Education: The Dufferin-Peel Adult Learning Centres

By Andris Smits

Andy Smits is Program Manager for Brian J. Fleming Catholic Adult Learning Centre

The Greater Toronto Area is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in North America. It is home to hundreds of thousands of newcomers from around the globe. As new Canadians, you have brought not only your rich cultural traditions, but your education and skills from your home country. Although we continually hear of the language and employment barriers that the new Canadian must overcome, it is something you can prepare for.

Employment remains as one of the major barriers to new immigrants. Selling your skills to a Canadian employer is no easy task, especially when you have no previous Canadian work experience. To address that issue, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District Schools Board’s Adult Learning Centres launched a volunteer work experience program more than eight years ago.

The program helps newcomers who have come to this country with professional degrees and experiences. Engineers, IT professionals (software and hardware), accountants and financial experts, laboratory assistants and teaching assistants are just a few of the many professions the program has been able to work with. During the first eight weeks of this 19 week co-operative education program, students work with their teacher to develop their language skills specific to the Canadian workplace, learn about job search strategies, refine their résumés and practice interview skills necessary for that critical first impression at a job interview. Most importantly, the student works together with the teacher to identify the companies that could provide a suitable volunteer work experience for the student.

The last 11 weeks of the program are spent with a host employer, allowing the student to demonstrate the skills related to their profession. During this time, the student is regularly visited by the teacher for support and encouragement while being mentored by the host company. Although the work experience itself is a volunteer placement, the opportunity to demonstrate one’s skills to a prospective employer and to be able to network directly in your professional field is very valuable in securing full time employment. Being able to identify the relevant Canadian work experience you have in your field on your résumé, along with a letter of recommendation from your placement employer, is the first step to breaking down the employment barrier.

The two adult learning centres (the St. Gabriel site located in Malton and the Brian J. Fleming site located in south Mississauga) now accommodate over 1500 students at each site each year. While the work experience program comprises the bulk of courses offered, students who may not be ready for the 19 week co-op program have the opportunity to enroll in a number of other classes to better prepare themselves for the co-op class. Students applying to the co-op program should be at a minimum Canadian Language Benchmark level of five or six. Many find their level of English – their confidence in speaking or writing – is lacking, and choose to enroll in the numerous ESL classes offered by the adult learning centres. Some students simply want to upgrade their computer skills or learn more about accounting practices in the Canadian workplace prior to enrolling in the co-op program. Both adult learning centres provide those opportunities as well. Recently, the program has been expanded to include work experience for the person who may not have a professional degree, but has the desire or background to work in an office administration capacity.

The goals of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board’s Adult Learning Centres are to offer not just a program that provides hands-on work experience, but a program that boosts the self- esteem and self-confidence of the newcomer. The student gains the self-assurance needed to sell the skills they already had when they arrived here. Getting that foot in the door is a key step to realizing the dreams that newcomers arrive with. The success of the program speaks for itself. Over the past year, of the students who completed the entire program, 50 percent secured immediate employment with their host employer or through contacts with their host, while another 30 percent found employment within three months of completing the program.

For more information about the foreign trained professional co-op program, or any of the other programs offered, you can contact:

St. Gabriel Adult Learning Centre,
3750 Brandon Gate Dr., Mississauga, 905-362-0701;
Brian J. Fleming Catholic Adult Learning Centre,
870 Queen St. W., Mississauga, 905-891-3034.

CNM