by Veronica Leonard

Basma Hannouf was frightened at the prospect of looking for work in Canada.

At 22, she had immigrated to Canada from Syria in October, 2008 having left in the middle of a journalism program.

“I had not worked before, my English was not good, and I had no confidence,” she recalls.

Moriya and Danny Dechtiar arrived a month earlier from Israel, with degrees in computer engineering, as well as several years of work experience, and good English, but job hunting was still very difficult.

“We sent out five resumes a day and never heard back from anyone,” Danny says. “Employers had never heard of our university, or the company we worked for even though they are well known in Israel. No one was going to call to Israel for a reference. In Canada, getting a job is about networking and who you know. We were out of the loop.”

Basma, Danny and Moriya were referred by the Halifax Metro Immigration Settlement Association to a Youth Skills Link project called Welcome Home to Canada. It is run by Pier 21, Canada’s immigration museum. They had to apply to get on the project with a résumé and cover letter, and have an interview with Pier 21 staff just as if they were applying for a job.

The Welcome Home to Canada Project

Pier 21 runs the Welcome Home project twice a year for immigrant youth ages 15 – 30, each project lasting 28 weeks. They have 26 weeks of paid work experience at the museum and also with a second employer in the participant’s chosen career. They also receive training in workplace communications and how to start their own business. In week 27 of the program, there is an intensive training on job search with industry advisors, and in week 28, a reverse job fair at which employers are invited to come to their booths to see what they have to offer as employees.

All participants leave the program with work experience and references from two Canadian employers and enough weeks of employment to qualify for Employment Insurance benefits while they are looking for their next job or to help support them if they decide to take more training.

The program has other benefits: shy Basma is now very confident after only two months in the program and wants to work in customer service - perhaps in a bank.

Danny has developed a good relationship with Basma’s brother, Adham who is also in the program. Every day, the Israeli, the Syrian and an Iranian participant get together for what the others jokingly call “the political forum.” They admit discussions like these were never possible in their home countries.

“You have to leave the past behind and start fresh.” says Moriya.

Skills Link Projects

The project offered at Pier 21 is a Skills Link Project under the Youth Employment Strategy of the federal government. The project is funded by Service Canada as well as other federal and provincial government agencies, immigrant services agencies and in partnership with Halifax career centres and businesses.

Youth projects like this are also used across Canada to help young adults who face major problems in their lives to gain work experience and learn workplace skills. They are often used to help youth who have dropped out of school, or have been involved with gangs or drugs to get back control of their lives and make a fresh start.

Another Halifax based youth project was organized by a local food bank and furniture depot in partnership with local flooring contractors. Many of the youth had been in trouble with the law and came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They learned how to install and finish hardwood flooring and were paired with individual flooring contractors for six months of work experience. Some found permanent jobs with the contractors, and others decided to go back to school and get further training. Not everyone finished the program but it was a life changing experience for those who did.

How projects get started

Often parents in immigrant families feel helpless to deal with the bad influences on their youth in the low cost housing areas where they live. By working with immigrant agencies, business groups, unions, or religious and cultural organizations, it is possible to develop projects to help youth who are out of school and unemployed make better life choices. The projects can be made to suit the needs and culture of the youth and the skill shortages of the community.

Under the Youth Skills Link program, money is provided to cover the costs of a project coordinator, instructors, training rooms and equipment as well as a minimum wage salary for the participants while they are in the program.

Full details about Youth Skills Link programs can be found on the Service Canada website.

• For information about which youth qualify for the program follow the links for Youth and Students, to Youth Employment Strategy then to Youth Skills Link.
• For information on how groups can put together a proposal to organize a Youth Skills link Project follow the links from the Service Delivery Partners to Call for Proposal for Employment Programs.

If there are no calls for proposals currently for Youth Projects on the website, interested groups should visit their local Service Canada Centre and ask for the name and phone number of a local programs officer who can give information about the application process in their area and provide the necessary forms.

Although the big youth projects like Pier 21 are funded regularly, smaller ones are funded through budget surpluses. It can take months to prepare a project that meets all the requirements and a further wait for available funding; however, successful projects are often repeated so the time and effort at the beginning is worth it.

The national youth website (www.youth.gc.ca) is also full of great information about services and programs to help youth ages 15 – 30 and includes a good description of the Skills link program here.

cnm.

The Youth Skills Link program has funded projects in Ontario. In 2004, it funded the Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) Reuse It program in London, Ontario, which helped youth facing barriers to employment gain work experience in recycling and waste management service. The project included the manufacturing and sales of goods from recycled materials. Throughout the placement, the participants attended employability workshops to improve their job readiness.

In February, 2009, Bermo Management Services in Orléans, Ontario announced that they will be receiving $213,637 in federal funding through the Government of Canada’s Skills Link program to establish the Jeunes Entrepreneurs Bermo project.

"This project will enable 10 individuals to participate and succeed in the job market by providing them with the opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge and work experience needed to become entrepreneurs," said Ottawa-Orléans MP Royal Galipeau.

The Skills Link Program continues to support worthy projects across Canada, as it has done for many years.