Packed house for refugee job fair at city hall

Mohamad Toubeh worked as a car mechanic in Syria for seven years before civil war forced him out of the country.

Now, along with more than 200 Syrian refugees who attended a special employment fair on Thursday, Mr. Toubeh is trying to navigate the job market in a new country.

“It’s not easy now, even coming here, it’s not easy to get a job,” he said, through a translator.

From hotels to construction firms, prospective employers set up booths at Ottawa City Hall to meet with the job-seeking refugees. Some arrived with a career in mind, while others sought tips.

Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, said the goal was to get refugees networking.

“So many of us find our jobs because of someone we know, whether it’s someone we know who tells us about a position or someone we know who comes looking for us because they know our skill set,” she said. “Syrian arrivals, like any other refugees, don’t have that network here.”

Apart from networking, the biggest tip the group heard was to learn English – or at least the basics – and become accustomed to Canadian culture.

Grace Choueiry, a branch manager with the job-hunt firm Adecco, said about 90 per cent of the refugees she spoke with on Thursday did not speak English.

“I was a newcomer myself. I came here 28 years ago (from Lebanon),” she said. “I spoke English, but I needed the Canadian experience, so I volunteered for four months without being paid just to get the Canadian experience.”

Some of the highly educated bunch – like civil engineers and pharmacists – may be left seeking a new or slightly different field, rather than pouring years of studies into getting re-certified in Canada. Those who wish to stay on their career paths were advised to seek out the immigrant settlement services for more information on how to do so.

“You have many more skills and you are many more occupations than the one you came with,” said Corrine Prince St-Amand, of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, during a panel discussion at the job fair.

“I want you to open up your minds.”

Sun Life Financial was one of the employers taking part and sales manager Jim Clément said the company recognizes the growing Arabic community in Ottawa.

“We are looking for Arabic advisors so I figured this would be a great place to meet people with that kind of background,” he said. “We can make a big impact on the new refugees who are looking for insurance, looking for investments, so getting in on the ground floor is the best way to do that.”

- with files from Tom Pechloff

This article originally appeared on on June 16.