Last night Software Hamilton (@hamiltonsw) and Hamilton Economic Development (@hamiltonecdev) hosted the inaugural Jobs Night at McMaster University. A big part of the motivation for me to organize Software Hamilton events is the frustration I’ve experienced watching the brian drain occur out of McMaster. Year after year an amazingly talented bunch of people graduate from McMaster University and generally leave Hamilton. I’m told this happens in “University towns” everywhere, but I’m fairly certain it’s worse in Hamilton. An obvious example would be RIM (now Blackberry), which has been great for retaining University of Waterloo graduates in their city. We can’t capture all of the McMaster graduates or even most of them at this point, but with Hamilton software firms now hiring in greater numbers than ever before we should be able to start retaining at least some of them.
McMaster has formal channels for connecting students to jobs that work great; my own experience with the co-op program during my undergraduate years was fantastic. I obviously forward any job opportunities I’m aware of to the right contacts internally (McMaster is my employer, and I’m a graduate student there currently).
But in past years I’ve also run more unofficial informal “networking events” for undergraduate students where I’ve had alumni come in and pitch what their company does and what types of jobs they will be looking to fill over the next 6 months. It ends up being educational for the students if nothing else, they get to see what types of career paths exist and what companies out there are looking for in terms of skills and experience. But a cool thing happened where every time I ran one of these events companies would fill positions with students they interacted with that night. I’ve always wanted to do one of these event focusing on companies from Hamilton specifically, but it wasn’t until the software startup and job surge over the last few years that doing so was really possible.
At Job Night last evening we had Mabel’s Labels, Weever Apps, REfficient, ProSensus, HiFyre and others from the Hamilton-area come in and talk about what positions they’ll be looking to fill over the short term to about 60 students in attendance. I know at least a few of these companies will be conducting interviews with students that they met at the event, and they spoke highly of the McMaster students that they have hired thus far. A representative from the Small Business Enterprise Centre was also there to explain the Summer Company program. Several students indicated they would be using the program to help launch their own software development shops over the summer. There’s a huge opportunity for them there… I get a lot of requests for help with short-term software development projects from companies that are overburdened with work but not yet at a level that they can justify hiring a new employee.
A single event like this isn’t going to stop the brain drain or build a better funnel from McMaster in to Hamilton. In some sectors like healthcare the talent already flows freely and in large numbers from McMaster in to Hamilton. But in others the talent doesn’t flow in to Hamilton, it just flows right out, and the lack of local opportunities can lead to a perception that McMaster is a bit of a wall within Hamilton. Based on feedback from participating companies and students, I suspect Job Night helped put a nice little crack in that wall, with many more to come.