Immigrating: Skills for Change - Helping New Canadians Find Employment Since 1983

Published March 2005. Some information in this article is outdated.

In 1983, five English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers in the Toronto District School Board had the idea of combining skills and language training to help refugees and immigrants establish themselves in their new Canadian home. They called their organization (with funding from Canada Employment and Immigration), Toronto Office Skills. In that first year, TOS provided full-time, 45-week, on-the-job training, including office, computer, bookkeeping and job search skills, for a group of Indochinese women. All of those first graduates found employment within 3 months of finishing the program.

Over the next few years, Toronto Office Skills turned into Skills for Change (www.skillsforchange.org) - one of Toronto 's leading community agencies in helping immigrants and refugees find employment. For most newcomers, getting a job that allows them to fully use their skills, training, and experience is the most important step towards becoming a full member of Canadian society. Through a range of specially designed courses and programs, Skills for Change annually helps more than 10,000 newcomers with English language and communication programs, skills development, employment preparation, and computer training and upgrading. More than 65% find employment in their field within three months of completing the programs.

Skills for Change has pioneered (pioneer - one of the first people or organizations to go somewhere, do something or develop something - definition from Oxford ESL Dictionary) many programs to help refugees and immigrants reach their employment goals with funding from all three levels of government, the United Way, and from foundations and corporations. Skills for Change could not do what they do without partnerships with the two Toronto school boards, other community agencies, and regulatory bodies such as the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (ICAO), and the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT).

In 1993, Skills for Change introduced sector-specific (training to help people in a certain kind of job) employment preparation services for internationally-trained professionals in the fields of accounting, engineering, healthcare, and information technology. New programs were added later for teachers and skilled tradespeople.

Through the Sector Terminology, Information and Counselling (STIC) program, more than 1800 newcomers have received information on licensing and certification, labour market trends, Canadian sector terminology (workplace language), job development, job search training and work placement.

Many people have been linked with a mentor in their field, a program first offered by Skills for Change. Another important feature of the agency's employment preparation services is the work experience placement that provides new immigrants with a Canadian work experience, a requirement for most positions in the Canadian job market.

Skills for Change has also developed online tools to help newcomers find work that meets their skill and training level. The Ontario Network for Professionals Online (www.onip.com) provides information on licensing and employment options for a number of different fields, English language terminology, and opportunities to network with other professionals. SkillsforHire (www.skillsforhire.org) links employers to clients looking for work in a specific profession. Clients post their resumes and employers can search online to fill position vacancies in a number of occupations.

For more information on Skills for Change programs and services, visit their website at www.skillsforchange.org, call 416-658-3101, or visit them at 791 St. Clair Avenue West.

New Pioneers Awards - Recognizing Achievement

As well as delivering programs and services that provide new Canadians with employment opportunities, Skills for Change also stages Toronto 's premier newcomer recognition event with its annual New Pioneer Awards.

Presented since 1993, the New Pioneers Awards celebrate diversity and the accomplishments of six outstanding individuals. There are six categories:

  • community service
  • science and technology
  • entrepreneurship (starting your own business)
  • the arts
  • youth, and
  • Skills for Change Graduate who confronted the challenges of settlement in a new country, reached for new heights and excelled.

The stories of the award recipients shows how working hard and not giving up can help newcomers succeed in the workplace and wider society.

Nominations and award selections are made by volunteers from the community. The awards are presented each March at a gala ceremony (party) attended by politicians, corporate representatives, SfC supporters and guests. This year's event is scheduled for Wednesday evening, March 9th, at the Toronto Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. For more information, call 416-658-3101, ext. 231 or visit the Skills for Change website at www.skillsforchange.org.

CNM