Syrian refugees in Victoria worry about finding work

Local groups are working to provide job-specific English language training and connect Syrian refugees with potential employers.

Local groups trying to help with job-specific language training, meetings with potential employers

Khaled Adlan fled Syrian with his wife and two children. He's worked hard to learn English since arriving in Victoria 10 months ago but is worried about finding employment. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Up until 10 months ago, Khaled Adlan had never spoken English. Since fleeing Homs, Syria, with his family for Victoria, B.C., he's worked tirelessly to learn the language that he knows is key to finding work.

"Any job I can work. When you have good health, you can work anything," he said.

The federal government provides basic living expenses for one year for government-sponsored refugees once they arrive in Canada.

More than 150 government-sponsored Syrian refugees began arriving in Victoria in March. Adlan, who supports his wife and their two young children, is keenly aware that he only has two more months to find a job.

"I'm very afraid about that because I have a family," he said.

A group in Victoria is also worried about making sure refugees like the Adlans are able to find work before their financial support ends.

Help with job search

With the need for employment growing more urgent, is helping to connect Syrian refugees with potential employers in Victoria. This week, it set up meetings with several local business leaders.

Adlan, who has some experience in the Syrian film industry and enjoys photography, met with Kathleen Gilbert, film commissioner for the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.

"We are going to see what we can do ... introduce him to local filmmakers and see if we can help him. I don't know if I can, but I'm certainly willing to try," Gilbert said.

"I think the community, if they want to see these newcomers succeed, people really do need to step up. They need to take a chance."

Adlan says he knows it may take time to find his dream job in Canada. In the meantime, he continues to work on his English while combing through the classified ads for job openings.

Before and after photos of the devastation from the war in Syria. (Khaled Adlan)

Language challenges

Syrian refugees have also arrived in Victoria at a time when the city is experiencing a labour shortage for entry-level positions in some sectors.

It's the kind of work that could help them start earning a salary right away, but English skills are still standing in the way for some.

To bridge that gap, several Victoria companies are working with a language school to provide job-specific training for potential employees.

"We are actually designing specific programs for these companies," said Greg Demmons, president of the Real English Victoria Language Co-op.

Catherine Holt, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, says the arrangement could be a win for both employers and refugee families.

"The employers are paying Real English a small amount to provide on the job English training for workers that they will then, if things work out as anticipated, be able to hire into these entry level jobs."