Here's how new career fairs are connecting international students with employers

Pressed for time and studying in Canada on visas, international students often have trouble making connections that can lead to jobs in their new home. A new series of job fairs is trying to help bridge the gap.

Pressure to find work for students on visas can be intense, organizer says

Chioma Onyeagolum, right, and her friend Ayomikun Oguntola, a fourth-year UPEI student from Nigeria studying business and economics, recently attended a career development fair. (Thinh Nguyen )

Chioma Onyeagolum will graduate from the University of Prince Edward Island next year, and she has no idea — yet — where she'll find a job.

Onyeagolum, who arrived in P.E.I. in 2018 to study economics, at first focused on her studies. But as time went by, she realized she needed to think about employment.

She found a part-time job as a hostess at a Charlottetown restaurant, but found it did not connect with her career aspirations. 

"I want to be an economic researcher at some point. The three years I spent working at a restaurant doesn't help at all in what I want to do with my future," she said.

At school, she felt her professors didn't provide students with necessary resources. "They don't do a lot to build you professionally, to teach about what's going on out there," she said.

A new series of career development fairs is being held to connect international students like Onyeagolum with employers who are recruiting new talent. The Atlantic Student Development Alliance (ASDA) held three events over the summer, and its latest fair last Friday at UPEI. New sessions will be held every month.

The latest fair included four employers in P.E.I.'s tech and bio industries, as well as guest experts on government grants and immigration.

Students 'on a tightrope'

Daniel Ohaegbu, ASDA's executive director, said the group has hosted workshops in the past, but this is the first time the organization hosted something this size.

A former UPEI student, Ohaegbu also faced lots of challenges in getting a job. He founded ASDA and organized these fairs to make sure other students don't face the same challenges.

Daniel Ohaegbu says he is organizing job fairs to ensure international students don't face the same challenges he did when he was a UPEI student. (Thinh Nguyen)

"International students are here on a tightrope," he said.

"We're here on a student visa. We can't mess up, we can't fail, we can't take some time off school, we have to focus on school, we have to pass."

He was surprised nearly 50 students attended the fair, considering it came during the Thanksgiving break and UPEI's reading week.

"We were hoping for just about 15 to 20. But I am so happy for me personally and for our team at ASDA. We're so happy that students are taking initiative."

The idea of career development fairs came to Ohaegbu when he noticed how international students must often struggle to get a job in P.E.I.

One of the problems identified at the fair was the frustration of international students who must have a year or two of work experience in order to qualify for a job.

We're here on a student visa. We can't mess up, we can't fail, we can't take some time off school, we have to focus on school, we have to pass.- Daniel Ohaegbu

Employer Kyle Strang said he is not necessarily looking for students with job experience, indicating he is interested in what students also do with their free time.

"It could be extracurricular activities, whether it's sports, or you are trying to learn coding and you've built some stuff on the side," said Strang, the managing partner of SpryPoint, a Charlottetown-based company that makes software for utility industries, came to the fair to look for potential candidates for his company.

"That's very interesting to us as to how you allocate those spare hours you have," he said.

Onyeagolum said the fair was helpful.

"I enjoyed listening to employers. Hearing the actual employers that do the recruiting tell you what they want, and what they need from you to be able to get a job, was really nice," she said.

"Having more events like this that teach people what employers are looking for, where to go and find jobs, how to network, how to interview, what kind of skills you need to have, I think it's like really important."

While she is still not sure what she will do after graduation, she feels better about her prospects after attending the fair.

"It kind of reassures me as a final-year student that it's OK, it's fine …. to not know exactly what I'm doing soon. Like one of the employers said, everything will finally come to play."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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