This Syrian refugee found work in Canada, wants the same for others

Many Syrian refugees struggle to find work in Canada. A new guide, Kick-Starting Employer Action, offers suggestions to cities and employers on how they can ensure newcomers succeed in the workplace.

'Thank God I'm in Canada,' says Wael Alhaddad, who found a job 8 months after coming here

Wael Alhadded arrived as a refugee and found work at Scotiabank's head office around eight months later. (Lorenda Reddekopp, CBC News)

Ask Wael Alhaddad about his first job in Canada and a huge smile spreads across his face.

He came here as a refugee from Syria in January 2016, along with his wife and son, who's now five. He now works at Scotiabank's head office in Toronto, lending money to corporations. 

'Thank God I'm in Canada'

"I'm so happy," Alhaddad says. "Every single day, I say, 'Thank God I'm in Canada.'" 

He arrived with a big advantage over many Syrian newcomers: he could already speak English and even worked for Canadian companies in Syria. Even still, it wasn't easy. Alhaddad took job training programs to learn how to improve his resume and how to impress in a job interview here.

It was an immigrant training program that first connected him to Scotiabank. Three months later after multiple interviews, he got the good news: his first job in Canada.

But many Syrians who arrived as refugees struggle to find work, particularly government-sponsored ones. Just 10 per cent of them are working, while half of all privately sponsored refugees have jobs. 

New guide for cities, employers on hiring newcomers 

A new guide, Kick-Starting Employer Action, offers suggestions to cities and employers on how they can ensure newcomers succeed in the workplace.

The guide is part of The Syrian Refugee Jobs Agenda, an initiative led by Senator Ratna Omidvar and the Hire Immigrants program.

Lesley Lawrence, BDC senior vice-president, hopes the initiative to hire newcomers who arrived as refugees will expand beyond the GTA and become a national program. (CBC News)

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is one of the companies involved.

So far, four Syrians are working for the company in the Greater Toronto area.

"Quite honestly, it's been phenomenal," says Lesley Lawrence, BDC senior vice-president, who hopes the company will expand the program to its offices across the country.

Lawrence insists this isn't about BDC giving handouts to new Canadians.

"We see people with great skills: technical skills, accounting designations ... formal banking designations in other countries," she says, adding that any challenges have been minor. "The skillset is there, it's just understanding the nuances of doing business in Canada."

Starbucks Canada was also part of the talks on how to add refugees to the workforce.

Ross Anderson promises Starbucks will begin hiring soon under its commitment to add 1,000 Canadian refugees as staff members. (Chris Langenzarde, CBC News)

Starbucks has committed to hiring 1,000 refugees across the country over the next five years, part of the coffee giant's global response to US President Donald Trump's travel ban against people from six mainly Muslim countries, though the company hasn't hired any in Canada yet.

'Reaching the refugees is a bit of a struggle'

"The biggest challenge is getting the word out. Reaching the refugees is a bit of a struggle," says Ross Anderson, Starbucks Canada's head of Social Impact and Public Policy.

He says the company will use a different hiring process for newcomers. Instead of going through job applications, Anderson is making connections with local immigrant settlement organizations, which are aware of newcomers' skills, and will suggest potential employees. Then, the company will meet with the applicants. 

The reason is to keep people from unintentionally being screened out early if their English skills are still lacking or they don't yet have Canadian experience.

"We want to make sure that when we do hire the refugees, they're successful in our stores," he says

Wael Alhaddad, his wife Dania and their son Taim, 5. (submitted by Wael Alhaddad)

Alhaddad knows how lucky his family is compared to many Syrians.

His wife, who worked as a travel agent back home, has also found a job. Their son, Taim, is in school and already speaks three languages: English, French and Arabic.

When Alhaddad speaks with other Syrian newcomers, he tries to encourage them to connect with employment services. His message to potential employers is that recent immigrants who came as refugees just need a chance to prove themselves.

"We lost everything before and we're looking for another chance to start again. I found it, I'm so happy and I also want [others] to find it." 


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.