Bridging the Gap for Newcomers to Canada

Looking for a job or opening your own business are among the top priorities when you move to a new country: after all, we live in a society where bills have to be paid and money doesn’t grow in trees!

In my career coaching, I help people to not only find jobs or start new businesses, but also to figure out how they can move towards “The Right Livelihood” (making a living while making good to others and the planet, minimizing negative impacts, emphasizing positive ones).

My experience as a career coach for newcomers to Canada and the result of many statistical studies show that there are some core factor that affect whether immigrants to Canada are or not successful in their job search.

These factors include:

  1. Dealing with settlement issues before you start your job search plan
  2. Level of Professional English proficiency
  3. Having a clear and reasonable career goal
  4. Knowledge and understanding of the local labour market
  5. Creating and maintaining support, social and professional networks
  6. Understanding the new environment and developing “Soft Skills”
  7. Taking responsibility for your own career and maintaining a positive attitude

As you’ll see, the above factors may be applicable to almost anybody looking for a job, starting a new career or becoming an entrepreneur.

Let’s check them one by one:


While having a job or becoming your own “boss” may be seen as priorities required to pay the bills, we start with the wrong foot if we don’t have the basic of our lives well organized and figured out.

Job searching takes a lot of time and energy and can’t be done properly if you are sick, have family issues to deal with, lack appropriate clothes or haven’t yet figured out things like transportation, food, daycare, schooling and shelter.

Here are the things you need to take care first:

  • Transportation and moving around: take some time to become familiar with the city and its surroundings. Plan for trips on bus, train and seabus. Walk around; know where the main services are located: city hall, police, firefighters, recreational centres and community hubs, hospitals, clinics, farmers’ markets, pharmacy, etc. Make sure you can move around with public transportation.
  • Health: make sure you know what to do if anyone in your family feels sick or is injured. Become familiar with how 9and when) to use 911 and 811: 911 offers services in almost ANY language. If you don’t know if your case is an emergency, you can always call 811 (BC Nurses Line). Do you have a more personal (emotional/interpersonal) problem? Call the Crisis Line here or here
  • Schools and Daycare: if you have small children (under 12 years old) they may need to attend school and will have daycare needs for before and after school. If you don’t have anybody in your family to take care of them, you may want to check daycare options. Most newcomers may also be eligible for daycare subsidy. Check information here:
  • Housing:
  • Food, clothes and other needs: there are many services available for newcomers. The city of Surrey has various Food Banks and many immigrant services agencies provide food donations to their eligible clients. They are the best place to ask for appropriate food choices and where to find food for your cultural, ethnic and health needs. You can also check this interactive map here: or visit any Surrey Public Library for more information and referrals. If you love growing herbs and vegetables, Surrey has many Community Gardens you can join and seed libraries are available at many locations. Check this one from Surrey Library:
  • Other needs: if you are in distress, feel alone or just want to be guided in your settlement process, check any of the many immigrant services providers in your community.


Professional English

Most immigrants move to Canada with some level of English. But to get professional jobs (or running a successful business) your English level has to be high and professional.

There are many ways to improve it:

  • Surrey Libraries offer different resources and free programs:
  • Toast Masters are inexpensive and many are focused on newcomers. These programs also help you to develop your public speaking skills and make new connections and friends:
  • Professional English courses (used to be free but effective January 2015 they are paid. Student Aid options available. Skills Connect program may pay 2/3 if you are eligible and live/look for a job in BC):

BCIT courses:

VCC Courses:

Douglas College:

Clear and reasonable Goal

Our world is changing: continuous “growth” is no longer possible in a finite planet. Jobs are becoming more difficult to find and there is a lot of competition out there.

Also, more and more people are realizing that “jobs” are not only a “means to” but also a way to manifest your many gifts; money and status are becoming less important and people are reorganizing their values and lifestyles to adjust to what the world is calling for: simplicity and more efforts put on relationships and our families and communities wellbeing instead of “stuff”.

Many professional immigrants come with great dreams about what they expect in terms of jobs or businesses, and feel frustrated when they see it is not that easy: you may have to start from scratch or from an entry level position. Some newcomers also use this opportunity to change their careers.

Whatever is your choice, make sure you fully understand the Canadian labour market before you choose a job target. Having an unrealistic job target can make your job search miserable.


Knowledge and understanding of the local labour market

Understanding the labour market means having a clear idea of your job target’s outlook, risks, trends, requirements and characteristics.

For each career/job/business target you may be considering ask the following questions:

  • Is this industry growing or shrinking?
  • What factors affect this industry? What is happening in BC, Canada and the world that may affect this industry?
  • What are this industry or profession trends? (for example, there is an increasing trend for food: people want it local, organic, healthy and environmentally sustainable and sound; same happens with energy, housing and other areas…what’s happening in your industry? Profession? Business line?)
  • Are there regulatory bodies that restrict this profession? Do you need to have your credentials evaluated and assessed, take exams or update your skills?
  • How is the work environment for your profession/occupation of choice here in Canada? What are the work hours? Who works in that field? Where are the companies located? How much is the average salary? What are the benefits? What are the hazards and risks of that profession?

Knowing more about your profession and industry saves you tons of energy, time and money. Imagine the frustration of investing months in trying to open a business whose outlook is doomed; or studying a career that has no future or updating your skills just to find out that your occupation pays only survival job salaries…

Where you can find information about the labour market?

  • Ask those who know: make connections with people already working on that industry or profession and have an informational interview with them
  • Read career profiles and outlooks (libraries and government agencies have already created these profiles for most careers. However, don’t trust these outlooks 100% as some are old or may be biased. The Employment guides from VPL are excellent: and you can also check WorkBC guides:
  • Check the N.O.C. for relevant skills, regulatory body and other requirements:
  • Read both mainstream and alternative newspapers and media. Try reading “between the lines” to see where things are going: are certain sectors in trouble? For example, oil, gas and mining are in deep trouble right now all over the world, but specifically in Canada.
  • Attend to free information sessions from colleges and universities: these institutions have excellent info sessions about programs and careers they are offering. Info sessions are great places to get an idea of how that occupation or industry is doing and to meet others who have recently graduated.
  • Look for gaps in your community: all communities have assets and gaps. Knowing the gaps can give you ideas for potential businesses and work. For example, you may notice that there is no affordable daycare in your neighbourhood and then open a family daycare or nanny service.

Creating and maintaining support, social and professional networks

All newcomers struggle to create networks, but networks are necessary not only to look for jobs or being a successful entrepreneur: networks act as an emotional and social support that keeps you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

How to create and maintain support networks:

  • Talk to your neighbours: go beyond the usual waving your hands or smiling: ask how they are, what they need. Or ask for information about the community.
  • Let them know you exist: Knock their doors and introduce yourself, offer a service or help when needed.
  • Join community events, programs or projects that are close to your interests: from community gardens to Emergency Social services; from free movie events in libraries to conversation clubs, all these are great opportunities to meet others and share your many gifts.
  • Join professional networks; attend conferences and events organized by the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, the City Hall, the local Recreational Centre or your professional regulatory body or association.
  • Volunteer: there are many places where you can be of help to others and be trained, practice your skills and spend your time while creating new connections. Choose a volunteer option that appeals to your values, interests and goals or just for fun.
  • Consider taking some upgrading training from local colleges or universities: courses and workshops are great places to meet others and become more familiar with the environment. They also increase your profile.
  • Be out there; you can’t create a network sitting behind a computer or a TV. Go hiking, walk, take swimming, gardening or cooking classes, join book clubs!

Understanding the new environment and developing “Soft Skills”

Soft Skills are tricky: as water for fish, soft skills may be different from one culture or country to other. Fish from rivers are used to a different water (and environment) than fish from oceans or lakes.

It is exactly the same with culture and soft skills: the way you relate, dress, approach, touch, look, etc and the hierarchical structures may be very different: in some countries, men and women, employers and employees, managers and staff are expected to have different behaviours, use a different tone of voice or even words!

How does that work in Canada?

There is only one option: observe and interact so you learn the new “rules” and expectations and can decide what to do with them. One thing is certain: your behaviour, expectations and attitudes are probably going to be challenged and you will experience some transformations.

Only you can decide if you want to change or whether the change is “good” or “bad”.

Some suggestions to learn “soft skills”:

  • Books: some books are great describing these differences and what to expect. Check them from the library!: Check this out from Lionel Laroche:
  • Professional training: you can take courses on soft skills, on business communication, conflict resolution and similar topics.
  • Observe how people interact in different environments and try not to be judgemental: you may learn things and have great insights!
  • Volunteer: this is a great way to “learn by doing” and a safe way to explore without being too exposed.

Taking responsibility for your own career and maintaining a positive attitude

This is probably the biggest one: it is not only your career or the next job. It is your life!

There is no point on blaming others: the government, the “system”, any group or institution. You can’t really change them.

Every time we blame others for our “luck”, we are offering them the power over us. We are basically telling them: “My life, my choices and my future are in your hands, I am dependent and powerless”

Suggestion on taking responsibility for your own life, choices and career:

  • Work on your own awareness: becoming aware of your own worldview, behaviours, thoughts, values, beliefs/bias, emotions and reactions is the first step.
  • Learn “the rules of the game” and decide whether you want to play by them or look for a different game (different industries, groups and societies have different “rules of the game”, if you are too frustrated with one, you may op out or work on proactively and positively change the rules)
  • Only you can make decisions about what to do with your life. Stop relying on others. No matter their good intentions, whoever tells you “what to do” (or what “not to do”) is trying to control your life.
  • Be mature and serious: if you want something, work for it. There is no birth right for anything and nobody owns us anything.
  • Once you are in peace with yourself and clear about your goals and choices, you’ll smile more often: smile and embrace people’s imperfectness: we are all imperfect after all.
  • Build active hope: hope doesn’t consist on asking or praying for something “to happen”. Hope is built by our actions and choices. Hope is what wakes up every morning and keeps us doing what we have to do in spite of anything going on behind the scene.
  • Review your attitude: the world tends to reflect our own attitude back to us.

3 Comments on “Bridging the Gap for Newcomers to Canada

    • Thanks Hernan, yes, I think most are common sense and a matter of taking responsibility for ourselves. There are exceptions, such as the case of people who are being exploited or live in really bad conditions. This post is intended more towards the “skilled immigrants” who usually have university degrees, some or lots of experience, and come with high expectations. Not all of them understand that there is a lot of effort and sacrifice involved, and that the world owns them nothing. I wrote another piece, about the concept of the “right livelihood” in my other blog about Mainstream Permaculture… where are you? In Europe?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, in Sweden. As you say “skilled immigrant”. Same principles, other problems. Open mindedness and awareness are keys to adaptation. Best, Hernán


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