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World Refugee Day 2017: A Collaborative Response

Canada’s strong history of welcoming refugees was clearly demonstrated in 2016 with the ambitious and successful strategy to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Our nation’s response to the global crisis resulted in more than 40,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Canada since November 4, 2015[1]. Here at ACCES, we have always played a role in helping refugees find employment, but in 2016 we faced the need to develop and deliver services tailored to the needs of this new client group.

The necessity to support refugees continues beyond their arrival in Canada. Local communities and service providers collaborated to assist in helping Syrian newcomers with finding housing, a school for their children, their first job in Canada, and building a better future for their family.

With 30 years of experience working with newcomers to Canada, we know that obtaining a good job is truly the critical piece that allows for many of the other needs to be addressed. We hear time and time again that once newcomers find employment in their field they can then begin rebuilding their life and become successfully integrated into their communities across Canada.

As the first wave of Syrians arrived in our offices, we used our existing services and infrastructure to meet their needs. Our diverse staff team was agile and highly responsive. We identified Armenian and Arabic-speaking employees to be point-people for Syrian refugees as they arrived at each of our sites. And as we gathered more information about the professional backgrounds and experience of Syrian refugees, we were able to better respond and build tailored programs that would match their skills with the needs of Canadian employers.

We launched three programs to specifically address the needs of refugees. The first was a program for newcomer and refugee youth interested in pursuing customer service and/or general labour jobs: Employment Connections for Newcomer Youth. At least half of participants in this program identify as refugees. We also launched a pilot program for refugees with experience or interest in pursuing a career in trades. The Construction Trades Program offers language support and pre-apprenticeship training exclusively for refugees. Finally, we hosted a specialized offering of our Entrepreneurship Connections program in collaboration with BDC for Syrian refugees who expressed interest in starting a business in Canada. We experienced overwhelming interest for all our tailored programs because each addressed a particular group of Syrian refugees in need of support.

Using our collaborative approach, we leveraged our existing community partnerships and extended our reach to new organizations. ACCES Employment was invited to the join the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable, appointed by the The Honourable Ratna Omidvar, C.M., O.Ont. This Roundtable served as a point of collaboration for many of the community organizations and employers who were ready and interested in supporting refugees.

As a result of this Roundtable, ACCES partnered with LiUNA in creating the Construction Trades Program. We worked with many employers in matching them with skilled refugees to fill open roles. We also led on a large-scale collaborative job fair series where we could facilitate in-person connections between Canadian employers and refugees. We’ve held three major job fairs in three regions for 900+ job seekers and 70+ employers.

There are many incredible success stories that have come out of our programs of Syrian refugees finding employment and beginning their new lives in Canada. Here are just a couple:

Maya, Cosmetics Entrepreneur

Maya came to Canada from Syria with an educational background in chemical engineering and work experience in developing cosmetic products. Maya arrived in Canada in December 2016, and joined the Entrepreneurship Connections Syrian program less than three months after arriving. Maya is currently in advanced business planning to develop olive oil soaps and other cosmetic products that have the “Scent of Syria” for the Canadian market.

Khaled, Brick Layer

After fleeing the conflict in Syria, Khaled, along with his 5 brothers resided in nearby Lebanon where they struggled to maintain their livelihood. He jumped on an opportunity for resettlement when it presented itself; the country: Canada.

Khaled was known as an expert plumber in Lebanon. When presented with the opportunity to join the Construction Trades Program at ACCES Employment, Khaled wasted no time in registering himself. The first task in his classroom: build a brick wall. He was the first in line. At the end of training, a group of contractors interested in hiring Syrian newcomers visited the Ontario Masonry Training Centre to view the group’s work. The owner of Stefcon pointed to Khaled’s wall and asked for his name. A week later Khaled was invited for an interview and received a job offer for a unionized role shortly thereafter.

We know there is more to be done and the support needs to continue. We’re working with our partners, funders, and sponsors to ensure Syrian refugees thrive in their new home country in developing meaningful, long-term careers. Please click here to learn more about our programs and services for Syrian refugees. If you would like to support our work with Syrian refugees, please click here to donate online now.

[1] Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome/milestones.asp

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