Immigrating: Ontario’s Call Centre – Help You Can Understand

by Claudio Muñoz

How can you find information about ESL classes if you don’t speak English? The government of Ontario decided to tackle this chicken-or-egg problem by offering newcomers information about Employment Ontario programs in a huge number of languages. “You want to make that crucial first contact between the newcomer and the government as easy as possible. Today we are formally launching the capacity to provide our newcomers with initial advice and referral services in up to 160 different languages,” Chris Bentley, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities announced.

Newcomers can now obtain basic information about all the services provided by Federal Government – not only ESL classes – in their own language through Ontario Employment’s free phone number, 1-800-387-5656.

“Let’s say you arrive here and you speak Hindi. You want to get to work as quickly as possible,” Bentley says. “So if you call this 800 number you can be referred – anywhere in the province – to any of our language, job training and apprenticeship programs. But if you don’t understand the instructions, because you speak Hindi, that’s a big problem. So, if you call this 800 number and say ‘Hindi’ the system will immediately put you in touch with a Hindi interpreter.”
The new service costs close to $12,000 a year and aims to eliminate the main obstacle newcomers find once they came to Canada: language. According to Statistic Canada, six months after their arrival, 58 percent of immigrants reported that they were able to speak English well or very well, meaning that almost half of newcomers will face some kind of communication problems. With this new initiative, those immigrants can now access the settlement, education and employment programs available in Ontario more easily.

“It is just a question of removing barriers for success,” Bentley explains. “We want to make the link between newcomers and the services provided as quickly as we can. That is why we are providing this new translation and assistance service. It really will speed the linking.”

This multilingual service – basically a big call centre for newcomers – would complement the online services, some of them already available in 25 languages, provided by the organization at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/tcu/etlanding.html.

During the same press conference, Bentley also announced that during 2007-2008 the Province is planning to invest over $1 billion in different programs for newcomers. This amount would help more than 900,000 jobseekers in Ontario.

Some of the initiatives that will see an increase in funding are Job Connect, a program that link jobseekers with employers; classroom spaces for apprentices, in school training for apprenticeship; and literacy programming, training that help people build literacy, numeracy and other essential skills.

CNM