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Illustration by Michele Perry

Why hiring newcomers is smart for business

Looking for skilled, loyal and eager-to-learn employees? Don’t overlook new immigrants

Yasin Abboud* was in a stronger position than many newcomers to Canada. When he arrived with his young family as a refugee from Iraq in 2017, he spoke conversational English, had a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and had more than 15 years of experience as a journalist and news anchor. But still he found the doors to any job in media shut against him.

“I was a very good journalist in the Middle East, but that was in Arabic, and now I’m working in a different language,” he says. “And media is one of the most difficult fields to get into—you always need somebody inside to pull you.”

“Sometimes, giving people a chance means they’re going to have that loyalty to you.”

Language obstacles and the lack of a professional network or work experience in Canada are the most common issues newcomers face when it comes to finding jobs, says Corine Hibbert Samuels, the employment services manager at United Way-funded The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO) in Toronto. That’s why TNO works closely with job seekers and various Employment Ontario programs to offer things like pre-vetted candidates, job matching and short-term wage subsidies, which encourage companies to take a chance on recent immigrants.

“We tell employers, ‘We know [our clients] have these skills, and we will pay you to see it for yourself,’” says Hibbert, “And 90 percent of the time they break the contract and just hire the clients full time.”

Anna Clarke, the owner of Extoggery, a consignment clothing store in Toronto, is one of the employers who has benefited from programs like this. She was having trouble finding Canadian-born staff she could count on when she first contacted TNO two years ago. These days she estimates that about half of her team—all women—are refugees who originally came to her through Employment Ontario programs.

“Newcomers are wonderful employees,” she says. “They really want the experience, and they need the work, so they’re very reliable. Sometimes, giving people a chance means they’re going to have that loyalty to you.”

Clarke is an immigrant herself. Her family came to Canada from Ireland in 1989, and she remembers well how, even as native English speakers, her parents had trouble finding jobs without Canadian experience. So when she got the opportunity to help recent arrivals find work—and solve her own staffing issues at the same time—she jumped. While many of her employees do struggle with English at first, Clarke sees the retail floor as the perfect language-training ground and says the benefits outweigh the challenges.

‘We know [our clients] have these skills, and we will pay you to see it for yourself’

“They tell their friends and family ‘Hey, there are great deals here,’ so they bring a lot of new customers to the store,” she says. And the women’s first languages come in handy for serving this newly expanded clientele. Another bonus: the sense of community that results from having so many newcomers in the same workplace. “They’ve developed relationships and help each other out,” says Clarke. “And we get lot of baked goods all the time!”

As for Abboud, he eventually got a surprise call from someone at the Associated Press wire service looking for an Arabic-speaking journalist to do lifestyle stories on a freelance basis. It wasn’t the political reporting that he was used to—and it was only intermittent work, which means that he still does another part-time job in a shipping and receiving department. But it was something, and it felt good returning to his field in Canada.

“I told my daughter that for people who worked in the spotlight, it’s very difficult to be out of this light suddenly,” says Abboud. “It’s hard to just delete 17 years of my career or even the idea of what my career will be. At the same time, I know I have to adapt to my new environment and use my time to rebuild my life.”

*name has been changed

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