Work: Track to Employment

by Theresa Wojtasiewicz

“Do you have any Canadian experience?”

Iwona had a bachelor’s degree in administration and management from the University of Poland. She came to Canada with five years of work experience in administration. Her last job was as an Accounts Receivable Clerk. While her husband got work right away as a truck driver, she received no reply to the résumés she sent out. What was she missing?

Not having Canadian experience can be a barrier to employment and a difficult one to get past. After all, if you can’t get work because you have no Canadian experience, how can you get Canadian experience to get work?

In 1978, the Working Women Community Centre set up the Working Skills Centre to give newcomer women from Central and South America on-the-job experience working in a mailroom. The Working Skills Centre became a separate organization incorporated in 1980. In 1988, the Centre expanded its intake to newcomers from any country. In the past 30 years, it has provided training to over 50,000 newcomers from 94 countries, successfully assisting 70 percent of its participants in finding meaningful employment. While the focus is still on newcomer women’s needs, in 2005, the Centre started offering its programs to men as well.

The Working Skills Centre, funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is one of three private charitable, non-profit career colleges in Canada whose diploma courses are approved by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities. In addition to skills training, the Centre’s courses include a social component to help newcomers adjust to living in Canada while they get the employment skills they need to find jobs in the Canadian workplace. The process includes help with settlement services, language courses, networking, and, most importantly, opportunities to gain that all-important Canadian experience employers are looking for.


There are two streams of skills˗training certificate programs: one offered specifically to newcomer women and one available to the public.

Full and part time programs for women only are geared towards learning the skills required to work in an office, and include learning standard office computer software (Word and Excel), Bookkeeping (taking care of the financial affairs of a business), Business English (requires LINC Level 4 or 5), Business Math, Canadian Workplace (how you communicate in the office, job search techniques, etc.), Keyboarding (typing skills), and Direct Mail. New programs being offered are the Medical Reception Certifi cate program that includes learning medical terminology and ABLEMED scheduling, a tax preparation course, and courses in desktop publishing and web design. Courses range in length from 21 hours to 72 hours.

Other training programs offered evenings and weekends are open to the general public. They include Bookkeeping as well as courses on software commonly used in business (Word/Excel/PowerPoint, ACCPAC/Simply Accounting) and graphic/web design (InDesign/Dreamweaver).

Some of the certificate programs can be used towards the diploma programs, which can be completed in six months. Offered through the Academy of Computer and Employment Skills, they include the Computerized Office Administration Diploma and the Computerized Accounting Diploma. There are several IT courses in development including MCITP and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

Work Experience

Now that you have your certificates or your diploma, there is still the matter of getting your Canadian work experience. The Working Skills Centre has two ways in which you can get this experience: World Service Cargo (a practice firm) and the Direct Marketing Business.

World Service Cargo can be described as a carbon copy of a business. While not a real company, it functions exactly the same way as a real company. It has all the jobs and departments a real business has: administration/human resources, accounting, IT, marketing and supply chain. Participants work up to 12 weeks in the practice firm to learn what it is like to work in a Canadian company. At the end of the program, participants will have their Canadian work experience, with a Canadian employer’s letter of reference to attach to their résumés.

The Direct Marketing Business is a real business where participants can get on-the-job training while performing a service for small businesses and non-profit organizations. Participants in this program learn all aspects of the bulk mail business, including manual and automated sorting and stuffing envelopes, printing, database management, and warehousing services.

Second Career Strategy

If you have been laid off from a job as far back as January 1, 2005, you may be eligible to participate in the Second Career Strategy funded by the government of Ontario. People who qualify can train for a new job and have their fees (up to $28,000) paid to study at a community or private career college. Laid-off workers who have taken interim jobs, some workers not eligible for EI (Employment Insurance), or workers currently on EI or who have been on EI within the past five years may be eligible to take advantage of this program.

If you are a newcomer who has been living in Canada for less than 10 years and have been unable to get work in the area where you have work experience or you are working in a survival job, the Working Skills Centre could be the way to improve your chances. Because the Centre is a charitable, non-profit career college, fees for the courses are usually less expensive than similar courses offered through other colleges. The work experience programs do not pay wages but there is no cost to participate, and for those participating in the work experience program there is also some funding available for child care and transportation.

Past participants often return to volunteer at the Centre to act as mentors to new participants, or to refresh their skills if they are between jobs. Participants find the study and work environment does not feel like an institution: the caring attitude of the instructors and counsellors gives the Centre a friendly atmosphere for learning.

What happened to Iwona? She took the Accounting Diploma program, worked 10 weeks at the practice firm in various positions and is now happily employed as an accounting clerk.

To get on the track to employment, contact the Working Skills Centre by phone at (416) 703˗7770 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit their website at