We have seen first hand the enormous, positive impact of sponsors in supporting the immediate settlement needs of refugee newcomers.  We also have experienced the need to support the newcomers in finding the kind of work that will greatly improve their financial and emotional well-being for years to come.  There is a need for more support in this process and that’s the inspiration that brought us to develop this website.

Private sponsors in Canada take on many different settlement responsibilities, including arranging housing, furnishing, clothing, toys, medical care, and language instruction. They also help to enrol children in school, set up bank accounts, and provide an orientation to the new surroundings and culture and on-going support with day-to-day demands, as they arise. Most do this with little or no formal, settlement training.

One of the biggest challenges for refugee newcomers, once they have been settled, is finding employment. This is especially so, if they need to learn, or much improve, their levels of English proficiency. Some arrive with little English and limited education and training. Many others come with training and experience that they cannot transfer to the same occupations which they previously had, due to issues of language, credential recognition, and regulatory barriers. Further challenges may be posed by physical and mental health issues, childcare responsibilities, and lack of quick and easy transportation to work sites.

Each refugee newcomer’s situation is unique. Furthermore, households in which there is a clear path to employment for one member, may include others for whom the paths will be more challenging.

When it comes time to talking with the families whom private sponsors are assisting – and it may not even be clear when that conversation should begin – they are too often at a loss as to how to proceed. If lucky, the newcomers have the language skills and training to move easily into occupations in Canada for which there is a demand and good compensation.  Yet even in those cases, barriers may exist due to lack of Canadian experience or onerous licensing requirements.  Given the critical importance and the difficulty of finding good employment,  where do the sponsors, themselves, turn for support? The federal and provincial governments – at least those like Ontario – focus on newcomers looking for work who have not come as refugees. For refugee newcomers, the guidelines and material provided by Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) vary significantly in quality and quantity. There appears to be little sharing of information, experience and best practices between sponsorship groups, outside of their own respective SAHs and small networks of sponsorship groups.

Helga Breier and I, in co-founding this website, recognized the opportunity for private sponsors to be much more effective and efficient, in helping with employment. We believe that providing a dedicated and comprehensive resource on this topic will greatly assist with planning, ongoing interaction, and collaboration.

From the beginning, we have sought to avoid duplicating good resources that already exist on the Internet. OCASI, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, for example, offers good information about employment on its settlement.org website, although not from a private sponsor’s perspective. We provide links to many of its posts. What makes our site unique is the range and volume of content that we have assembled, combined with a focus on sponsors and other volunteers. This content now includes our database of employment programs and events in the GTA, with a filtering option to make it easy to zero in on the most helpful and appropriate options for a given set of circumstances.

It is also our hope that we can foster increased understanding and collaboration between private sponsors and employment services, which to date, have been operating very independently, with little appreciation of how they can best work together.

One further inspiration for us has been the plight of government-assisted refugee newcomers (GARs), who do not have the assistance of private sponsors and generally, may have a harder time learning English and arrive with less education and training. Settlement and other social agencies are stretched very thin. As impressive a job as they are doing, we believe that individuals who have already acted as private sponsors, as well as other volunteers, such as those organized by the Together Project, can play a significant role in finding good employment for these newcomers.

Now that our website has been launched, we look forward to further enriching its content and building a strong relationship with all those in the private sponsorship and volunteer community and the many other stakeholders who share our vision.

We welcome your feedback and I can be reached at jshenkman@helpingnewcomerswork.ca

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Jim Shenkman is Co-Founder of Helping Newcomers Work. He is also part of a sponsorship group for a family of Syrian refugee newcomers.