Employment and Training Needs of Syrian Refugees

19 Sep Employment and Training Needs of Syrian Refugees

By: Bill Morris, National Director, 211 Canada & Public Policy, United Way/Centraide Ottawa

Now that the Syrian story has largely slipped off the ‘front page’, and with nearly 30,000 refugees in Canada, how do we, as a society, maintain the sense of urgency and ensure the success of the longer-term task of settling and integrating this wave of newcomers?

Galvanized by heart-breaking images of people fleeing the civil war in Syria, Canadians rallied – initially, to urge their government to allow more refugees to come to Canada, and then to welcome the newcomers. The outpouring of support was, in many ways, extraordinary. John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, referred to the effort as a ‘national project’, which appropriately captured the deep sense of urgency and responsibility that many felt.

But as the Syrian story slips off the ‘front page’, how can we support the long-term integration of resettled refugees from Syria?

This question, and particularly the employment and training needs of Syrian refugees, is what recently brought 25 people together at the Office of United Way/Centraide Canada. Over the course of an afternoon, people from settlement agencies who work directly with refugees, along with representatives from the private sector, the labour movement, academia and government shared experiences and ideas. 

Despite coming from different communities and sectors, what emerged was a great deal of consensus on the key challenges, as well as a recognition of the opportunities to achieve better results by learning from each other and sharing what is working.

Among the most pressing challenges, the absence and French or English language skills was identified as central. Language proficiency is essential, not only to secure employment, but also in order to access training opportunities, earn enough to elude poverty, avoid employment related health and safety risks, and enable future advancement.   

To address language needs, some employers are arranging for on-site English or French training classes. In other cases, recently-arrived Syrian refugees are being paired with Arabic-speaking mentors, while others are finding employment in jobs where their existing language skills can be utilized and the lack of French or English is not a barrier.

Matching skills with employment opportunities is also problematic. While some information is available about the type of jobs refugees previously held, employers don’t have access to reliable information about the specific skills the newcomers from Syria possess. Similarly, some employers who want to provide employment opportunities do not have the information they require to ascertain how cultural and religious needs might be accommodated, or they lack basic information about what assistance programs they are eligible to tap into.

The challenges of youth were identified as particularly acute, and requiring of increased training and educational supports or interventions. Similarly, the challenges of women, many of whom arrive will little or no previous formal employment, will require particular attention. 

With ‘month 13’ looming, some of the different levels of support and capacity that are already evident between the Privately Sponsored (PSRs) and Government Assisted (GARs) may become even more stark, as financial support from the federal government winds down. The consensus has generally been that PSRs arrived with more marketable skills, were more proficient in English or French, benefited in a variety of ways from the support of their sponsors, and have been quicker to find employment.

Addressing the challenges faced in learning languages, matching relevant skills, engaging employers and accommodating cultural needs, as well as the needs of youth and women, will be essential to the advancement of Syrian newcomers in Canada.