When Iyad landed in Canada in May 2017, he wasn’t sure what to expect or where the next 12 months would take him. Coming from Saudi Arabia, where the coldest months of winter are 15°C, he was looking forward to experiencing a Canadian winter, and wanted to explore and get to know Toronto. He was also determined to accomplish two things: improve his English skills and find work.

Within one week of arriving in Canada, Iyad had completed his language assessment and was enrolled in a local LINC class. By month 5, thanks to one of our sponsor group members, Iyad was working part-time for a fragrance company. Some days, the job required over 2 hours of commuting, but it also offered him an opportunity to practice his English and of course, helped to supplement the financial support he was receiving from our group, so he continued with that job for several months.

Career Planning

Although things were going well, and Iyad’s English was improving quickly, by month 7 he started to express concern about finding full-time employment. Our group set up a meeting with him to discuss his career interests. Iyad expressed a few preferences – for example, he didn’t want to work in an office setting – but in order to support him with career planning, we needed a better understanding of what career options were available that could offer a secure source of income, fit his criteria, and match his skills and experience.

In Saudi Arabia, Iyad was working in the restaurant industry, so we had discussed the possibility of going back to college to study hospitality and tourism. We also talked about entrepreneurship as a possibility down the road, but none of those opportunities presented a clear path to employment at the end of the sponsorship period. Through my work in the settlement sector, I had heard about a program offered through ACCES Employment in partnership with LiUNA called the Construction Trades Program. The program does not require any previous experience in construction and includes a workplace English learning component. Participants also receive support registering as an apprentice or finding a job in the construction trades, upon completion of the 8-week training. I shared a flyer with Iyad that explained the program in both English and Arabic – he took it home and thought it over for a few weeks. After meeting with a manager at ACCES Employment, Iyad decided to give it a try.

LiUNA provided incredible support to Iyad – he began the program in April and by June, almost exactly one year after his arrival to Canada, they helped him secure full-time employment as a labourer with a masonry company and he is now a member of the union. In his first few weeks of work, he has learned to work with bricks and scaffolding and made many new friends. It is a challenge and very hard work, but he is enjoying it and starting to feel well integrated in Canada. He phoned me a few days ago to let me know that he just passed his G2 exam, and hopes to save up money to buy a car in the coming months.

Lessons Learned

As first-time sponsors, we quickly learned the value of connecting Iyad with settlement and employment experts, such as ACCES Employment, where he could find the information and services that he needed in the early stages of career planning. We also understood the importance of timing – it took several months before Iyad felt that his English skills were at the level he needed to start working and move on from LINC. For some newly arrived refugees, this may come sooner or it will take more time. Our group made a very conscious effort to share resources and to act as a source of information, without pushing him in any particular direction. When he made decisions, they were his own and he made them at his own pace. In our experience, a critical factor in his success was to feel that he had agency in determining his future career path in Canada.

Though our one-year sponsorship term is now complete, we remain friends with Iyad and his family and look forward to seeing his continued success in Canada.

Tamara Sabarini has completed her participation in her first private sponsorship group of refugee newcomers She is also Project Coordinator at Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge and is an advisor to Helping Newcomers Work.