Demystifying the Job Hunt

Newcomer youth learn the skills for job-hunting in Edmonton, through a newly expanded program

My Canadian friend from university seemed perplexed when I asked her why she didn’t leave a space for her photo on the warm, freshly printed resume she held between her hands.

“A photo? It’s not an audition,” she joked. “We don’t do that here.”

I was puzzled. There I was, a fresh graduate about to apply for another job, realizing that the job-hunting skills I acquired in my country before moving to Canada were not doing me any favours. While I figured it out with help from some Canadian friends and the career centre at my university, I still wondered, what if you don’t have good command of the language? What if you were simply, new? Where do you start, especially if you are a teenager or very young adult looking for your very first job?

A newly expanded version of a youth employment strategy run by Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters, which launched in July 2018, has the answers.

BGCBigs Youth Employment is a strategy that supports youth between the ages of 13 and 24 who come from low-income, Indigenous and newcomer families, as well as youth in-care, through mentorships, job placements and skill-development.

Originally a program named Skilled 4 Success that took one to 10 days to complete and taught such select job-hunting skills as resumé writing, the BGCBigs Youth Employment strategy is vastly more comprehensive. Over the next three years, it aims to help more than 130 youth develop deeper competence at job-hunting and an array of complementary skills, at no cost to them.

“The strategy is to ensure that youth develop relevant skills, build positive relationships with corporations in our community and are ultimately placed in after-school and summer employment to help support their families.“ says Danisha Bhaloo, the manager of fund development at BGCBigs.

The BGCBigs Youth Employment strategy was made possible with $50,000 from the Royal Bank of Canada and $120,000 from Edmonton Community Foundation.

“ECF has been there when we needed them, always, in ensuring that the needs of our kids and families are met,” says Bhaloo.

Nearly a quarter of the 5,300 youth served by BGCBigs over the past seven years came from newcomer and immigrant families. During focus groups, the majority of youth voiced the need to obtain jobs in order to help their families overcome the constraints of their socio-economic status and asked for support in creating individual and professional networks for themselves.

In my volunteer experience helping to settle newcomers in Edmonton, I saw how having the appropriate guidance and skills for finding dignified work, especially at a young age, is often essential to the stability and livelihood of newcomer families. Several Albertans I spoke to who immigrated to Canada as teenagers, agreed. They also told me they found their first job through other immigrants, but that it was tough going.

“I worked as a cashier in Londonderry Mall. I sucked at it because I didn’t know the Canadian currency well and I made mistakes,” recalled Nada Chehayeb, who emigrated from Lebanon in the late 1970s, at the age of 16. “It was a pretty awful transition and culture shock.”

Research shows that more than 70 per cent of Canadians get their first job through their parents’ networks, an advantage not shared by newcomer families. And although some newcomer support agencies offer short-term programs to help new Canadians understand the job market, and walk them through applications and job market expectations, most of those target adults.

The expanded BGCBigs Youth Employment strategy now includes practical job-hunting lessons, such as mock interviews. It also offers personal finance education, post-secondary opportunities learning sessions, career advice from professionals in different fields and lessons in self-care.

Individual needs of selected youth participants are assessed by the program co-ordinator, who recommends a tailored plan outlining which program sessions would be most be suited to the participant.

“It can take from eight months to a year to complete the program, based on each participant’s skills,” said Bhaloo. “It’s flexible in meeting the individual needs of our youth.”

She wants all participants to acquire skills that will help them transition into jobs smoothly. A significant percentage of youth will also have mentors guide them through the process.

With almost 3,000 enthusiastic volunteers of diverse backgrounds and interests, as well as partnerships with community partners and local companies, BGCBigs is well-positioned to help youth overcome barriers to integration into their community.