New Brunswick

'I can do everything': Employment program tries to empower newcomers

​Hasta Subba spent years in a refugee camp in Nepal and didn’t want to spend the rest of her life cleaning hotel rooms in Fredericton.

3-year pilot program sees 54 young newcomers graduate, many with full-time jobs

Nine people in Fredericton graduated from the Skills Launch newcomer youth employment training program on Friday. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Hasta Subba spent years in a refugee camp in Nepal and didn't want to spend the rest of her life cleaning hotel rooms in Fredericton.

Now a child-care worker with a full-time job, she joined pharmacy assistants, construction workers and elder-care workers Friday as they all graduated from an employment program for newcomer youth.

For two years the Multicultural Council of New Brunswick has been running Skills Launch, a training program for people who are at risk of falling through the cracks — people just over the high school age when they emigrated from countries where they may have missed school because they were displaced.

Nine people graduated in the second cohort in Fredericton, but the demand for the program has proven larger than the three-year pilot project can handle.

Hasta Subba, one of the graduates, came to Fredericton as a refugee and initially found work as a cleaner in hotels. Now she has a job in a daycare. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Subba's parents fled ethnic cleansing in her home country of Bhutan when she was just one month old. After spending the first 20 years of her life in camps, she came to New Brunswick as a refugee in 2012.

When she got to New Brunswick, her high school degree was not recognized, and she was too old to attend high school. She started taking English classes but had to leave her studies to work and support her two toddlers.

"It was totally different and it was really really hard for us here," she said. "So everything is different. Culture and then language."

She found work as a hotel cleaner but did not see her future in it. That's when she applied to the skills program.

Fredericton Skills Launch co-ordinator Azza Seif-el-nasr says employers have been willing to take on participants for a six-month work placement with subsidized wages. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

Through it she was matched with Kinderland daycare, which hired her after only a few weeks of her work placement.

"When I came here ... I don't have any confidence, like no, zero confidence and I was really worried about what to do, like how to make my future," she said. "I gained confidence, now I think like I can do everything."

And she welcomes the big responsibility as an educator for three-year-olds.

"As a mother, it's natural," she said. "I like to challenge [myself]."

How it works

The 10-month program is open to newcomers between the ages of 18 and 30, who must not be on employment insurance. Twenty-seven people are selected by committees in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John each year.

For the first weeks participants learn about workplace skills, how to build a resumé and the basics of networking.

Then they have to pick one of three fields to focus on: construction, health and human services, or hospitality.

Those are the fields that have the biggest employment gap in New Brunswick, said Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council.

"We're being held back by the lack of people and it's reducing our competitiveness," he said. "And it's impacting employers' decisions whether to stay in the province or to leave or to bid on this contract."

After picking a sector, participants are matched with employers and do a work placement for six months with subsidized wages.

Hasta Subba is one of the 54 New Brunswick newcomers who has been able to find work after graduating from the Skills Launch program. 0:56

For the 10 months of study and work, the students are paid minimum wage for 30 hours a week.

Most of the employers are already signed up with the provincial Youth Employment Fund, which is the main source of funding for this program.

Hearing from an employer

Holly Grace, the owner of Kinderland daycare where Subba works, said she found out about Skills Launch through parents of one of the kids at her daycare. She said she jumped in without knowing much about the program but has had "tremendous success."

"Her willingness and her being so thorough tin the workplace and eager to learn and connect with the other staff, I knew it was a match," Grace said of Subba.

She said she didn't have many reservations about accepting someone for a work placement because Subba's pay was subsidized, so Grace had an opportunity to "back out of things" if the match didn't work out.

Subba, left, got a job at Kinderland daycare, owned by Holly Grace, right, only a few weeks into her Skills Launch work placement. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

She said having diversity in the workplace is important to her.

"It opens the eyes of parents as well as educators, and it brings so much more into our centre that we can, in turn, give back to our kids," she said.

Azza Seif-el-nasr, the Fredericton program co-ordinator, said finding employers was not as difficult as she expected.

"People are so friendly, I just have to walk up and talk to them," Sel-el-nasr said. "The most difficult [part] is to find the right fit employer and participant."

Seif-el-nasr said she has not faced any dissatisfied employers.

"I think it's about openness as well. I'm very open and the participant as well — to gain experience — [are] very open about their skills."

First job

Shaza Altorn came to New Brunswick as a refugee from Syria in 2016. She's 21 and missed years of school because as a refugee in Turkey before coming to Canada.

She got matched with Shoppers Drug Mart in Saint John, and a few months later was asked if she could continue working there after she graduates.

"It was surprise to me because my boss told me 'We'd like you to stay with us.' … It was a very happy day."

Shaza Altorn got a job at a pharmacy in Saint John even before she finished her Skills Launch work placement there. (Shaza Altorn/Submitted)

Altorn has two children, 7 and 4, and at first she thought she couldn't take on the Shoppers job. But the income and being able to be around people to practise her English were too important, she said.

"I learned that I can do everything," she said. "Everyday, wake up and early go to work and go back, and I have kids and I have family so I'm scared about this, But I was actually good at it. … It's so hard but I'm still strong."

High demand

LeBlanc said $1.8 million is allocated for the three years of this program, to train a total of 81 people in Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton. In the past two years, there were 54 participants from 19 different countries.

This breaks down to nine people per year per city, which LeBlanc said is a '"limited" number, but he pointed to other programs — for home support workers and brick layers, for example — that are also available.

"There are a lot of people that we're turning away right now and that shouldn't be the case," he said. "We've got people that want to work, that have the skills and that are ready to help grow New Brunswick and we should give them that opportunity."

Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the Multicultural Council of New Brunswick, said he would like to see the program renewed after the three-year pilot project concludes. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

More than 80 per cent now have jobs or have decided to continue their education, he said.

He said the council will try to renew the program after the third year ends and maybe expand it to include more people and more sectors, but it's all about getting the funding.

"If it's based on outcomes, then yes, it will be renewed. Absolutely. But you know we're heading into a federal election year and things can change. So fingers crossed that we can."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton and Moncton. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca