By Honoré Gbedze, The Afro News, Vancouver : At a recent reception to welcome new Canadian citizens to the community in which they live, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a few of these new citizens and was astonished by their stories of the jobs and countries they left to come to Canada in search of greater opportunities and a more fulfilled life.
This spurned the necessity to share the realities of what new immigrants and new citizens face and to find a resolve to this ongoing and growing epidemic that has dashed the hopes, dreams and ultimately the self-confidence of so many citizens thus creating a non-participant citizen that should be an integral part of our economy and democracy.
Yong Zheng Deng was born and raised in Beijing, China, He came to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2007. Deng and his university aged son became Canadian Citizens in November 2011.
In Beijing Yong worked as a Project Manager, with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in International Development for 12 years; prior to this he worked for the Chinese Ministry of Post and Telecommunications for five years. Deng attended high school and university in Beijing prior to the reform. All education at that time was paid for by the Government of China, who also assigned each student a job when they graduated from university. Deng’s first job after university was as a Teaching Assistant at the University where he stayed for two years and in conjunction with completing a one year training course in English. Then at the age of 22, Deng had no plans of moving to another country, only had the ambition to work for a Government Agency in China.
A few years later Yong got married and had a son. Yong wanted a different life for his son although knowing that if they moved to another country he would be sacrificing his career to provide a better life for his child. In the year 2000 he started scoping a plan to emigrate. It was a slow process that took five years for his application to be processed. Deng’s application was accepted in 2006 and it took the family another year to move to Vancouver. They had a family friend in Vancouver that was able to welcome and acquaint them with their new country. Yong’s son Willy was in Grade 9 when they arrived and he was able to speak English therefore only needed to participate in ESL classes for a short while before being able to be in the regular English classes for all subjects.
The first objective of the Deng family was of course for both husband and wife to find work, hopefully in their field of study or in the capacity of their previous employment. His wife works as a University Professor in Beijing. She accompanied her family to Vancouver in 2007 but soon returned as she was not able to find work in her field. Yong pursued and tried to gain a job in Project Management with the aim to work for a Non Profit Organization, however he was faced with many challenges as he was either over qualified based on his educational degrees which he had accredited while in Canada as being equivalent to an Economics Degree or under qualified as he lacked Canadian experience. Yong then decided to become a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), whereby he would gain a Project Management Credential that is certified by a Canadian entity. The PMI is an American entity with chapters in many countries. Metro Vancouver also has a PMI Chapter.
Even after taking this course, he still had difficulty landing a job in Project Management. He then joined a program located in Eastern Canada called Career Bridge. Career Bridge is a not-for-profit organization but soon found out they had limited jobs and the ones they did have were in the East. Yong also joined a government sponsored “Skills Connect” program in Metro Vancouver however, this program largely focused on how to write a resume and apply for a job.
After 4 years of now depleting much of his savings, he had to look for a survival job and for the last two years has been working for a Security Company that does alarm monitoring. His income is minimal just covering accommodation and living expenses and not much left over for luxuries. His son Willy is currently in his second year of university at UBC and is studying pharmacy. His tuition is being paid from the little savings they have left and some student loans.
Although age is a factor, at the current time Yong still has hope of landing a Project Management job and exercises his skills, experience and credentials by way of volunteering his time with the Project Management Institute and a society at SFU that services expat nationals to contribute to their birth country.
Yong feels that the Canadian Government dropped the ball as they have neglected to provide a career bridge for new comers. No, not enough or variety of internship programs are provided by the private and public sectors whereby new comers could be hired and could be partially subsidized by the government rather than offered `welfare` which often leads to people never getting off the system.
In Yong`s opinion there are many IT career opportunities and Construction Project Management jobs but a distinct lack of Economic and paid Non Profit Project Management positions. The supply of jobs verses the demand has a huge gap.
Deng went on to say that the Government sponsored Agencies that offer employment services, largely focuses on how to write a resume and apply for a job, verses matching skills and connecting them to businesses that could gain employment services from this group of eager workers. He concluded by saying that there is a distinct lack of Managerial and Professional jobs in the work force and no Agency that is working on implementing alliances with the various industry employers to facilitate an internship or work program for new immigrants and citizens.
Dr Germain Tanoh came to Canada in 2005 after being in France for eight years where he completed his graduate studies, receiving a PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of Toulouse III, Paul Sabitier University. While undertaking his undergraduate studies in his birth country Ivory Coast at the University of Abidjan he was awarded with a one year scholarship from the Francophone Association University in Abidjan to attend the University of Toulouse III. After completing his first year in France, he was again awarded with a scholarship this time it was an Excellence Award Scholarship from the Ivory Coast Government to complete his graduate studies at the University of Toulouse III.
Tanoh was then in his early twenties and after graduating from University, he worked for two years in France, teaching Mathematics at the University. He was in search for more opportunities and in 2004 he applied and was accepted to do research for one year at the University of Chile, Mathematical Research Centre. While he was in Chile he found another research group that was a collaborative partner with Simon Fraser University and they were a Medical Imaging Research Group based at Vancouver General Hospital. He started working with this group and then applied to come to Canada to continue to work with this group here in Vancouver and to expand his experience in Medical Image Research. Tanoh’s application was accepted and he was able to obtain a work permit and later became a permanent resident of Vancouver.
In 2005, Germain was awarded with an award from the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). He was given funds to do research at the PIMS Fellowship for Post Doctoral Research in Medical Imaging using Applied Mathematics to build algorithms and software. He continued doing research for two years at SFU and then moved into the public health sector. Tanoh worked as a Consultant with Fraser Health Authority analyzing and gathering statistics on their surgical waiting list, surgical operational management and helped the Emergency Room departments analyze wait times and elective surgery cancellations.
In the last 5 years Tanoh has been struggling to find a permanent full time job in his field of study. He made the decision that perhaps he had to work on improving his street smarts and business smarts to compliment his formal education and his work experience in research so that he could be more marketable.
In 2008 Germain went back to school. He attended Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, in the continuing education curriculum and took a course in Project Management. He decided to take this course as when he was doing research he noticed that there were a lot of opportunities for Project Managers. This would also allow him to learn more about strategic leadership. He was further interested in this course as when he was at Fraser Health he applied for management positions, but was never hired because he did not have Project Management, Leadership or Canadian experience. He had interviews with one of BC’s major Utility companies and the Public Health Agency of Canada but was also denied due to his non education or work experience in Project Management.
Germain was discouraged because when he got his Project Management certification and applied for Project Management jobs he was then told that he should be focusing on his strengths and skills and what he initially went to school for and studied. He was also advised to apply for a Management In Training program but was by passed for the opportunity.
Tanoh expressed that what should’ve happened is one of these companies should have hired and trained him and supported him to go to school to match some experience with his formal training. He now feels that he also needed to build his network which may have given him more contacts in the business world rather than going back to school. Based on feedback that he received from failed successes of being hired, he thought that going back to school was his only option rather than strengthening his contact network.
All did not remain idle with Germain, in 2009 while he worked as a Consultant with Fraser Health Authority he founded a non-profit organization, called Le Repere Franchophone. This organization supports francophone minority communities for better integration in Vancouver. It is a successful program that is well received and attended. This initiative allowed Tanoh to exercise his training in strategic leadership and presented a good opportunity for him to evaluate what he had learnt and received good feedback from the supporters of the organization.
Tanoh said that lots of new immigrants with University Degrees that have trouble like him to find a job in their field of study participates at the networking workshops and share best practices on how they can support each other in their individual quests. From time to time they also invite guest speakers to the events to hear and learn about integration into the workforce as well as socially, this part of the program is called Café D’ Integration, which helps them all find some answers. Le Repere Francophone is a self – funded organization with no government funds or sponsorship in which Germain and others volunteer their time, skills and experience.
At the current time this non-profit organization is on a leave due to more funding that is required and Tanoh giving more of his time to capitalizing on his mathematical skills. In 2011 he founded Hello Math a math tutor program to tutor children from Grade 6 – University level math.
Tanoh claims that he has now emerged into an entrepreneur from once being a research Mathematical Scientist. He started as a business consultant with Fraser Health Authority and now a fully fletched entrepreneur operating his Hello Math business. It is still a challenge with earning a living as this business is still in the start-up phase with limited revenues. So it is a matter of expanding on this business idea by introducing workshops to educate parents on the fear of Math in themselves that transcends to their children, he is also looking at contractual project management assignments as well as teaching assignments.
Tanoh concluded by saying that as a new immigrant we are eager to find our niche and will go to the ends of the earth to find that opportunity we came in search of. When those opportunities are not so easily found then we have no choice but to use our talents in different ways.
Sajeer Salih, was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka . Educated at St. Peters College, he went on to earn a Post Graduate Degree specializing in Sales and Marketing from the UK based Chartered Institute of Marketing. After school, he started work in the Logistics Industry in Sri Lanka and worked for the largest transportation group Hayleys Ltd. for ten years until 2004.
Thereafter, Sajeer spent one and half years in the Maldives, setting up and managing a Logistics company there and another one and half years in Jakarta, Indonesia where he also set up and managed a Logistic company. Sajeer said that moving to the Maldives was fairly easy and the ability to establish a business was good, however in Indonesia it was a bit more difficult. He was introduced to these countries and potential opportunities through his work and network while he lived and worked in Sri Lanka.
In 2003 Sajeer applied for immigration under the Skilled Migration Program for Canada, both him and his wife who holds a Degree in Micro Biology had the chance to choose Australia, New Zealand or Canada as their new country of residence, and chose Canada because of the bigger economy and potential for success.
It took the Salih’s immigration application four years to be processed and accepted, as they applied shortly before the Tsunami in 2003 happened which delayed their application as Canada was processing refugee claimants from the tsunami disaster. In 2007 they finally received the go ahead and arrived in Vancouver. When they arrived Sajeer scoped out some living arrangements and checked into some local resources for finding work, but then returned to Sri Lanka after two weeks to go and quit his job there and permanently move here.
When he came back he started to look for work, and applied for many Logistic jobs and spoke with several recruiting companies and sent out over 200 resumes. He had a few interviews and many a time was told you don’t have Canadian experience or you are over qualified for the posted positions. No employer wanted to invest in him to develop him to gain the Canadian experience needed.
After a few weeks of non-success at landing a job he contacted his former Logistics Agent that he worked with in Sri Lanka that was based in New York and asked if he could tap into this Agents Canadian network and see if there were any Logistic Companies in Vancouver that were hiring. He was able to land a job through this agent’s referral and accepted a job as a Sales Manager; he stayed in this position for three years.
Sajeer currently works for Panalpina, 1 of the top 3 Global Logistic companies here in Vancouver. He worked for the exclusive Agent in Sri Lanka for this company and through this he was able to connect with a senior executive from Asia that was moving to the Canadian Head Office in Toronto. Sajeer reached out to this gentleman to wish him well in his new ventures in Canada and also intimated an interest to join the organization should there be any suitable openings in the Vancouver office. The executive did not hesitate to refer him and made arrangements for him to meet with the Executive Management in the Vancouver office, he had an interview and then was invited back for a 2nd interview at the Toronto Office and a week later he was hired as the Sales Manager for the Vancouver region.
The Salih family became Canadian citizens in August 2011. They now have two children ages 5 and 3 who were both born in Vancouver. His wife is a stay at home Mom and hopes to regain her footing in the workforce once the children are older as they have no other family here.
Sajeer claims that it was luck that he happened to land a job in his own field and similar to the work he did in Sri Lanka and that if it was not for his international networking contacts he would not have been successful at finding the job that he has today (to be used as excerpt in the article), although he came from being a senior manager of two start-up companies in two different countries and had a full complement of staff that worked for him.
Sajeer concluded by saying that there should be mentorship and internship programs jointly offered by the Government and Corporations for skilled new immigrants that have university degrees, since one of the criteria that earns one more points in the Skilled Migration Program is based on a person’s education level.
His hopes are that that the Canadian economy will grow from strength to strength, and that we focus on our own strengths using the resources both natural and those of our skilled workers to build a stronger Canadian economy.
After hearing the stories of these new citizens I was reminded of what my Great Grandfather used to say ‘it’s better to have plenty reserve of man power rather than to have a short list when the call comes for service’ so this is not only the case and easier in an African village but I think that the same applies to our country today.
The socio economic aspects of our world have changed since we entered the 21st century most importantly after the year 2000.
The world today has produced more qualified and educated brains than any generation before us and if we are about to lead Canada for the next 100 years then we need to become productive and enable an intellectual strategic plan that needs to be put into place on a municipal, provincial, and federal level in order to define a road map on this issue.
The corner stone of our country’s success in this century must be the ability to listen to citizens and put them to work and provide policy and guidance that will lead to the individuals and our country’s success.
We should stop ‘following the crowd’ of the world and focus on our own domestic strength and strategies.
New citizens are ready to work, lead, serve and be more productive to grow this country just as the first pioneers did. With urgency and responsibility let’s give our democratic debate a more constructive starting point to further develop and build our nation.