Tackling the Highlands’ youth exodus
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | June 22, 2017|
Minden’s Amanda Robinson defies a common narrative among young people in Haliburton County.
The story goes like this: Finish high school, and get out because it’s the only way you’ll make something of yourself.
It’s a tale she heard frequently from peers at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
“Your measure of success was based on how you get out of the area,” Robinson, 33, told The Highlander.
Robinson is a digital marketer and has clients locally and globally. She moved to Minden six years ago after taking law and security administration at Sheridan College in Oakville.
While working in loss prevention and marketing for Winners and HomeSense in Toronto, a lightbulb went off in her head.
“I decided to move back here and focus more on lifestyle over a 9-5 career,” Robinson explained. “I found my calling here. And from that, it just naturally emerged that I could use my skills in digital marketing and expand them.”
Her social media feeds reflect her passion for kayaking and exploring the Highlands. Clients across the world have tapped into her talents. Video, specifically live video, plays a big role.
“It delivers a complete competitive edge for local clients,” she said.
But with a growing clientele, comes a greater need for reliable Internet. And that is still absent in most areas in Haliburton County.
Robinson has used several service providers over the years, but recently realized her access to Internet was nowhere near good enough to accommodate her increasing workload.
It forced her to live part-time in Toronto.
“Internet speeds are seven to eight times faster in the city,” she said.
While improvements to Internet infrastructure are on the way in the form of fibre upgrades in Haliburton and Minden, Robinson says she can’t wait.
Opportunities to network with other digital marketers are easier to find in the city, she adds. She describes a lot of those encounters as “spontaneous,” and hugely beneficial for keeping up to date with the latest trends in her field.
“The county could look at ways to foster more face-to-face networking opportunities,” she said.
“It’s very hard, especially for young workers and entrepreneurs in the area, to connect with people.”
Robinson points to the monthly breakfasts hosted by the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce as a possible template. The chamber’s Young Professionals Network is also a step in the right direction, she says.
“We need more of those.”
Engaging youth in the local workforce is challenging, says Tamara Wilbee, Dysart’s chief administrative officer.
During a recent economic development committee meeting, Wilbee talked about the lack of submitted applications she received for summer jobs in the municipality.
A recent addition to the committee, Kelly Mitchell, president of KWMitchell Consulting Services and a former chief of staff at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, said many young families and entrepreneurs might not be aware of the opportunities available in Haliburton.
“I’m not sure if they’re looking at Haliburton as a place that’s open for business,” he said.
Youth attraction and labour force are big issues for Haliburton County, says Heather Candler, an agriculture and rural economic development advisor for the ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs.
“It’s a challenge other rural communities face as well,” she said.
Many townships, including Dysart, have turned to the ministry’s First Impressions Community Exchange program (FICE) to help identify its challenges and come up with solutions.
FICE provides a structured opportunity for communities to learn about the first impressions they convey to visitors through surprise visits and constructive feedback.
Candler says she’s noticed a lot of home-based businesses emerge in rural communities.
“It’s different for every industry … trends are changing. People are turning to direct sales, or even working out of the farmers’ markets.” she said.
Despite some of the hurdles, Robinson is optimistic about working in the county, and urges other young people to consider working in the Highlands.
“Working and making a living in Haliburton County is a realistic possibility,” she said. “[Haliburton County] is on the cusp of having it all come together.”
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.