They came from a dozen different countries from all over the world, eager to build a new life for themselves in Canada by embracing the profession they had left behind.

On Wednesday night at Mohawk College, the YWCA Hamilton’s Bridging to Employment program held its first graduation ceremony, honouring 40 immigrants for completing one of the YWCA’s two programs; Bridging to Information and Communications Technology and Bridging to Environment.

The programs provide internationally trained professionals with courses designed to upgrade technical and non-technical skills in order to match the requirements and expectations of Canadian employers.

Immigrant professionals are given the opportunity to brush up on the "soft skills" required to integrate into the Canadian workforce in the industries in which they have been trained in their home countries.

One of the grads at the ceremony, Sanja Petric-Milosevic, came to Canada from Bosnia-Herzegovina with her husband last August.  An IT professional in Europe, she was eager to find work as soon as she arrived in her new country.

Like a true 21st century job-hunter, she scoured LinkedIn for other IT professionals in the Hamilton area. Petric-Milosevic’s search led her to the profile of Jupiter Deveau, the Bridging to ICT coordinator.  Emails and phone calls were exchanged, and less than a month later, Petric-Milosevic had enrolled in the program.

The advanced English language courses and networking opportunities offered by the ICT stream resulted in Petric-Milosevic being offered a job by one of the first companies she applied to.

She was one of the lucky graduates to find employment before she even graduated, and she dedicated her success to the program.

"Thanks to the ICT Bridging program, I can say I got my first job in Canada only 8 months after arriving," said the technician for the Ancaster-based Audcomp, an IT solutions firm.

Among the dozens of friends and family members that attended the graduation were a collection of politicians representing every level of government.

NDP MP David Christopherson, provincial Liberal Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Michael Coteau, NDP MPP Monique Taylor and Councilor Jason Farr all came to join in the celebration.

Councillor Farr, who led the singing of O Canada to begin the evening, said that programs like Bridging to Employment play an important role in helping the local economy and bolstering the Hamilton community.

"I think it’s vital that we recognize that we have a bit of a lull in terms of addressing qualifications attained elsewhere.  Removing those barriers would be a great advantage to us, so we need to support initiatives like the YWCA’s Bridging program."

Iqbal Setiadi, a biologist from Indonesia, hasn’t yet landed a job, but the Bridging to Environment grad was happy with what the program had to offer.

"The program lined me up with a couple of internships with the Hamilton Conservation Authority.  I got to help them with several projects there."

Asked what his plans were now that he had graduated, Setiadi was cautiously optimistic.

"I really want to find a permanent, full-time job in the GTHA area, but it might not be feasible.  I might have to go west."

The YWCA began Bridging to Employment 2011, and it is operated by a variety of partners including Mohawk College, the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford, EcoCanada, the ICT Sector Council and the Council for Access to the Profession of Engineering.