Student-designed app helps newcomers get work and you get shovelled out

A new app designed by Winnipeg university students is connecting homeowners who need a hand shovelling with newcomers who want work.

University of Manitoba students connect with Hire a Refugee to fill a need

Omar Rahimi, co-founder of Hire a Refugee, says programs like OnTheStep are a great opportunity for newcomers to get out and make money while settling in. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A new app designed by Winnipeg university students is connecting homeowners who need a hand shovelling with newcomers who want work.

OnTheStep was dreamed up and designed by a group of students at the University of Manitoba as a way to help homeowners find someone to shovel their driveway.

Now they're working with Winnipeg business Hire a Refugee, which helps newcomers find jobs while taking English classes and settling in.

For some of the shovellers, this year is their first time seeing a Canadian winter.

"It's a good way to get out and through the snow shovelling, you can earn some money while you're at it," said Omar Rahimi, who helped co-found Hire A Refugee and came to Canada himself as a refugee nearly 20 years ago.

"This is a perfect way to help the families while they're new here."

Alex Shao, a University of Manitoba business student, says Hire a Refugee fits in perfectly with the goals of OnTheStep. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Alex Shao, a U of M business student who helped create OnTheStep, said his mom led the group to reach out to Hire a Refugee. She'd left a pamphlet from the company out for him to read, and he realized they could work together.

"They just provide great opportunities for newcomers in Winnipeg, and from the homeowner perspective, we'll be able to have even more Steppers to provide them with great service," Shao said.

"It really works to coincide with our goals, especially in terms of inclusivity.… Our whole team is diverse, from all different backgrounds."

'Hopefully we can help each other'

Rahimi and his team started shovelling at 4 a.m. Thursday. One of the shovellers who had never experienced a Canadian winter had to pack it in after about five hours, Rahimi said — but getting used to the cold takes time.

"You have to be patient," he said. "You'll get used to it."

Omar Rahimi's crew shovels another driveway on Thursday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The newcomers have to balance their work with the long, arduous process of settling into Canada, he said. Many of them are parents who need to take care of their kids while also working, dealing with immigration paperwork and learning English.

"They spend a lot of time back and forth, going to offices and registering and kids and schools, you know. It's a lot of work," Rahimi said. "It takes a long time … to learn the system and to understand why some of the stuff happens."

The OnTheStep team reached out to the company through Bob Axworthy, the co-founder of Hire a Refugee. So far, 10 newcomers have been out shovelling in the city, he said.

"Hopefully we can help each other."

With files from Marianne Klowak