the organization and working with partners to address gaps and make an impact in the community.

Gary

Gary:

We have other programs, like WorkSCAPE job board, workforce development, and talent retention of international students, and Connector has a huge opportunity to expand and grow within these other programs. It fits like a glove for us, it’s a win-win for so many different aspects of our organization. It draws links between what we do and how we do it. Connector connects all the dots, it connects our WorkSCAPE program with international students, and our workforce development programs. We’d love to take it beyond what it’s currently doing as well, and to grow it to reach out from the City of Thunder Bay to the district. It is logical when you look at it. When you put two people together and the result is information, or a job shadow, or employment, it’s a great thing.

Alida

Alida:

That’s fantastic. I know it has seemed like it is a long time coming, but how has the program benefited your community as a whole? How is it impacting Thunder Bay and the people you work with?

Shannon

Shannon:

The reactions I see when I have conversations with Connectees about the importance of finding “your people”, is really impactful. Connections have a huge impact on your overall quality of life in any community. The Connector Program gives a way forward to those wanting to make connections in the community. The experience of moving to a new community is jarring, and to be able, as a coordinator, to say you understand and that you can help solve their issue of finding connections, is life changing. The Connector program provides hope.

Gary

Gary:

If you look at the purpose of the program, people can get local employment through connections, and therefore the city can retain them. The more the employers see the benefits of this program, the better chance that individual employee is attainable. It connects the dots – Connectors to Connectees, and this is so important. The result is employment in the area – what more could you want. It can also help employers find talent through a quick and easy process. There is so much potential, and people are excited about it.

Alida

Alida:

You are doing really meaningful work, and the way the program is growing is proving that every single day! The impact on the organization and community is clear, but what about for you Shannon? You do this work every day, what does this program mean to you personally?

Shannon

Shannon:

Any community’s biggest asset is its people. By connecting people, you make a community stronger, and a strong community that supports its people in a variety of ways is a community I want to live in. The impact I have seen in the community and in people’s lives by connecting them is unmatched. It is how you build community. I ask myself almost every day – how did I get so lucky that this is my job?

Alida

Alida:

Thank you both so much for talking about the program with me today. It is so great to watch a program begin, and flourish in a few years – even with incredible barriers to overcome! The program fits so well within your organization, and we are all so proud to see it really connect you with other organizations in your community. It’s going to be exciting watching how the program will grow over the next few years.