When Marivi Pineda first came to Manitoba from the Philippines, she didn't speak much English.

"It was quite hard for me at first, because I'm shy to speak English," Pineda said.

But more than two years later, it's a different story.

Pineda works at St. Amant's residential care facility for children and adults with developmental disabilities in Winnipeg.

She's among a group of immigrants and refugees getting on-the-job language and literacy training in a workplace classroom.

Twice a week, the resident assistant attends the English at work program run by Manitoba Start.

"I gain more confidence than before. I speak more with my colleagues, with my co-workers," Pineda said. "But when I was new here, I don't speak at all."

Building confidence

Building confidence is a big part of the program, which offers tailor-made curriculum to suit the needs of various workplaces, from the manufacturing sector to the financial world.

"We've all been in those places and situations where you don't feel confident speaking, so you just stand in the back and be quiet," Manitoba Start business developer Terry Buhay said. "Imagine doing that every day at work."

Judith Hayes, executive director of Manitoba Start, said supporting refugees and immigrants is about teamwork and partnerships, involving government, businesses and community groups.

The English at work program is one of many services the agency provides to some 6,000 newcomers every year. They also offer career coaching, help people with their resumés and assist in the search for jobs.

Hayes said she expects Manitoba Start will see many of the newly arrived Syrian refugees down the road.

"Over the next six months to three years, I expect we will see an uptake in employment-related services," she said.


Sylvia Thiessen, English at work instructor at St. Amant in Winnipeg, leads regular classes for newcomers. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

Sylvia Thiessen, the English at work instructor at St. Amant, said this type of language and culture training can help open the door to many opportunities for newcomers.

"They really need to understand the culture and they need to understand the language and be understandable," Thiessen said.

The English at work program is currently in place at more than 20 businesses in Winnipeg.

It's been around since the 1980s under different names, but has grown over the last year or so, with more businesses coming on board.