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As spring approaches, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are preparing to graduate from their postsecondary programs. This represents a significant opportunity for Canadian small businesses to tap into a vastly under-appreciated, high quality source of talent.

Many small business owners shy away from hiring recent graduates because of their perceived lack of experience. The reasoning goes that recent graduates lack the professional skills to thrive in the workplace, and that they require too much of an investment to train.

However, Bill Taylor, a former editor at the Harvard Business Review and founder of Fast Company magazine, argues that a shared attribute of great companies is that they hire for character, and train for skills. This is because skills are malleable, while character is far more static. It's better to hire a recent graduate with a good character and work ethic than someone with more experience but lacking ethical values or aptitude. The cost of one bad hire can be devastating for a small business, which makes it all the more important to select the right talent.

Too many companies automatically rule out recent graduates by listing two-to-three years of experience as a requirement in job postings. Because of these arbitrary prerequisites, small businesses routinely exclude top recent graduates, narrowing the pool of accessible talent and weakening their firms' potential growth. A person's character matters far more than the number of years of experience listed on a resume. A recent graduate who is smart, hard working, and holds the right values can quickly gain the experience necessary to thrive in a position.

Not only can recent graduates meet an employer's standards, but they can add new life and energy into a company, while at the same time saving a small business in compensation costs. Those entering the work force for the first time do not have to "unlearn" the bad habits that some more experienced hires bring with them. In addition, hiring recent graduates is a great way to build up a leadership team within a company, and create a firm's own unique culture and values, all the while powering a small business with innovative, fresh thinking.

It is a common refrain of successful entrepreneurs such as Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield that diverse workplaces are more innovative and create stronger businesses. A key component of developing a diverse work force is building a team made up of individuals at different stages in their lives. By immediately discounting recent graduates, a small business is limiting an essential range of perspectives.

Beyond the inherent value that recent graduates bring, federal and provincial programs provide generous subsidies for Canadian small businesses to hire recent graduates. For instance, there are provincial programs such as TalentEdge, which is managed by our partner Ontario Centres of Excellence. It provides financial support for current college and university students, and recent masters and PhD graduates to gain hands-on, real world experience by working on an innovative industry project. At the national level, there is NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program's Youth Employment Program, which provides subsidies to innovative companies across the country to hire recent graduates.

More than ever, recent graduates are motivated to join small businesses. Millennials are looking for the opportunity to make an impact immediately, gain diverse skills, and have real responsibility. Smaller firms provide this by offering more flexible work environments, flatter organizational structures, and the opportunity to work on diverse projects and touch many different parts of a business. At Venture for Canada, we have seen first-hand the interest of millennials in small business, with nearly 1,700 students from across the country applying for our 50 fellowships to work at Canadian startups.

There is no better time than today for small businesses to hire recent graduates, who remain an untapped source of considerable talent. By harnessing this impressive and renewable Canadian resource, small businesses can power their growth and take their firms to the next level.

Scott Stirrett is founder and executive director of Venture for Canada, a not-for-profit that connects top Canadian university graduates to work at startups.

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