November 9, 2016 2:54 am

B.C. pilot project looks to find jobs for Syrian refugees

One of the concerns when Canada welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees this year was finding them jobs. As Tanya Beja reports, a B.C. pilot project appears to be answering the challenge, by paring them with companies that desperately need workers.

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A new pilot project has teamed with British Columbia’s manufacturing sector to provide jobs for Syrian refugees, helping them integrate into their new country and boost jobs in the industry at the same time.

From window makers to hot tub builders, from food processors to steel fabricators, the Refugee Training and Employment Program is looking to fill in an estimated 55,000 job vacancies projected over the next decade.

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For refugees like Ahmad Hwichshan, who was a tailor back home in Syria before fleeing the civil war, it’s given him much more than a job.

“When I came to Canada, I had lost my confidence,” he said. “This has given me my personality back, and I am happy.”

Now settled into his new job at a Delta company building bags for the Canadian Coast Guard, his attitude is simple: “I like my job.”

The program is funded by a $2-million refugee fund provided by the province. The guidelines are simple: an employer signs on with a participant and provides eight weeks of training, which covers health and safety regulations, language skills, and cultural lessons.

“[This means learning] what’s appropriate in the Canadian environment,” said Najah Hage of MOSAIC, a B.C. charity supporting refugees that provides the cultural training. “[We teach] what you can and can’t say, what could offend your coworker, how to interact with your colleagues in the workplace.”

After training is complete — the final stage of which includes application writing and interview preparation — the employer must offer the participant a job, which to the industry is an easy proposition.

“They are eager to work and employers are eager to have them, so it’s a match made in heaven,” said Marcus Ewert-Johns of the B.C. Alliance for Manufacturing.

“We have employers telling us if we could bring them 40 new workers tomorrow, they would hire them.”

So far, 40 refugees have completed the program with another 40 about to graduate. Three-quarters of those graduated have found jobs and kept them.

For Hamed Al Shhadt, who works with Hwichshan building bags in Delta, the work brings peace of mind he hasn’t experienced in six years.

“I hope to learn more English and contribute to the economy, and to pay Canada back for all they’ve done for my family.”

With files from Tanya Beja

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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