New program offers immigrants a foothold in the job market

Posted on July 4, 2012 in Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – opinion/editorialopinion
Published on Tuesday July 03, 2012.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

Ottawa promised relief, but could not deliver. The provinces took a run at the problem, but they were stymied. Various non-profit groups have tried with limited success.

This summer the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), the nucleus of Toronto’s growing social enterprise sector, is reaching out to unemployed immigrants who have qualifications but can’t get them recognized and need Canadian experience but can’t get a break.

It isn’t able to offer them full-time paying work. But it can offer them experience, exposure to a network of 300 open-minded entrepreneurs with connections and a Canadian milieu in which to use their skills while adjusting to a new business environment.

Here is how it works:

An immigrant who is struggling to break into the workforce applies to the Centre for Social Innovation to be a volunteer community animator. The responsibilities involve running its welcome desk, taking visitors on tours, offering clients IT support, preparing meeting rooms, helping organize community events and improving the centre’s work practices.

In return, they get a full-time workspace in which to conduct their job search, free use of all the centre’s facilities (photocopiers, printers, phones, teleconferencing equipment and a kitchen) plus a membership in CSI, which allows them to participate in all workshops and programs.

Best of all, they get to rub shoulders with social entrepreneurs who are running — or launching — new businesses. That might lead to a job, a contract or a referral.

“They provide time, we provide space,” explained Eli Malinsky, director of programs and partnerships at CSI.

Volunteer animators work one day a week. They are asked for a six-month commitment. There is no paycheque, but they get training and they become part of a network of people who can help them.

This program is not meant for students seeking a summer job. It is designed for workers who have skills but can’t use them or retirees who want to use their skills to give back to society. Applicants must be personable, reliable, able to use the Internet and email, and willing to solve problems as they come up. “If all they do is be helpful and extremely welcoming, we can teach them the rest,” Malinsky said.

At the moment, CSI is recruiting 10 animators for its new location in the new Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre. But if people with training in graphic design, computer technology, accounting or other specialties apply, the centre will try to fit them in at one of its other sites on Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.

Although foreign-trained professionals will be welcome, the openings are not restricted to them. Stay-at-home parents, pensioners, Regent Park residents seeking to gain work experience, even former gang members who have turned their lives around will be considered.

This kind of openness and creativity will be needed to create a workforce that reflects today’s Toronto. Governments have been singularly unsuccessful in meeting this challenge and conventional businesses have been unwilling to take the risk.

The Centre for Social Innovation doesn’t have the answer, but it has a piece of the answer and it is eager to build on that. At the moment, Malinsky is looking for a partner who can provide more rigorous pre-employment training. He and his colleagues are developing a program under which the centre’s member organizations would provide one day of paid work a week to new Canadians. Other ideas are percolating.

If more Torontonians thought like these young entrepreneurs — rather than waiting for policy-makers to do something — the city would be using more of its talent, creating more growth and training more people to take over from soon-to-retire baby boomers.

They are not obsessed with paper credentials. They don’t care about a person’s race or culture or background. They’re determined to find ways to bring newcomers in, not shut them out.

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