The story of my friend, who arrived in Canada as a refugee, is not unique. Like any refugee family, their journey has been marked by challenges, resilience and emotional turmoil.
My friend, her husband and their 17-year-old son arrived in Canada seeking safety and a brighter future, carrying their professional expertise and aspirations for a better life. In the beginning, everything was unfamiliar. With the help of friends and kind-hearted people, they managed to find a basement to live in. Furniture was either gifted to them or acquired from online marketplaces. Although their life situation was far from what they had experienced, they were grateful for their safety. They were able to register their son in school without any issues, and he quickly adapted to his new environment. They considered themselves fortunate as their swift asylum process yielded the desired result.
Initially, they had a small amount of savings they had brought. Unfortunately, as they were forced to rapidly flee their country, they hadn’t had time to sell their assets. Faced with an unfavourable exchange rate in Canada, the balance in their bank account started dwindling rapidly and the harsh realities of their new life began to sink in.
They faced the immediate challenge of finding a job. They had never needed a resume before, but now it was essential. Everyone around them had opinions and advice to offer. One person suggested putting in at most 10 years of experience in their resume. At the same time, another advised them to fabricate retail experience if applying for a general customer service job, as it supposedly increased the chances of being noticed.
Upon their arrival in Canada, many newcomers face significant challenges in finding employment, even with strong qualifications and professional backgrounds. These obstacles often stem from language barriers, unfamiliarity with Canadian job market practices and a lack of local work experience. For example, my friend’s husband – a highly skilled software developer in his home country – encountered difficulties finding a job that aligned with his expertise. Similarly, my talented marketer friend faced hurdles due to her limited English proficiency.
“They faced the immediate challenge of finding a job. They had never needed a resume before, but now it was essential. Everyone around them had opinions and advice to offer.”
Despite seeking help from employment and settlement services, they struggled to secure jobs. They soon realized that job hunting was a full-time job, with the added complexity of online applications, and the fear of potential job scams made the process even scarier. Following up on applications proved difficult, especially since most places only accepted resumes online. Friends questioned why they hadn’t found a job yet, and this questioning added to their sense of shame and worthlessness. Feelings of depression crept in as these obstacles hindered their path to meaningful employment, causing a loss of motivation and a sense of defeat.
Unfortunately, my friends’ story is not unique; numerous newcomers encounter similar challenges while searching for jobs. For career practitioners who are working with refugee jobseekers, here are some reminders and suggestions to help these clients succeed.
1. Adopt a hope-centred career intervention approach: This strengths-based method fosters hope in individuals, which is especially crucial for newcomers who may not have a support system in place in their new country.
2. Create an achievable employment goal: Collaborate with clients to set achievable employment goals by identifying short-term and long-term objectives. Help the client overcome financial constraints by encouraging them to focus on obtaining employment as a short-term goal. Emphasize that any job in Canada is valuable, and an entry-level position can lead to desired career paths. Encourage them to consider employment where they enjoy shopping for extra motivation, leveraging employee discounts.
3. Cultural sensitivity and understanding: Building trust involves being culturally sensitive and understanding the challenges, trauma and dislocation the client has experienced. Showing empathy is critical in this process. Career professionals can participate in educational sessions and workshops (e.g. Douglas College’s Trauma-Informed Career Development Practices course) to increase their competence in cultural sensitivity.
4. Skill recognition and transferability: Emphasize the individual’s skills gained in their home country, highlighting how these can be applied in the Canadian job market. Utilize their transferable skills to teach them how to write a Canadian standard resume. Mock job interviews are especially beneficial for newcomers.
5. Language support and training: Enhancing English proficiency through language support and training is vital. Encourage enrolment in tailored language courses, boosting confidence in communicating with potential employers and colleagues.
6. Networking opportunities: Assist the client in building professional networks by connecting them with community organizations, industry-specific events and workshops. Networking opens doors to hidden job markets and provides valuable insights into Canadian workplace culture.
7. Refer client to community events: Keep in mind that a touch of fun can enhance jobseeker motivation. Recommend free community events or programs (e.g. Vancouver’s Leisure Access Program), which can be both beneficial and enjoyable for them.
The path my friend and her family embarked upon showcases the dreams of numerous individuals who arrive in Canada to achieve a better life. This serves as a testament to the relentless determination of refugee families in their pursuit of an enhanced life within Canada. As career practitioners, we contribute to this journey by providing support and resources, fostering a society that warmly embraces their varied skills and contributions. On a larger canvas, this endeavour promises to usher in a brighter future for all.