Together Project, a project of Tides Canada, connects refugee newcomers and Canadians to build stronger, more integrated communities. Our initiative was founded on the idea that getting settled in a new country is easier when you have friends. We match Welcome Groups of five or more volunteers with newly arrived Government-Assisted Refugees for friendship and social support. We also work with partners to host community events and programs that foster social inclusion.
For most of us, meaningful employment is more than just a job; it provides livelihood and can enhance our sense of identity and belonging. This can be especially true for newcomers who may face a range of barriers to employment such as language fluency, licensing and accreditation and/or understanding of cultural norms. As well, there can be a disconnect between the LINC and ESL language courses that newcomers take during their first year in Canada and the employment- specific language training they feel they need.
Another key obstacle that newcomers may face is access to diverse social networks.
Although research shows that the majority of refugee newcomers find work through their own social networks, these networks are typically comprised of other refugee newcomers, who may only have access to precarious employment. Volunteer social networks are usually more diverse because participants have had more time in Canada to acquire social capital.
A volunteer Welcome Group acts as a “social bridge” that can connect refugee newcomers to much wider social networks, enhancing their chances of finding meaningful employment.
Barry Martin, CEO at Hypenotic Marketing and Design and a Welcome Group Volunteer explains:
- “ I have a client who’s a commercial general contractor. I was in a Welcome Group supporting Mr. H, a Government-Assisted Refugee who arrived from Syria two years ago. His background is fine finishing–kitchen cabinetry. So I sent my client an email asking if they could recommend anyone to whom we might be able to connect Mr. H. They sent a note to five companies and four responded with varying degrees of interest. One was actively looking. I spoke to the owner, explained our situation, and he was absolutely game to give it a try. They had someone who spoke Arabic on staff, which would ease the transition. The plan was to gauge Mr. H.’s strengths and interests over the course of a two-week trial. From there, they could either hire him full-time or connect him to a better fit. He fit and they liked him, but ultimately helped him find new opportunities because Mr. H. was intent on a reasonable commute (6 kids to get home to).”
Barry has a few recommendations for anyone who is helping newcomers work:
- Small gestures–emails to people who you trust can go a long way.
- The first step doesn’t have to be the last step, it can be an important link in an opportunity chain.
- People are more likely to want to help than you might think.
- Maybe this is specific to trade-work, but the hands-on/trial was beneficial.
Volunteers have an important role to play in terms of opportunities for enhanced language practice, support in connecting with an employment counsellor, understanding cultural norms, overcoming barriers to licensing and accreditation and access to diverse social networks.
Thanks for helping newcomers work!