Business and new immigrant paths merge.
By Edward Cowan, March 2013
The scenario is a commonly heard story of well-educated new immigrants looking for employment in their profession but ending up working at a fast food restaurant or as on-call labour. So when we also hear that we in Canada are unable to find enough talent in certain professions and that it will inhibit our growth as a nation, there seems to be a disconnect. Many new immigrants now come from emerging markets and recently there has been a lot of talk from economists about how Canadian businesses need to access or build their sales to emerging market nations.
The new immigrant story.
I spend part of my week as a writer and the other part as a language and skills trainer for new immigrant programs. From teaching in the LINC (Language Instruction to Newcomers) programs to OSLT (Occupation Specific Language Training) programs I have heard a lot of their stories. And one of the most common threads of discussion from new immigrants is that they have come here to Canada believing they would be able to find employment in their professions.
When I spoke with partners Joey He and Shaun Levy of Great Connections Employment Services they described a common path many new immigrants take in employment. Their recruitment firm will place a new immigrant into a company, often as temporary help. After awhile this new immigrant and the employer get to know one another better and at some point permanent employment may be the result. And conversely employers often find that these new immigrants can also bring business to the organization through their international contacts or awareness of foreign markets. It really is a two way street but with compromise needing to be made from both parties to reach a mutually beneficial objective.
One particular case was when a new immigrant from China looking for work approached a Hamilton business and the owner recognized the potential fit. He was expanding oversees and needed help with documentation but eventually her abilities and understanding of doing business in China became an integral part of their expansion success in China.
What are employers looking for?
Judy Travis, Executive Director of Workforce Planning Hamilton has been in the midst of completing a soon to be released study of new immigrants in the workforce in Hamilton. She noted that employers are looking for people with a can-do attitude or, “who are flexible, willing to learn and take on new training”. One of the foremost issues that comes to mind is language and the worry that a new immigrant’s English skills are not adequate. But that is only part of the formula. Many of the language programs stress the soft skills of communication to help with working in a Canadian business setting. Something which Judy Travis also found in her study that organizations, “are looking for language skills but also the ability to understand workplace culture”.
She did draw an important distinction between the larger organizations such as banks which have made it a strategic policy to hire new immigrants and the smaller companies which often don’t have a strategic plan in hiring. With these small businesses, “it is all about the networks” and new immigrants need to network to not only look for work but to understand that networking is increasingly important for business. Furthermore, Judy noted that in her research, “employers don’t discriminate in their hiring decisions as skills and ability to do the work were most important”.
For a new immigrant sometimes just getting a foot in the door can lead to greater prospects. If Canadian businesses are serious about growing their emerging market share, then they need connections and an understanding of the language and culture of these nations. Exactly what many new immigrants can provide.
The power of pictures in learning.
By Edward Cowan, Feb 2013
North-West of Edmonton is St. Albert, Alberta, home to Eye on Literacy. A start-up producing picture books for EAL/ESL literacy learners.
Elsie Johnson along with her colleagues Doreen Dean and Karen Bradley had their ah-ha moment when the three went to a LESLLA (Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition for Adults) Conference in Minnesota where she saw, “publishers with picture books, but with black and white illustrations. Then we met an instructor from Belgium who was working with the deaf in ESL and used images to get the students to sign and get the concept of story”.
When she returned Elsie began getting her own pictures and building content but as she noted, “It is a lot of work to get images and you are sometimes breaking copyright”.
The three went out and found a web site designer who has also designed the template for the books as well as a professional photographer. In May 2012 their website went live and they presented at the BC TEAL Conference.
She explained the importance of picture based learning for literacy as, “If a student has never been exposed to print and a teacher places a book in front of them, the focus is on the words which have no meaning. If you take away the words, we can all talk about pictures. It can equal the playing field in the classroom. It can also work well with multi-level classrooms”.
With the same pattern and no words or numbers the books use twelve symbols. Currently they have 3 more books in the works and one about consonant pronunciation. Internationally they have had wonderful response from teachers from Belgium and those teaching Spanish too. Moving into the digital or online world is still something with which they are grappling. Elsie believes in the value of a student actually having the chance to hold a book.
One would think that perhaps a literacy class would be the only place for picture based learning. However, Elsie told me that she has some buyers who teach LINC 3 and 4 and have been incorporating her books as stepping stones to introduce discussions about processes. Furthermore Elsie said, “Pictures can create opinion, perspective and complex ideas not just concrete ones”.
But it was just not with the student in mind that Elsie and her colleagues decided on this venture. There was and still is a lack of good material for the literacy teacher to draw from and as she noted, “we are often relegated to the back corner of the library”. Other organizations have also recognized the usefulness of picture based content, such as TOEFL which has recently gone for a picture based approach in their tests.
With their work, Eye on Literacy has started to close the gap not only for literacy students but also for teachers.