by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario
Economic development officers in the upper reaches of Northeastern Ontario have noticed a trend in the past few years — as businesses come up for sale the buyers are first generation immigrants to Canada.
They had no idea where the newcomers were coming from, how they found out about the business opportunity, how many businesses they own, how many people they employ, or much else.
Now they do.
I wrote about this trend for New Canadian Media in December, explaining why municipalities may be better off canvassing for new immigrants from within Canada's borders, rather than launching expensive international campaigns for potential newcomers from other regions of the world.
Working with the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre through a project sponsored by the Far Northeast Training Board, I travelled to Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst in the summer and fall of 2016 to interview as many newcomer business people as possible. The full report is here.
Of a possible 55 business owners identified by economic development officers, 38 were interviewed, or 69 per cent. This extremely high sample number provides very reliable data.
So who are they?
The typical newcomer business owner in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area is 44, originally from India but moved north from the Greater Toronto Area, owns a restaurant or fast food franchise, motel, convenience store, or gas station, has lived in Canada 13 years, has an average family size of 3.6, loves the beauty and tranquility of the north and plans to stay. The friendly people in the north, the lack of crime and congestion were the other top draws.
Together the 38 people interviewed own and operate 58 businesses, employ 206 people full-time, of whom 56 are family members, 139 part-time, and 20 seasonal. Almost half of them know people from southern Ontario who would move north for the right business opportunity.
Almost half found out about the business opportunity from friends or relatives, with real estate agents, franchise chains and online information cited by others. Two-thirds of those interviewed are originally from India, with the remainder from Pakistan, China, Egypt, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Iran and Belgium.
Twenty own restaurants or fast food franchises, 15 own motels, 10 own convenience stores, seven own gas stations and two own pharmacies. Others owned a landscaping business, nail salon, strip mall and a movie theatre.
Where they come from
Twenty-four of the 38 people interviewed moved north from the GTA. The remainder came from Montreal, Saskatchewan, Windsor, Orillia, India, Kitchener-Waterloo, Gravenhurst, Hamilton, London England, Florida, Vancouver, Fenelon Falls and Belleville. Seventy-nine per cent say they feel connected to the town they live in and plan to stay.
Gejal Gandhi, 35, and her husband Keyur own the Casey’s Restaurant, Esso gas bar and convenience store and the Park Inn Motel in Kapuskasing. They employ 10 full-time and 25 part-time people. They moved to Kapuskasing from Cochrane and lived in Toronto prior to that. They have been in Canada 17 years, are from India, and have two children.
“We bought the Park Inn Motel first,” she says. “We had a motel in Cochrane and sold it. Once we were in Kapuskasing we found the Esso, and then the same thing for the restaurant. There was a sign and we contacted the owner and went through the process.” They have lived in Kapuskasing for four years.
Minesh Prajapati, 44, is originally from India and owns and operates the Subway franchise in Kirkland Lake. In addition he is in partnership with Indian friends in Mattawa who own the Subway there and together they own Subway franchises in Hearst and Englehart.
Change in careers
“I bought the business primarily for my wife,” he says. “She was working in a Subway but was just getting minimum wage. I was a banker doing lending and mortgages. Next year my wife will take over this store and I will be more like managing it. I can go back to banking if I want. They are still calling me.
“Right now, though, the way it is going, I don’t think I’m going back to the bank. Every year we are buying one more Subway.” He has lived in Canada 10 years and moved to Kirkland Lake from Brampton.
With six full-time and two part-time employees in Kirkland Lake, Prajapati says his two part-timers were hired through a special needs program and are doing very well. He says he attends Subway conventions twice a year “and that’s when people spread the news that they would like to sell.”
David Mohamed owns Willis Pharmacy in Matheson, where he is the sole pharmacist. Born in Egypt, he has been in Canada six years and moved to Matheson from Belleville. A couple of friends owned the business and he became a partner recently, after working at the Matheson location for 18 months.
“I decided to purchase because I like working with them and it was a good opportunity in the north,” he says. “Here you are alone in the business and we don’t have any nearby pharmacies.”
Louiz Soliman is also a pharmacist from Egypt. He owns Smallman Pharmacy in Temiskaming Shores. He moved to Haileybury from Montreal to take over the business a year ago. He came to Canada from Greece seven years ago. I asked him if he knew Mr. Mohamed. He said he did not, and asked “where is Matheson?”
If people ask him about moving north to start or purchase a business he says “I would tell them it’s a good area. The people are very polite. It’s a safe area.”
Peter Patel, 67, owns three motels, a restaurant and convenience store in Chapleau, employing 25 to 30 people. He and his partners also own a motel in Fenelon Falls, near Peterborough.
Starting from scratch
Another large employer is Siva Mylvaganam, 49, of Timmins. His is a Canadian success story. He came to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka and Siva’s Family Restaurant in Timmins Square now employs 35 people with the restaurant and catering business. In addition, he has a commercial real estate sideline where he employs another one or two people, depending on business activity.
Very well known in Timmins, he started the business from scratch in 1996. “When I came to Canada I had no English so I worked as a dishwasher, and in a car factory. There were layoffs so I worked in a restaurant and became a cook, and then a chef, and then opened my own business. I found this location and I thought Timmins would never be really high, or really low, because it is a mining town.
“I loved smaller towns because I was born and raised in a small village. I lived in Toronto and it wasn’t my place to live. I always go back but I never enjoy it. It’s not like here. People always say ‘Hi Siva, how are you doing?’ and I ask them about their family. It’s not like that in Toronto.”
Amjinber Cheema , ( “the locals call me Ami”) is typical of the younger entrepreneurs from India settling in the north. Only 28, his wife just joined him in Latchford from India. He came to Canada as a student and in his seven years here he lived in Saskatoon, Regina and Toronto before arriving in Latchford to purchase The Dam Depot, a gas station and convenience store.
“There is value for money in the north,” he says. “The winters are harsher but you get used to it. Compared to the bigger cities like Toronto and Ottawa you get value for your money.” He feels connected to the people of Latchford and laughs that “after I was here for two months they appointed me the honourary Indian ambassador to Latchford. It was in the paper. It was very nice.”
Sam Singh, 24, owns the Mac’s franchise in New Liskeard and is another of the young people from India making their mark in the north. He also came to Canada as a student and started in his business a year ago. “Young people like me don’t have much opportunity,” he says. “From here I can get a start. I am learning a lot of things. It’s a small community and I get involved. In the future if I am going to buy a bigger business I won’t have a problem. For everyone, a small town is the best place to start a business.”
Roger Gandhi, 58, was born in India but has been in Canada 40 years. He is typical of the older immigrant from India who is now well established. He lives in Earlton and owns and operates the Earlton Motel and Coté’s Variety. In addition he owns the mall where the variety store operates, plus the Regal Motel in Timmins.
Navin Tamakuwala, 67, is another. He owns the Thriflodge and Terry’s Steakhouse in Cochrane and has 14 full-time and five part-time employees there. He lives in Montreal most of the year and owns a Sobey’s grocery store there. Also from India, he has lived in Canada for 44 years.
While North Bay was not part of the study area, it has more than 70 first-generation immigrant-owned businesses. Its cricket team is dominated by young entrepreneurs from India. The same is true of cricket teams in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins. Together they are changing the face of Northern Ontario and investing in its future.
Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.
It’s very competitive to find jobs in Toronto, let alone for those Brits thinking of coming over to try their luck. Any little helps, basically. CanPrep, offered by JVS Toronto, is a free specialized employment program designed for internationally trained individuals immigrating to Canada to help them quickly connect to a career. The program is […]
Brits in Toronto
Review by Anita Singh in Toronto
Almost 40 years ago, my grandparents changed our family’s history by deciding to move to Canada. I recently asked my grandma about her immigration story.
She wistfully told me of the navy blue suits tailored for her husband and sons, her special saree, and the frock for her then-young daughter to wear on the flight.
With amazing clarity for her 80-plus years, Dadi recounted the first house she bought with my grandfather, how every member of the family worked to make sure the mortgage was paid and how they slowly but surely made Canada their home.
‘Weather-Permitting & Other Stories’ by Pratap Reddy is a collection of stories that taps into a similar wistfulness. The 12 short stories in this collection wonderfully narrate some of the universal aspects of the immigrant experience – the nervous excitement, inherent disappointment, and yet, steadfast determination for success.
What makes this collection unique is Reddy’s willingness to talk about the darker side of this experience. His stories do not shy away from broken marriages, children sent back to India to stay with grandparents, the disabling lack of Canadian experience or education to gain employment, and most significantly, the loneliness associated with being far away from ‘home’.
In ‘Going West’, the character named ‘The Prince’ is a creative foil to the newly-arrived Kumar, foreshadowing the learning curve of each immigrant when coming to Canada. “You should approach an employment agency. They pay about 12 dollars an hour for factory jobs,” he suggests, highlighting the reality of some immigrants as they try to gain any foothold in Canada.
Kumar wonders, “Did he think I came halfway across the globe to become general labour? The Prince was aware that I had held a middle level position in HR in India.”
Reddy also does an excellent job narrating the different stages of the immigrant journey, which does not begin or end on arrival in Canada, but lingers every day.
In ‘The Toy Flamingo,’ Venky, despite being settled in Canada for 10 years, discovers that an important part of his personal history still lies in India. As he surrounds himself with people and places in his new homeland, an uninvited memory invades Venky’s outwardly perfect life, “‘Hasve agataday’ I cry out. Something falls to the ground with a crash. I hear him mutter in a strange language. I’m certain now that dinner will take even longer to come.”
Venky’s lifestory is an excellent metaphor for how an immigrant’s relationship with their former homelands continue to affect their lives – even while attempting, desperately even, to become Canadian.
Relying on stereotype
However, as a second-generation Canadian, I do take issue with Reddy’s continuous reliance on the stereotype that portrays settled Indo-Canadians as selfish, distant, uncouth and presumptuously inhospitable, who lose their ‘Indianness’ in their adoption of a new life in Canada.
This anti-Indo-Canadian bias runs tacitly throughout the collection.
In ‘Mango Fool,’ Kavita describes her Indo-Canadian customer as “a big woman, bulging out of her blue jeans and nondescript top” who becomes hostile when questioned about her sale purchases. In this story, Reddy pits the niceties of Kavita’s Indian sensibilities against the brashness of the Indo-Canadian customer. Settled immigrants in Canada, Shyam and Shilpa in ‘Her White Christmas’ are barely tolerant of Shyam’s Indian mother’s presence in their home, while in ‘Weather Permitting’, the landlord Maya is scheming and unfair to the newly-immigrated Ravi, eventually kicking him out of the house into the cold Canadian winter.
In ‘Demon Glass’, the hardworking newcomer Lalita is targeted by the overwhelming libido of Indo-Canadian Prem, who preys on the single mother and her daughter. And in ‘Going West’, Kumar passes considerable judgment on his first entry into the Patel guesthouse, noting “I was at once assailed by the stale aroma of Indian cooking. I had not experienced such a powerful bouquet in India where a billion mouths fed on Indian cuisine everyday.”
Reddy has told a one-dimensional story about Indo-Canadians, missing an opportunity to include the positives of the immigrant experience that have emerged from 100 years of Indian immigration to Canada. He ignores how the Indo-Canadian community has succeeded in developing a comfortable co-existence of Indianness and Canadianess, where cultural events, places of worship, cricket pitches, Indian languages and arts schools create a home and community for many immigrants, while becoming an integral part of Canada’s multicultural society.
Despite these misgivings, Weather Permitting and Other Stories is a welcome addition to the growing Canadian literature on immigration. I look forward to Reddy’s forthcoming full-length novel and new collection of short stories as an ongoing contribution to this important literature.
Anita Singh is Toronto-based consultant and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
A group of immigrant job seekers is getting a head start to employment in the retail industry of one of British Columbia’s fastest-growing regions.
Eleven Fraser Valley residents, selected through an application process, are taking part in Job Connections for Immigrants (JCI), a $138,471 Project-Based Labour Market Training program funded by the B.C. government and administered by the Abbotsford Community Services Society. The participants have come to British Columbia from India, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, Nigeria and China.
by Matt D’Amours in Montreal
Community organizations and immigrant lobby groups in Quebec are speaking out against a provincial welfare reform bill that would require new social assistance applicants to enter the job market sooner.
Activists say that Bill 70, “An Act to allow a better match between training and jobs and to facilitate labour market entry,” will have a disproportionate impact on Quebec’s immigrant population, which is overrepresented in the welfare system.
At the Minister of Labour’s request, Bill 70 would seek to introduce a “workfare” system that requires welfare recipients to enter a job training program, or “accept any offer of suitable employment.”
Those who fail to meet these conditions could see their social assistance cut in half. For a single adult receiving $623 a month, that would mean a drop down to about $308.
Political opponents have also criticized the plan, introduced last year by the province’s Liberal government. In a National Assembly debate on Feb. 25, Bernard Drainville of the Parti Québécois called the law “heartless, arbitrary, unwise, myopic and disrespectful.”
During a parliamentary hearing on Feb. 17, Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation.
“In general, as you know, immigrants want to integrate and make the necessary efforts to find employment,” Blais said. The minister added that, among the organizations he had spoken to, there was “zero worry” about how the proposed welfare reforms would impact the immigrant population.
Faulty perceptions of immigrants and employment
Pascale Chanoux, of the group Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), testified at the Feb. 17 hearing, and said the minister’s comments highlight the government’s faulty logic about immigrants and employment.
“Bill 70 claims that if we want to, we can – which is to say that whether someone gets a job or not is based on whether they want to or not,” Chanoux explained. “The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles … [for him] everything is always about the willingness and responsibility of the individual.”
Another person who testified that day was Nalawattage Pinto, a Sri Lankan immigrant who came to Canada in 1993.
Pinto described the systemic barriers that made his job search difficult upon arrival, including his lack of French language skills, and the market’s lack of recognition of his professional experience in Sri Lanka.
Pinto was forced to work nights at a chemical plant, which he alleged only hired new immigrants because it was dangerous work.
He also said the company only hired people for six months, so that workers wouldn’t have time to unionize. After Pinto and his wife lost their jobs in 1994, they were forced to apply for welfare.
Pinto is not alone. According to a provincial report on social assistance published in November 2015, new Canadians make up nearly a quarter of welfare recipients in Quebec.
However, another provincial report, which tracked immigrant welfare requests between 1996 and 2004, found that most made their application early after their arrival in the province – usually within the first six months.
That same report found that once these immigrants opted out of the welfare program, they generally didn’t return.
“This first stay in social assistance is, in the large majority of cases, a unique episode in the process of integration for immigrants,” the report concluded.
‘Suitable’ employment for who?
The concern with Bill 70 is that for immigrants seeking assistance within their first months in Quebec, the mandate to accept a job that is deemed “suitable” by the government could force people into a cycle of low wages, and further trivialize the qualifications they held in their native countries.
“We talk about accepting a suitable job – but suitable for who?” asks Chanoux. “Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?”
Those who refuse to accept “suitable” employment would see massive cuts to welfare benefits, which are already too low to live on, according to Project Genesis, a social justice community organization based in Montreal.
The group points to a fall 2015 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which shows that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal now stands at $675 – $52 more than the current welfare benefits received by a single person.
“Any policy that reduces the income of households living in poverty is destined to … [increase the] depth of poverty experienced by people on low income,” stated Project Genesis.
During his closing remarks at the Feb. 17 hearing on Bill 70, Pinto outlined the hardships he had experienced as an immigrant in Quebec.
“I’ve had jobs at minimum wage since I’ve been in Canada,” Pinto explained. “I am now 65, and I did not achieve the dream that we had when we came here.”
If Bill 70 passes in Quebec, the TCRI and Project Genesis argue, Pinto’s dream of a better life will become harder to achieve for a whole new wave of immigrants.
“We’re talking about poverty and exclusion,” Chanoux said of the proposed legislation. “It’s part of a tendency to try and recoup money on the backs of populations that are very vulnerable.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
New innovative employment programs aim to integrate government-assisted refugees (GARs) into the Canadian labour market.
At the Employment Pathways for Refugees forum at the 18th Metropolis conference 2016 in Toronto, experts discussed how to help refugees find work, not only to help them earn money but also to provide them with a sense of belonging in society.
This is one of several challenges presented by the current large-scale refugee influx that were at the forefront of the panelists’ discussion. These included cultural, language and low-skill barriers.
To tackle these barriers, the private sector is implementing innovative pilot projects based on the demographics and needs of GARs during their first year in Canada.
Creative inclusion of Syrian refugees in BC
The British Colombia Construction Association (BCCA) is one organization with programs to integrate GARs in the B.C. construction industry. The association represents 2,000 employers in the industry.
Abigail Fulton, vice president of the BCCA, explained that the program starts by identifying an existing employee who can speak English and Arabic. With the help of the worker, they identify individuals within refugees groups, assess their abilities, create a pod of workers and help them get their first jobs in Vancouver’s construction industry.
“We just started and identified two pods, one as carpenters and one as roofers,” she says. “These people can have a Canadian experience and a sense of belonging as they move on in the construction industry.”
She said the employers are happy too, as they get to hire people with good experience and who are trained by a bilingual employee.
According to Fulton, there is lot of potential in the province's construction industry based on the projects that are being implemented. She suggests that there will be 45,000 openings in the industry over the next few years.
“Syrians are here just in the nick of time. They have the background of the industry and we want to take advantage of that.”
At the same time, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s Policy Innovation Division is planning to test more than 50 projects across the country this fiscal year, all under $5,000 each.
“We have to test with new partners, new models [as to] how can we get Syrian refugees into labour market,” says Natasha Pateman, director of Policy Innovation Division.
The projects work with 500 organization across Canada and aim to tackle the large-scale refugee influx in the future, particularly regarding refugees with low skills and low language abilities. In addition, they intend to help children and women with integration and language support.
“We will test how we can provide programming for children and teach them English and French, provide adults with social connections and employment connections in a great variety all across the country,” she says.
“One of the groups I am working with that provides entrepreneurship facilities to newcomers, they are planning to work with refugee women who want to sew again. We were able to purchase a couple of sewing machines and will now upgrade their skills,” says Pateman
The process of identifying opportunities goes through the National Settlement council, after which settlement working groups further distribute information through their networks.
“Probably in a week, we might have all the contracts done. Then it will take some time to call in lists based on teams and geographical locations,” Pateman explains.
She elaborated on some of the projects that were tested last year, including one with Syrian refugee women in St John’s, Newfoundland.
It was based on identifying different herbs and spices that Syrians use in their foods that are not available in the province. These women were taken to local Sobeys and Bulk Barn grocery stores to find similar items so that they could prepare food from their culture.
“It was an interesting way of social interaction and establishing connections,” adds Pateman.
She says they are talking to both women and men about opportunities in Canada and getting them into the labour market. “We talk to their husbands to let their wives work outside. It’s not negative in Canada, or negative to leave your child at daycare,” she adds.
Employment provides psychological support
Attendees suggested that it’s important from the mental health perspective to integrate traumatized refugees into society.
Dr. Michaela Hynie of York University said this is very important both for one’s sense of belonging in Canada and to feel like one is respected in the society.
“When we think why employment is important, its not just the contribution to a family as income, but also important for other kinds of integration outcomes,” she says.
While she complimented the idea of devising creative ways for refugees to access employment, Hynie says she thinks the employment sector will have to learn more about the challenges refugees face when looking for work.
“Employment is important whether it provides adequate income, whether the employment is secure or whether the employment can provide opportunities for development and growth. It’s important for the individual and for the Canadian society as a whole,” she concludes.
by Danica Samuel in Toronto
New online programs are looking at how work is done in other parts of the world in order to more easily transfer newcomers’ skills to the Canadian job market.
The program was one of two B.C.-based collaborative business plans showcased in the panel discussion “Facilitating Labour Market Integration to Skilled Trades”. The programs cater specifically to the construction market and offer an innovative way to reach immigrants who practise labour work in their home countries.
“Many construction companies tend to look within their circles for hiring,” explained Fulton. “They employ their friends and family. Because of this, those who don’t fit into that category have a harder time finding work.”
She explained that the integration program helps fill a gap, as 85 per cent of construction companies in B.C. have less than 10 employees.
An important aspect of the program is understanding how construction is done in other countries – research Fulton calls “invaluable.”
Addressing competency gaps
The BCCA Integrating Newcomers program focuses on assessing the skills of potential immigrants overseas as well as providing information about working and living in B.C., and later, employment leads.
It is an example of several pre-arrival tactics that use online programs to properly survey, assess, mentor and inform newcomers about Canada’s workforce and labour market.
Alongside this research is preparation for newcomers who want to settle in Canada and partake in the labour workforce. This is where the second business module called Facilitating Access to Skill Trades (FAST) comes into play.
Sangeeta Subramanian of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC of BC) and Lawrence Parisotto of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) presented FAST as a competency assessment and gap training tool for skill trades individuals.
Parisotto says the program is “explicit and direct.”
“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know,” said Parisotto. “The way to do that is being contextual and dependent between our content so that it provides and addresses outcomes.”
Getting credentials recognized in advance
FAST’s online application is collaborated with Shift IQ, a cloud-based learning management company.
Shift IQ provides detailed diagnostics, validation, gap identification, post assessments and contributes to the e-mentoring program that guides and coaches a person through understanding the trades and services.
The research BCCA Integrating Newcomers and FAST partake in both concluded that one of the main things immigrants should complete pre-arrival is getting their credentials recognized.
Similar advice was mentioned in the “Seamless Service from Pre- to Post-Arrival in Canada” workshop.
Maha Surani, a senior program officer and stakeholder at the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) said that research done by Planning for Canada to align newcomers with sector specific jobs showed that 63 per cent of employers encouraged pre-arrival immigrants to have their credentials assessed.
Surani spoke on Planning for Canada’s collaboration with Acces Employment, a company connecting employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds.
“There’s nothing generic about our work, which enhances the program altogether,” said Sue Sadler, a senior director of services and program development at Acces.
“We have sector-specific training, and then follow through with a job search,” explained Sadler. “We then have business communications with our clients, the employers. All of this is done to connect our pre-arrival candidates to employers.”
Connecting with employers
Acces Employment’s continuum module is enabled by online technology to enhance the job search of immigrants early on. The eight-week program caters to six sector-specific markets – engineering, human resources, finance, sales and marketing, supply chain and information technology.
Markus Van Aardt, the business communications consultant behind the program, said that “folks are hungry for this information.”
He explained the learning principle of the program: Immigrants usually start off being non-conscious and non-competent of the skills required for each of their desired job sectors.
“I’ve walked in these folks’ shoes, it’s important to make sure they are in good hands,” said Van Aardt adamantly.
“Newcomers want this information. They will drive you, and you don’t have to drive them. They will move quickly in the learning process, from being non-conscious, non-competence to conscious, [competence],” he said, using a diagram outlining the process of adult learning to illustrate his point.
Enid Pico, senior vice-president and head of operations and share services at Scotiabank, spoke from an employer’s perspective.
As the first female president of Scotiabank Puerto Rico and once a newcomer to Canada, she shared her encounters as a newcomer to the country and stated that while a pre-arrival program that prepares immigrants for job specific sectors is important, it is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity.
“These cross-competency relationships are important. [Scotiabank] believes in diversity. It’s the right and smart thing to do,” said Pico. “Because of this, it’s important for us to find units and partners [like Planning for Canada and Acces] so that we can work with them to give us what we need.”
by Danica Samuel in Toronto
Focusing on developing immigrants’ soft skills may be one solution to increasing the hiring and retention of newcomers in the workplace.
This was just one of several strategies to come out of discussions on the first day of the 18th National Metropolis Conference at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto this past week.
“Twenty-two per cent of employers said soft skills is the reason that newcomers are not able to retain work,” explained Nadil Jamil, policy strategist for Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, during a workshop titled “Multi-Sectoral Collaboration: Towards Innovative Strategies for the Employment Retention of Newcomers”. “This was also the second highest reason we found in our research.”
Jamil said the group’s 2015 employment survey found that even if newcomers are able to secure employment, job retention continues to be a problem due to a lack of soft skills.
“What does ‘soft skills’ mean?” she asked audience members. Skills like the comprehension of hierarchy and simple workplace courtesy were some of the responses. Jamil concluded that the varying definitions are where the problem ultimately lies.
She emphasized that it’s also very important to ask, “How can soft skills for newcomers be improved without imposing on specific cultural norms?”
Who is the ‘right fit’?
The workshop went on to explore the perceptions of newcomers and the cultural norms of employers.
“Why aren’t immigrants considered integral when it comes to the hiring process?” asked Sangeeta Subramanian, senior manager in workplace development for British Columbia’s Immigration Employment Council (IEC).
She addressed the idea of a ‘right-fit’ and described it through an employer’s lens, which often means hiring someone who reflects their own image.
She went on to say that sustaining collaborative partnerships with recruiters working with immigrants specifically can help attract, hire, and retain them in the labour markets.
Workshop panellist, Rodel Imbarlina-Ramos, who is the manager of employer relations at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), agreed that strategically challenging the language employers use when seeking new hires will lead them into changing their perspective.
Ramos said that it’s a matter of pitching new concepts to employers, without specifically mentioning words that may bring attention to race, diversity and newcomer inclusion.
“All of a sudden we have changed the language by taking the cultural component out so it isn’t about whether someone is a student, a new grad or new to the workplace, nor is it about if an individual is new to Canada, it’s about trying to get the most out of people in the workplace.”
Anita Sampson Binder, vice-president of ARES Staffing Solutions, calls this employer language tactic “soft educating.”
“We don’t want to nail employers that we are trying to have on board. We want to encourage them to take the right steps forward in including immigrants and racialized people,” she explained during another workshop titled “Employer Strategies to Support Immigrant Employment”, which discussed the integration of immigrants in the workplace and employers’ perception of ‘foreign’ faces.
Governments to play a role also
Director of the Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Office, Uzma Shakir, said getting employers and government officials to listen is the frustrating part.
“Twenty-seven years later, and I’m still talking about this,” she stated.
Shakir explained that government bodies, like the City of Toronto, are just as responsible as any other employer for the hiring of newcomers.
Her four-step module is just a start in creating a better environment for immigrants, racialized groups, aboriginals and people with disabilities.
It includes the implementation of an employment equity policy, the Accessibility Of Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA), a human rights and anti-harassment/discrimination policy and legislation to ‘expand’ protection to all residents with or without documentation and the Toronto Newcomer Strategy, which applies a newcomer lens to all activities.
Newcomers not to blame
Julia Ramirez, project coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) of Fredericton, introduced a strategy not only for employers and policy makers, but for immigrants and citizens as well.
Her Newcomer Service Map is a new strategy that the LIP of Fredericton plans on using to integrate the community’s feedback and knowledge to facilitate immigration settlement.
“The idea is to enhance the collaboration and partnership around community members.”
Ramirez also suggested that there needs to be a change in the employers’ perception of skilled immigrant workers.
“It’s not that [immigrants or newcomers don’t] want to do the work,” explained Ramirez. “It’s that the company doesn’t want to receive them.”
“We’re trying to steer away from blaming the newcomer and focus on how we can engage employers in a way that solves this ongoing problem,” Jamil added.
Results of Peel region’s soft skills research study will be released in May 2016 and the LIP of Fredericton’s Newcomer Service Map will launch later this month.
by Eddie Ameh in Toronto
As Rakan Almasri waited for his childhood friends to arrive in Canada last week, it seemed to him to mark yet another leg in a journey that has been years in the making.
After leaving his successful small business in the Syrian city of Homs behind to seek safety in Iskenderun, Turkey, he’s now found himself in Toronto, hoping to find a job to feed his family of six.
Successful businessman back home
On December 10, Almasri, 44, welcomed Ziad Khabbaz and Mazen Khaabaz when they arrived at the Toronto Pearson International Airport as refugees. Feeling somewhat nostalgic as he waited, Almasri reflected on his life back home in Syria.
An electrical engineer by training, Almasri was a contractor who provided spare parts for industrial power plants and other facilities in the energy sector. “I was very comfortable. I had my own office, my own car and my own house,” he says.
Almasri’s wife, a trained teacher, taught primary school in a government school in Homs. The couple has five children.
He says when the war broke out, he had to move his family out of Homs to a safe place. While there, he heard his house had been burnt down and looted. “I lost everything. During the war, you can’t do business, you can’t do anything,” Almasri says.
Since leaving in 2012, Almasri has not set eyes on his house or office. He says it might be difficult locating it since the area has always been at the centre of intense fighting.
Life in Iskenderun
When Almasri noticed things were becoming more difficult and his family’s security was no longer guaranteed, he packed up their bags and left Syria. “We decided to leave because there was no security for us and we have to find a future for our children,” he says.
The family got in touch with some friends in Iskenderun, Turkey who agreed to host them for two weeks. They rented a place afterwards.
It was difficult staying in Turkey, according to the family. “We found a small house, not like ours back home,” he says.
In this new country, the reality dawned on Almasri that he could not work as an engineer like he use to back in Homs. He had to work as a clerk at a company that imported automobile parts in Iskenderun. While he was away at work, his wife had to take care of their children, so she worked at a daycare to supplement the family’s income.
Canada and the hope for a better future
Almasri and his family were eventually brought to Canada by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, an organization that has sponsored a number of families and hopes to bring more.
“It was only a few decades ago that our community (Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at), also came to Canada as refugees seeking refuge because of the persecution in Pakistan,” says Safwan Choudhry, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. “Doing this to Syrian refugees is not only our responsibility as successful Canadians, but [it is important] to give to these Syrian refugees who desperately need our help.”
Almasri says he is happy to be in Canada because it’s peaceful and will provide a better future for his children. Even though he’s sad for his family, especially his children who had to leave their home and their friends behind, “at least, we are secured here.”
Almasri may have succeeded in coming to Canada but he has other family back home. Two of his sisters live in Homs while another two are living in Turkey. He hopes they’ll join him soon, but as long as they are safe he’s happy. “I’ll bring my mother and sisters from Turkey, inshallah [God willing],” he says.
Finding employment in Canada
On the evening the Khabbaz family arrived at the airport, Almasri translated for those in attendance. He says it’s a job he’s obligated to do because he was the only person who speaks the same language as the Khabbaz family.
While it wasn’t a challenge for Almasri to help the reporters get their quotes, what is challenging is finding a job that will allow him to take care of his family in the long-term.
“Whatever job, I will do [it] to support my family,” he says.
All he wants is for the war to be over so that those who might not be lucky like him can live happy lives back in Syria. “I hope there is justice,” he says. “The world is very big, we can all fit in [it], why are we fighting?”
Yaldaz Sadakova | December 11, 2015
What’s the safest place to have a heart attack?
The back of a Canadian cab — because the driver is likely a foreign-born doctor.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit