Quebec urged to improve access to French classes, tailor policies to help anglos on the job hunt

The anglophone community in Quebec faces specific barriers when it comes to employment.
The anglophone community in Quebec faces specific barriers when it comes to employment. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Key players from the province’s English-speaking community have created a list of recommendations to strengthen the employment prospects of anglophones as the Quebec government plans to study the challenges they face in the job market.

The list of recommendations include providing better access to French-language training, lifting restrictions on government services and tailoring policies to specifically address English-speaking Quebecers’ needs.

“Our situation is quite unique and that has to be recognized,” said Aki Tchitacov, the executive director at Youth Employment Services (YES).

The list of suggestions was first discussed during a consultation in November on the hurdles anglophones face while on the job hunt in Quebec.

The Provincial Employment Roundtable, which was spearheaded by YES, brought together community organizations, post-secondary institutions, English-language groups and employers.

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As part of the process, they were tasked with creating policy recommendations to submit to the provincial government.

One of the major recommendations is to improve access to French-language training and ensure that financial barriers are lifted. During the consultation, participants discussed how often the courses pertain to focus on conversational basics, but don’t delve into technical terms — which leaves fluently-bilingual anglophones in the dust.

“The other big issue is that people self-select,” said Tchitacov.

“So people think, ‘My French is just not strong enough, so I’m not going to apply for bilingual positions or take the plunge and apply for French jobs.'”

Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, also acknowledged during the consultation that there is sometimes a perception that English-speaking graduates don’t speak French.

Anglophones need to assert their confidence, he said.

“Some of us have great French,” he said. “But some of us are just shy to speak it.”

The suggestion to lift financial barriers to enrollment in French classes is also an issue that was brought before the province’s legislature earlier this week.

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Jacques-Cartier MNA Greg Kelley tabled a private member’s bill for everyone to have the right to access free French classes in Quebec.

Increase flexibility of programs

The list of recommendations also includes increasing the flexibility of programs offered to English-speaking Quebecers. If government services aren’t quite as rigid, more anglophones will benefit from them.

This is especially true for English-speaking Quebecers hunting for employment in regions outside of Montreal.

Cathy Brown, with the Committee for Anglophone Social Action, explained during the consultation that youth in the Gaspé often leave for post-secondary studies and don’t come back.

She explained that access to services is not only a large issue, but that government programs also need to be tailored to suit the different realities of Quebecers who live outside major urban sprawls. This is especially true since employment rates among anglophones vary from place to place.

“A blanket program is not going to fit,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Exclusive Interview: Quebec Premier sits down to talk about his relationship with Anglophones'
Exclusive Interview: Quebec Premier sits down to talk about his relationship with Anglophones

Provide more internships and on-the-job training

Apart from language barriers, the recommendations from the Provincial Employment Roundtable include increasing collaboration between groups that offer similar services, and bridging the gap between leaving school and entering the job market.

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There also needs to be more opportunities for internships and on-the-job training for anglophones. Tchitacov explained doing so would help the English community build relationships and gain experience.

“If we could have internship programs that could open those doors for English speakers, that would be very beneficial,” said Tchitacov.

The committee will submit its recommendations to improve access to employment opportunities for anglophones to the province in 2020, along with an accompanying report.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet has also pledged to study the challenges and said the province must do more to integrate experienced workers whose mother tongue is English into the economy. At the consultation, he said the government is sensitive and preoccupied by the community’s needs.

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