Immigrants, refugees get training from builder in New Hamburg, Ont.

New Hamburg renovator Just Working Construction provides employment and work training to Canadian newcomers and refugees. Owner Jeff Van Gyssel hopes the business could be a model for other businesses in Waterloo Region.

Just Working Construction provides on-the-job training and support to Canadian newcomers

Employees Kenny Hoekstra and Prince Samuel Innocent of Just Working Construction, a New Hamburg renovation company that employs refugees and other newcomers to Canada. (Jeff Van Gyssel)

As Syrian refugees begin to arrive in Waterloo Region, a local renovation company is doing its part to help newcomers find employment in Canada.

Based in New Hamburg, Ont., Just Working Construction was founded last April with an aim to provide employment and on-site job training to Canadian immigrants and refugees.

The company is owned by carpenter Jeff Van Gyssel. He was inspired to start the company while working as a volunteer with Welcome Home and the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support in Kitchener. Many of the new Canadians he met there couldn't find work.

"It's a real struggle for them to find good employment here, and for somebody to give them the chance," he said. "I'm trying to open those doors."

As an employer, Van Gyssel is dedicated to providing his workers with the training and cultural support they need to thrive. He currently employs just three people, but hopes to expand in the new year. He is in the process of finding a larger workspace and is looking for other licensed carpenters to help with training.

'Totally different'

The company is already making a difference for newcomers to the region. Mwana Nsenga, an immigrant from the Congo who arrived in Canada in 2011, says working for Van Gyssel has been a great experience.

"I've worked at different construction companies, and what I am living right now, it is totally different," said Nsenga. "He trusts me… which gives me much peace."

Cultural differences and language barriers made previous work experiences difficult for Nsenga.

"When I first arrived, it wasn't easy at all – especially the communication," he explained."I did my schooling in French, but working was in English... Sometimes people are not patient with you, sometimes they are not respectful to you. So it was stress all the time."

Van Gyssel hopes his business might serve as a model for other local employers who want to help provide opportunities for refugees and other newcomers.

"If they have a bit of experience, then they have a better chance of getting hired on as an apprentice somewhere," he said.

"There's so many people that need a chance."