‘Not tapping into that potential’: Refugee talent pool under-utilized in Alberta

August 12, 2021

By CTV News |

They can be doctors, lawyers and skilled labourers, but when refugees arrive in Canada they often have to find whatever employment they can. And that’s usually low-paying, service jobs.

“I can’t tell you how much skills, talents, education, experience that refugees have,” said Saima Jamal, national program manager at Jumpstart Refugee Talent.

“Canada made a huge investment in bringing all these thousands of refugees to our country and our employers, our businesses, they’re not tapping into that potential.”

Jumpstart began as an organization focused on supporting Syrian newcomers in Toronto and has since grown to serving refugees from all backgrounds across Canada and works to address underemployment and economic inclusion.

It connects refugees who have specific skills with Canadian employers. The program provides mentorship and helps with resume skills.

It also prepares refugees for job interviews. Jumpstart pre-screens candidates for employers to make sure there is a good fit.

“An employer might just see a resume and see that, how come you were working as a business manager and Syria for 22 years and then all of a sudden you’re working at something completely different,” said Jamal. “So a refugee’s journey needs to be recognized because before they come to Canada they’re already in this ‘middle country’ (like) Lebanon or anywhere else, where they can’t work in their fields.”

Sammia Malik is from Pakistan and worked in the development sector there for 20 years. Her confidence was low when she arrived and she tried to find work in retail when she got here.

“And trust me, those initial few months, I was at every mall of Calgary trying to find a very basic job and then I didn’t get it,” said Malik.

She connected with Jumpstart who helped her build back that confidence. Now she’s an operations lead with a private foundation in Calgary.

“We all work together to help the refugee get meaningful employment,” said Jamal. “Not just any employment but actual meaningful employment that recognizes their skills, their talent, their experience, their education.”

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