Toronto May, 2009
Ref: Waiting for the outcome – immigrant co-op programs are not delivering as they promise.
I do not have any quarrel with the fact that a lot is being done to enable the new immigrant to settle down smoothly. I do think the Canadian government is quite earnest to do something constructive in this direction. The amount of funds allotted to various immigrant settlement agencies is huge and, in fact, this has become a thriving industry now, but precious little comes out of it.
For the past two years and a half, since I landed in Canada and started navigating the complex and disconnected system in place to support newcomers in their long journey through the Canadian market place, I have been witnessing an accountability issue when it comes to the way the system approaches newcomers. In almost 3 years, I have been to 3 different programs targeting newcomers: NOW (Newcomer Opportunities for Work - October 2006), CanEx Co-op Program - January 2007 and SLT Hospitality with Co-op Program - February 2009. In total, I spent 41 weeks attending job search seminars, orientation to Canadian workplace culture, resume critique. I also worked for free during six months in 2 different places.
Although I have seen so many mistakes in all places I have been, my last experience (SLT Hospitality with Co-op Program) was the worst ever regarding the lack of accountability towards newcomers. Since I already had an advanced level of English (ten years of studies and use before coming to Canada) but I was still out of the job market, when I joined SLT Hospitality with Co-op program, I was hoping, as its name and the flyers make newcomers believe, to start a co-op by the end of the course. It never happened and I was not alone. Unfortunately I have never been alone down this road. I write especially for the majority of newcomers who are still coming and won’t have a voice for years to come.
Another issue that deeply affects newcomers, emotionally wise, is how the volunteering word has been misused to make them even more confused when they arrive, especially the majority of those who are coming from countries where there is no such a thing as working for free in order to get their feet on the door. Still, they go and work for free, as I did, and nothing happens. Promises have been made. Promises are not being kept. Accountability is the main issue here. In my opinion, if the funds were not provided by headcount and rather by the measurement of the quality of the results (like the multinationals do) the accountability issue wouldn’t be there.
Although the list that follows is far from its end and the Hospitality with Co-op program was not the only place where I faced an accountability issue, I will briefly state what I have experienced there because it was my last attempt to be part of one of these programs:
· Lack of face-to-face meetings with the job developer. High turnover (we had 3 job developers in less than 3 months).
· The approach: it would be a good start if the agencies stopped treating us as
“clients” and started seeing and treating us as who we really are: highly educated professionals. The “speech” is there but not the action.
· Lack of transparency when it comes to analyze and communicate the real chances of securing a placement at the end of the program. (After more than 2 weeks of the end of the program nobody was given a clue about the possibilities of a placement).
· Huge gap between management and the “clients”, total disconnection with the real world of newcomers.
· The field trip (to a fancy hotel to impress) wasn’t tailored to the audience meaning the clients didn’t need to be part of the program to get that kind of tour.
· Nobody knows better than newcomers the importance of networking, especially because since they arrive in Canada they are forced to restart everything from scratch. So, the agencies don’t help immigrants by insistently repeating how important is to network. Instead, it would be more helpful if they actually helped newcomers through their network. That is why immigrants register for programs with co-op.
· Although newcomers know the importance of networking, it is very unclear and there are few registers or success stories about the agencies playing a formal role in the establishment of networks, focusing instead on teaching techniques for networking during the in-class component of the programs.
Despite a well-developed immigration policy, Canada lacks a more integrated and centralized policy that guides immigrants coming from all over the world and, with different needs. My experience as an immigrant trying to be part of the Canadian marketplace for the past two years and a half has proven that there was no shortage of efforts on my side and on other immigrants side. Rather, an increasing underutilization of the skills of newcomers – skills for which many were selected – is directly connected to a significant increase in poverty rates among new immigrants and their families. Therefore job market integration for newcomers remains a challenge and there is a continuing role for the provincial and federal governments to truly tell the world that Canada is a land where immigrants fully integrate social and economically. Getting immigration right has never been easy. But getting it wrong – the usual result of lurching from one expedient to the next – will mean a shrinking economy, a drop in living standards and a loss of vitality, which in fact is the last thing newcomers want to happen with the country they now call home.
*Paula Regina Mazulquim