Last Updated: June 5, 2017

Work experience of Syrian refugees in the GTA


The YMCA-GTA has published an analysis of 2,109 Syrian refugees, whose English it assessed and who arrived in Toronto between November, 2015 and November, 2016. This report, Syrian Refugees: Understanding the Depth of Highly Skilled Talent, was done in conjunction with Magnet (a collaborative hub of post-secondary, government and other institutions, based at Ryerson University.) Almost all (98%) of those included in the analysis were between the ages of 18 and 65.


Of those surveyed, 35% had no occupation or unknown occupation. Combing this group with labourers (3%), roughly 38% of the 2,109 person sample seemed to have limited experience from before their arrival in Canada, to fall back on.


Occupation % of all surveyed
No occupation or unknown occupation 35%
Sales and service (incl sales and jewellers) 15%
Trades, transport, equipment operators (including drivers, mechanics and construction workers each representing 20% or more of this group) 13%
Education, social & community services (over 75% being teachers) 9%
Business, finance & administration (including over 25% being accountants and large numbers being office clerks or secretaries) 5%
Natural and applied sciences (including engineers, technicians, IT, and architects) 5%
Unclassified industry – business owner or working in business 5%
Health occupations (including doctors, pharmacists, and nurses) 3%
Unclassified industry – labourer 3%
Art, culture and recreation and sport (including goldsmiths and graphic designers) 3%
Natural resources and agriculture (97% of these being farmers) 2%
Management (including managers, directors and bank managers) 1%
Manufacturing and utilities (mostly factory workers) 1%
Total sample of 2,109 Syrian refugees in the GTA arriving by Nov, 2016 100%


Even those with experience often face significant challenges in finding work comparable to what they had before entering Canada, due to their levels of English language proficiency and to licensing and other accreditation requirements.


Other studies of Syrian refugee work experience

It is interesting to compare the analysis reported from the YMCA-GTA survey of Syrian refugees who had arrived between November, 2015 and November, 2016 to two other surveys, which characterize the prior work experience of Syrian refugees much differently.


Both of these other surveys are referenced in a document entitled, “Population Profile: Syrian Refugees”, published in November, 2015 by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Both were conducted in Lebanon, not Canada, and were of a large segment of just one pool of refugees, from which the current wave of Syrians resettling in Canada were sourced, not of those who actually arrived in Canada (and the GTA, in particular.) To quote from page 13 of the Population Profile:


  1. The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development

“The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) recently conducted a labour market analysis on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. ACTED’s research provides other resettlement countries with a general idea of job opportunities and challenges for Syrian refugees. This ACTED study determined that the majority of Syrians worked in the construction and agriculture sectors in Syria. The study found that 70 percent of the Syrian refugees interviewed were working in construction before leaving Syria and were able to find construction jobs in Lebanon.” [Emphasis added]


  1. International Labour Organization (ILO)

“Research conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2013 found that the occupational distribution among Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon included domestic/personal services such as driving or housekeeping (27 percent), agricultural activities (24 percent), and construction (12 percent). In addition, Syrians with previous jobs that require higher qualifications such as engineering, finance or education were either not employed or had found jobs in other sectors while living in Lebanon.” [Emphasis added]


While the YMCA-GTA data, published in collaboration with Magnet makes it clear that a majority of the current wave of Syrian refugees who arrived in the GTA came with significant skills and experience, 38% were identified as having no or an unknown previous occupation or has having previously only worked as labourers. Furthermore, many of those who came with skills and experience, will encounter significant barriers to resuming their careers, due to levels of English proficiency (written, as well as oral), licensing and accreditation requirements, and other factors. This simply points to how complicated the search for good employment may be for so many of these newcomers and how much help they will need in the process.