Surrey organization smooths employment path for immigrants

October 19, 2015

By Business in Vancouver |

Media coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis focuses in large part on the perilous journey many are forced to take to find a better life in a foreign country. But if migrants make it to their destination, they face a new set of hurdles.

When Susan Liu Woronko arrived in Canada at the age of 15 from Taiwan in 1992, she and her family were looking to escape the region’s political turmoil. Taiwan’s independence movement from China was gaining steam, and a missile exercise conducted to scare pro-independence protesters left many fearing for their safety.

Woronko is now a manager with Diversecity in Surrey, a community resources society and registered non-profit agency that offers a wide range of services and programs to those who are new to the country. Woronko said the migrant crisis in Europe has shed light on the challenges faced by those fleeing one country for another.

“It’s not just the Indo-Canadian community here in Surrey,” Woronko said of the largest immigrant demographic of Surrey’s population, estimated at close to 40% of the total. “We also have the largest community of refugees from Syria and Iraq. So Surrey is really diverse.”
Woronko added that many newcomers are drawn to Surrey because it has lower rent and other living costs than Vancouver.

Diversecity oversees the settlement and integration program, which shifted to federal management under Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) in 2015. The non-profit helps 2,700 local clients yearly through the program, which includes orientation sessions, case-management support, workshops, courses and drop-in groups designed to help immigrants with their employment search.

The services are funded by CIC and the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training for non-CIC-eligible clients. The Canadian immigrant integration program (CIIP) served 640 clients in the Surrey area last year; 42% were from India, 26% were from the Philippines and 17% were from China. The rest came from other nations, including Syria and Iraq.

Woronko said most of the immigrants Diversecity helps have basic labour experience, but even those with higher education face the same hurdle.

“Language is a very key piece to successful employment. So whether they’re well-trained professionals or lower-skilled to start from, if they don’t have English, they can’t transfer any type of education to a higher-paying job from the field [they] used to work in.”

Woronko said many immigrants, struggling to overcome inadequate language skills and strict Canadian regulations governing the transfer of professional training from other countries, have a hard time finding and keeping jobs.

However, some make the transition seamlessly.

Ish Kumar, a technical service representative with Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B), found work 25 days after landing in Canada from India.

Arriving in November 2014 as as a permanent resident under the federal skilled worker program, the 35-year-old relied heavily on Diversecity and CIIP.

“It started over in India,” Kumar said. “Diversecity had a partner program, and they gave me a contact number to call once I got to Canada. When I arrived, I think the best help was they put me in touch with other immigrants who had found work. So I could ask them some questions as to the best way to find a job.”

Kumar has an MBA from India, along with 10 years of professional experience in the insurance and finance sector. His last job was as a learning and development facilitator in one of India’s leading general insurance companies.

But he said Canada is where he wants to be.

“I love Canada. I have a lot of emotion for this country. I love the systems, the dignity of labour and the dignity of life here. [Diversecity] helped me draft a proper Canadian resumé and a Canadian cover letter and even helped me prepare for a job interview in Canada, which I found to be much different than back in India.”

Woronko said Diversecity tries not only to give immigrants proper job interview skills, but also to teach them about some of Canada’s cultural quirks.

“We talk about how important small talk is, and that relates to other parts of employment life,” she said. “What do you know about Canada? Why is hockey so important? How do you small-talk to people if you don’t know about hockey? So these things are all part of the puzzle.”

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