Collaboration helps new Canadians gain skills in trades

A partnership among ITA, Progressive Intercultural Community Services, and Vancouver Community College gives new Canadians a start in the skilled trades as a viable, sustainable, and rewarding career.

It’s the hope and dream of thousands of people each year: move to Canada for a better life. Ten of these people—women from across the globe—are getting support for that dream by exploring a career in the skilled trades through a program for immigrant women. The course, funded by Industry Training Authority (ITA), gives them 12 weeks of hands-on training in hair design, culinary, and baking and will enable them to make informed choices about pursuing one of these trades. 

Mansher Sidhu came from India with her family when she was 12. Now at 18, she’s considering her future plans and started the program with an interest in baking. 

“Baking, dare I say, is my preferred trade, but I have come to appreciate culinary quite a lot,” says Mansher. “It is quite similar to baking but not entirely. You still have the aspect of preparing and presenting but cover a lot broader aspects and methods, along with types such as breakfast, soups, poultry, etc.”

The program is made possible through a partnership with ITA, Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS), and Vancouver Community College (VCC) to give new Canadians a start in the skilled trades as a viable, sustainable, and rewarding career. The sampler is one of two planned for immigrants. The second one will provide participants with hand-on training as an automotive service technician, motor vehicle body repairs, heavy duty equipment technician, automotive painter, and automotive refinishing prep technician.

“Providing trades samplers and apprenticeship training helps members of the immigrant community—an often-overlooked group—find gainful opportunities to participate in the labour market across sectors where their skills are needed the most,” says Paulette Higgins, Director of Training Investment at ITA. “One of our commitments is to lead the cultural change needed in B.C.’s trades training and apprenticeship system by removing barriers for equity-seeking and under-represented groups through innovative programs and partnerships.”

It’s a partnership that makes sense for ITA: PICS has delivered successful programming and settlement supports for immigrants and new Canadians for many years, and VCC has the instructional capacity to demonstrate and hone the learners’ skills through trades sampler programs. 

“Our services assist new immigrants, seniors, farm workers, women, and youth. Our focus has been to assist newcomers to Canada, so this program is a great fit for us,” says Raj Hundal, Director of Employment Programs and Planning at PICS. “A number of our participants had a passion or background in hair, culinary, or baking in their home country. Such trades may not have been as highly valued as it is in B.C. where apprentices can attain a Red Seal. All 10 participants bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience but, prior to this program, were not able to pursue their passion.”  

The Partnership Development Office (PDO) at VCC worked closely with hair design, culinary, and baking department leaders and faculty to develop and deliver a customized curriculum with the goals of providing foundational knowledge and practical exposure and building an understanding of apprenticeship training and the Red Seal certification system in B.C. 

“We saw this as a great opportunity to assist immigrant women who may come from a traditional cultural or educational background to explore different trades in a safe, welcoming, and group-based environment,” says Pam Khinda, Senior Program Coordinator at the PDO.

The program began with hair design in early March, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VCC had to stop all face-to-face training and adopt online methods. 

Instructors worked hard to retain, engage, and inspire students to continue their learning through interactive video sessions and reading material on an online learning platform. Students demonstrated their new cooking and baking skills by making meals for their families at home. This success speaks to their commitment to learning and the project team’s passion, dedication, and creativity in keeping students engaged despite the detour from the original curriculum. 

Originally from Kazakhstan, Lyazzat Alkan immigrated to Canada from Turkey after living there for 25 years. Her goal is to be a hairdresser in the film industry.  

“Before the closing of the college, we had the opportunity to practice hairstyling, and it was great,” says Lyazzat. “Thanks to an excellent teacher, we learned to cut and color hair and got a lot of knowledge in a short time. We had a great [culinary] teacher who turned every lesson into a show and awakened my desire to create in the kitchen and a lot of positive emotions. He presented new information about cooking methods in a very light and relaxed atmosphere.”

The collaborative nature of the program is evident at all levels. VCC instructors provide participants with essential skills and job search skills training as part of the sampler. And advisors Lina Sehgal (VCC) and Meenu Panesar (PICS) have been working closely with each other to advise, coach, and support the students with their needs. Meenu also provides them with weekly one-on-one counselling and facilitates group workshops on topics that help their career growth, such as how to build on their career decision in the field they choose.

Nelly Duku came to Canada from South Sudan with her family and is now a mother of three. She hopes to open her own hairstyling business one day. Nelly sees herself taking additional training when her kids are older. 

“It’s exciting to know about these kinds of programs and getting more details about ITA and apprenticeships,” she says. “PICS and the VCC instructors were very helpful. I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”

The trades sampler finishes at the end of May. ITA will lead a post-program evaluation to determine how it can be replicated and sustained, applying best practices and lessons learned from the initiative.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see participants continue their journey in the trades, either through formal trades training, apprenticeship, and/or employment in sectors that support trades and apprenticeship,” says Paulette. “Equity, diversity, and inclusiveness is what built this country, and regardless of origin, skills, or background, we all have a role to play in building the best British Columbia.” 

This article is the first in a four-part series focusing on the trades sampler for immigrant women. Read more about Mansher’s, Lyazzat’s, and Nelly’s journeys at later this week. 

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