For new immigrants coming to Canada, a key part of getting settled in a community is finding a job, but the task is not always easy, even where there are jobs available.
A new program piloted by Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington is aiming to help newcomers get the skills they need to get hired, while at the same time filling a need in the local labour market.
“The program has already been employing people,” says Immigrant Services employment co-ordinator Sohrab Rahmaty.
It’s called the Circle of Learning, and it officially started on Sept. 8 with a group of around a dozen people from various countries, all of whom have settled in Canada and are looking for jobs.
“They’re all newcomers from different walks of life,” said Rahmaty.
Among their countries of origin are Iran, Russia, Iraq, Israel, Ethiopia and Somalia, to name a few. Some of them have been in Canada for years, some for only weeks. Some are employed, but are looking for better jobs, some are looking for jobs in a particular field, others are looking to move from volunteering into paid work.
The Circle of Learning program is meant to help them reach their goals by providing training in a variety of essential skills that will help them through the employment process in Canada.
“Some of the things could be very elementary for a Canadian who has been here for a long time,” Rahmaty said.
While many people born in Canada might take elements of the employment process — from preparing a resume, to interview, to hiring — for granted, the process may not be so simple for someone who is not from here, explained Rahmaty.
“Back home, it would be different, the way you look for jobs,” he said.
Differences might range from job qualifications and training standards to workplace culture and social conventions.
As well, those who are new to Canada often face a number of other challenges, such as a language barrier or difficulty making connections.
“It’s multiple things,” Rahmaty said. “It’s lack of Canadian experience; it’s low language skills; it’s the uncertainty and the complexity of trying to navigate the labour market.”
Topics included in the seven-week program include Canadian workplace culture, interview and interpersonal communications, community networking, workplace health and safety, first aid, customer service, and more.
While there are other offices that provide employment services and programs in Guelph, Immigrant Services is the office best positioned to provide these services to newcomers, Rahmaty said.
“We’re the most front-line organization when it comes to immigrant issues in Guelph,” he said, noting the organization is seeing a high demand for an employment program.
“Our difference is that we have in-house language facilitators,” he said.
It can be difficult for other local agencies to navigate the system with someone who doesn’t have a strong command of English, he said.
In the classroom at Immigrant Services on Dawson Road, where most of the first half of the training program is taking place, the majority of people sitting around the table have some command of English.
At the back, a translator sits, softly repeating the facilitator’s words to a couple of the participants in their own language.
The topic of this class is applying for jobs and interview skills.
“Speaking over the phone is even more difficult than in person,” says Yorlenis Proenza, who works in pre-employment and volunteer development at Immigrant Services, and is leading the class. She is speaking about the happy, but also nerve-wracking experience of being contacted for an interview.
“Language skills make it scary,” said Leila Kamali, a program participant who came to Canada five years ago from Iran.
“English is not our first language, so we may have to take extra time to articulate,” responds Proenza, who comes from Cuba.
She is running through the step-by-step process of applying for a job, going over everything from how to answer the phone when a potential employer calls to how to dress for an interview, to the proper way to conduct oneself in an interview situation.
“Not every country in the world is used to the eye-contact thing,” Proenza says, noting a key cultural difference the students may encounter.
Her coaching is geared toward providing the skills they will need to be confident in their quest for a job.
Later in the day, the class goes through some mock interviews to put those skills into action.
For Kamali, the hope is to find a better job than the one she was previously doing.
Kamali has a bachelor’s degree in food nutrition, and has studied quality assurance at Conestoga College. She worked for a couple of years in a local restaurant, but is looking for a job that fits better with her field of study.
“I thought it might be helpful to be familiar with the workplace and Canadian work culture,” Kamali said of her reasons for joining the Circle of Learning program.
“Here, there are very kind people. They try to help us and connect us,” she said of the people at Immigrant Services. “Also, they teach us. They know lots about what you should do and don’t do.”
Kamali said she is also looking forward to the WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) and first aid training, which she thinks will be a good asset on her resume.
“You have to pay for this sometimes, and this is free,” she said.
While the goal is to help people find meaningful employment, there is also a hope that the program will help local companies that are experiencing hiring difficulties.
“We’re doing this to help the labour market shortage,” Rahmaty said.
Locally, there’s a demand for workers in warehouse settings, as well as merchandising and customer service, he said.
“While they’re doing training, we’re also working with employers to find these people placements once they get out,” he said, noting for some of the participants just making those connections will be key.
In the latter half of the once-a-week training program, participants will move onto technical and applied workshops, some of which will be held at actual worksites, where they can learn hands-on skills.
Immigrant Services is partnering with local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Action Read for some of these elements.
“This program is developed as a community-based program,” said Rahmaty, noting the program’s partnerships “allow our newcomers to be exposed to the different organizations in the city.”
There is also an education component to the program, where the University of Guelph, Conestoga College, and the Wellington Centre for Continuing Education will provide information for those who are looking to further their Canadian education, Rahmaty said.
The program is being piloted thanks to support from the Co-operators Insurance Group’s Community Economic Development Fund, but the hope is to be able to offer it on an ongoing basis, Rahmaty said.
“I think the demand is showing itself,” he said. “It’s something that is needed for Guelph-Wellington.”