Local groups offer employers support to hire Syrian refugees

Local organizations, including The Working Centre in Kitchener, are offering employers help when it comes to hiring Syrian refugees. That could include a job coach who would help a new employee get settled at work or advice over the phone.

'You see people’s lives reshape and reform,' says Stephanie Mancini of The Working Centre

Programs like the Speak English Cafe at Queen Street Common Cafe in Kitchener pair volunteers with refugees. Once newcomers get a handle on the English language, they're able to enter the workforce with confidence, says Stephanie Mancini of The Working Centre. In this photo (back row from left): Helen Basson, Maisam Ghazal, Momtaz Al Najjar and Glen Soulis. Front row from left: Murad and Malek Al Najjar. Both families are participants in the Speak English Cafe. (Adetayo Bero/CBC)

More than a year after coming to Waterloo region, many Syrian refugees have found a place to live, are learning English and are now ready to enter the workforce.

Local organizations have helped newcomers feel welcome and work on their skills. Now they want to make it easy for employers to say yes to hiring refugees.

The Working Centre in Kitchener, for example, is offering a number of services to help employers who want to hire refugees, said Stephanie Mancini, who started the grassroots organization with her husband Joe in 1982 to help people living in poverty.

Those services include having a job coach who would go with a refugee to their job on the first day and help them understand specific terms they may not already know, navigate health and safety training and just give them a hand to get settled.

As well, The Working Centre is just a call away for employers if an issue arises, Mancini said.

"[Refugees have] come through a journey and they're very eager to be a part of their community," she said.

Workers have various skills

The recent influx of newcomers have come with a variety of work experience, she said.

"A large group has come with general labouring skills, so they're an industrial sewer, an office person or a customer service person, a baker, a machine operator, a water drill pump operator. On and on go the occupations that people did in their home country," Mancini said.

There's also a military pilot and another person who has a masters in hydrogeology.

People with more advanced work experience continue to work on their English, because Mancini said to obtain those types of jobs in Canada, their English needs to get better.

"People who have long-term plans are focusing on their language skills while they're also looking for work in the short term," she said.

"[They're] happy to work, they want to be committed to working, [they] want to be involved in Canada and committed to their new community."
Tareq Ibrahim is seen in this photo from 2007 enjoying diving. It was before his family was forced to flee Syria. Now in Kitchener, Ibrahim told CBC K-W last December he was trying to find work, but lacked the 'Canadian experience' companies want. He did find contract work earlier this year with Cambridge insurance company Gore Mutual. (Tareq Haj Ibrahim/Facebook)

Community responds to calls for help

Mancini and her staff at The Working Centre are one of a number of organizations partnering with Waterloo Region Immigration Partnership, an initiative that helps facilitate settlement, integration and community involvement of immigrants and refugees into the region.

Tara Bedard is the executive director of Immigration Partnership and said while it may seem things have quieted down, people behind the scenes are still very busy helping newcomers get settled.

Other partners include the K-W Multicultural Centre, the YMCA, United Way, local government and post-secondary institutions.

"It's really been an emotional year and a half, for myself and for all of the partners we're working with. It's pretty incredible to be a part of such an important undertaking that our country's been involved in," she said.

"Everybody knows that those people are still in our community and getting settled in and every time we see that a call goes out for support, this community comes around it," she added, noting the energy to help refugees has not waned.

"We've seen every time that people have known that there is a need to respond, that response has been there."

'So many good people'

Mancini said residents in Waterloo region are great at welcoming people – the next step is to help them become fully immersed in the culture by helping them find work.

"What I really notice is, there's so many good people that we meet and so many good stories of how people are settling in," Mancini said of the people they're helping.

She recalled the story of a brother and sister who learned English skills at the Queen Street Commons Cafe through a work experience project. Then they both went out to find work and both got jobs.

"You see people's lives reshape and reform," she said.