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Employment Counselling for Newcomers

This article offers strategies to help newcomers find and thrive in a new job. As an employment counsellor, you can help clients gather employment information, seek qualifications assessments, and search for work. You may also want to consider providing support to clients after they become employed.

Helping newcomers gather information

Making community connections—“Help them to connect with others who are adapting. We’re working with people to support them and help them move on to wherever it is they think they want to go. It’s also giving people information about programs when it is appropriate and making good referrals.”

When transitioning between cultures, clients with language and communication barriers may face information gaps in the world of work. They may not know what opportunities and career choices are possible within the new culture or how to access them.

These information gaps may become a barrier to successful work search. In general, newcomers may need help gathering information because they have:

  • Inaccurate information from embassy staff in their home countries
  • Misunderstandings about the role of government institutions and settlement agencies
  • Little knowledge about where and how to get employment information
  • Misleading expectations of local labour markets
  • Misunderstandings about educational and funding opportunities to improve English, continue their education, or upgrade their skills
  • Little familiarity with career progression and career ladders

In some countries, citizens are wary of government officials and only share information with officials when necessary. This reluctance to share information may carry into counselling sessions, making it difficult for you to be fully informed about the client.

Helping newcomers with qualifications assessments

One of the most often-cited barriers is the lack of recognition for overseas qualifications. Even when qualifications are recognized, it is difficult for many newcomers to compete for mainstream positions that require near-native language proficiency.

Help clients who have foreign credentials and experience by:

  • Explaining the foreign qualifications assessment process
  • Directing them to translation assistance, if required
  • Referring them to qualifications assessment services
  • Providing the timelines and expenses (if any) for getting their foreign credentials assessed

Helping newcomers with work search

Dreams of the future—“People will be successful if they see that they belong. They need their past experiences to be recognized, to find meaningful work and to be part of a community. They have dreams and they’ve come here to make better lives.”

As newcomers search for work, they may become frustrated because work search strategies they have had success with before are not effective in Canada. Depending on your client’s needs, a variety of job search strategies can be appropriate:

  • Job clubs. Group programs, such as job clubs, can be the most supportive for people from collectivist cultures.
  • Family support. Family members are important supports to include in clients’ work search.
  • Workplace experiences. Job shadowing, work experience, mentoring, and on-the-job training opportunities can help newcomers adjust to the labour market.
  • Language resources. Current digital and print resources are useful for instructing clients in work search skills, as well as English language skills.
  • Portfolio building focuses on all the formal and informal learning experiences clients have had that could translate into personal strengths, such as transferable skills.
  • Resumés. Clients may need support in writing resumés. They need to transfer their past experiences into skills and knowledge that will be meaningful to Canadian employers.
  • Employment resources. Clients need to use every resource available to connect them to opportunities that will give them work experience in their field, sector, trade, or profession. People, websites, publications, associations, government programs, and volunteer opportunities are all examples of employment resources.
  • Employment and training programs. Refer clients to programs that will prepare them to enter the labour market or return to training.
  • Job interviews. Practise communication skills to help them become comfortable and competent before they interact with employers.
  • Cultural coaching. Provide the written and unwritten rules of the culturally specific process of finding work. Explain workplace expectations and cultures.

Helping newcomers with discrimination

Employer approaches and attitudes directly affect the employment prospects of newcomers. Clients may face:

  • Subjective job interview and employee assessments
  • Exploitation
  • Racism
  • Social alienation
  • Misattribution of technical and social problems to racial or cultural traits of groups of newcomers

When clients do not understand the language well enough or are not aware of human rights legislation, they may be unaware of their mistreatment and their rights. As a result, they may experience externalized or internalized anger, helplessness, and reverse ethnic or racial prejudice toward the mainstream cultural group.

Be ready to help newcomers understand that they may encounter discrimination in their work search and employment. But it’s important not to perpetuate the feelings of victimhood that they may be experiencing. They have the ability, resilience, supports, and resources to overcome that discrimination.

You can help clients deal with both covert and open discrimination by:

  • Helping them with assertive but polite responses to discriminatory behaviour
  • Role-playing with them to practise responding in a socially acceptable way
  • Making them aware of human rights legislation and the steps they can take to be protected

Providing employment supports

Giving hope—“We help people focus on language first and then move forward, not backward. We teach them about their rights and we help them understand the work opportunities out there. We have them networking and feeling good about themselves. There are lots of grey areas and we know it. But counsellors can give hope or take it away.”

Clients may run into problems on the job because of culture shock, establishing a new occupational identity, understanding Canadian workplace norms, or dealing with discrimination. Your continued support may involve facilitating discussions or referrals, offering problem solving techniques, explaining cultural norms, and debriefing.

Job orientations

You can help new employees by making them aware of the importance and benefits of orientations that clarify workplace policies and procedures. Some smaller organizations may not have formal orientations to the job. In these cases, let clients know what questions they can ask to find out about the organization in their first few weeks on the job.

Orientations also provide valuable information on workplace safety. For example, if a worker has an injury, coverage in Alberta might be available through the Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta (WCB-Alberta). WCB-Alberta supports injured workers with compensation and rehabilitative services to help them to return to work. Employees should be aware of their responsibility to report any injury, no matter how insignificant, to their employer and WCB-Alberta. You may want to find worker safety information to provide to your clients.

Worker rights and responsibilities

Some newcomers may have little or no exposure to the world of work. In fact, they may be entering the workforce for the first time. Some, such as those who have limited decision-making skills, may lack the confidence to challenge employers. They may be at risk of exploitation.

Let these workers know that their rights are protected by provincial legislation. Some of the provincial employment standards include:

  • Wages and deductions
  • Overtime, vacations, and general holidays
  • Maternity, parental, and reservist leave
  • Layoffs and termination
  • Special rules for workers under 18 years of age

You are in a position to help clients who believe their rights have been infringed upon and who lack the confidence to deal directly with situations.

Job loss

Newcomers who lose a job in Canada will often experience that loss as part of a broader loss of culture. This emotionally laden set of experiences can include:

  • Loss of cultural expertise (knowing the written and unwritten rules of gaining employment)
  • Loss of support groups in the former cultural setting
  • Loss of a network of family and friends

Job losses for new workers in Canada may only add to the other losses that newcomers face when adjusting to their new country. Be sensitive to your clients’ needs regarding the grieving process.

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