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Hiring Syrian Refugees: What Employers Need to Know

From winter clothes to housing, language training and jobs, British Columbians are stepping up to help Syrian refugees adjust to life in Canada.

Canada as a whole has welcomed over 40,000 Syrian refugees since November 4, 2015. Over 3000 Syrians, including both Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) and Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs), have arrived in BC since that time.  About 70 per cent of GARs will settle in three Metro Vancouver cities: Surrey, Coquitlam and Burnaby, while private sponsors will host smaller groups in cities and towns throughout the province.

The Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSofBC) is charged with receiving and resettling Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) in British Columbia. With the help of volunteers and sub-contractors, they’ll provide settlement services, language training and career services, such as coaching on Canadian hiring practices and workplace culture, to the newcomers.

Jobs will be a priority for many, and Syrian refugees are legally able to start work as soon as they arrive.  

According to Lily Lim, Division Manager-Career Services at ISSofBC, refugee job seekers typically seek employment three to six months after arriving in Canada. However, since the Syrian resettlement initiative is focused on more vulnerable refugees, many of the first arrivals may take a little longer to settle in.

Says Lim: “although we don't have specific profiles for all the arriving refugees yet, we expect the first groups to be large families with young children. The initial information is that they’re likely to be high-need with little English and low work skills.” Privately sponsored refugees, who comprise about half of the early arrivals, may have a different profile.

Still, many of the new arrivals will be eager to enter the workforce and, according to Lim, there are many ways for employers to ease the transition:

  • Look for hiring events sponsored by ISSofBC or other settlement organizations. Refugee job seekers will benefit from meeting employers in a supportive environment, ideally attended by employment counsellors experienced in working with refugees and settlement counsellors who can communicate in the job seekers’ first language.
  • Make an effort to understand the culture of the refugee job seeker and recognize how this can influence their performance in interviews.
  •  Examine hiring tools such as interview questions to ensure they’re as culturally neutral as possible.
  • Avoid the use of idioms and unfamiliar turns of phrase during interviews as these can be intimidating to a non-English speaker. Make an effort to speak slowly and clearly too.
  • Prioritize job requirements according to the minimum that’s needed to get a worker in the door, identifying which skills can be developed later and clearly explain this to the job seeker.

Above all, encourage co-workers to be supportive. If practical, assign a buddy to help the new worker negotiate the adjustment period.
For more information about the resettlement process, check out ISSofBC’s Refugee Readiness Hub. It’s a regularly updated resource designed to assist sponsors, service providers, employers and others wanting to help welcome newcomers to BC.

For information about resettlement at the national level, visit Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website.

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