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Meet Ola, a newcomer to Canada with a goal to start a new life in Brampton. This is her job search story.
July 22, 2021
In August 2019 she closed her successful law practice in Nigeria, packed up her home and two kids, and headed to Brampton to start a new life. While the pandemic threw a bigger wrench into her plans than she could have anticipated, she shrugs it off.
“To get different results and grow a bit from where you were, you have to move,” she says. “The place where you move might not look positive at first, but trust me, people who make progress in life do so because they left what they were doing. You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect to get different results.”
Everything about Ola reflects this calm resilience: her Zoom background is a beautiful pastoral scene of a quaint bridge over a small river in a verdant park. She speaks with an air of joy, smiles warmly and laughs often. And this despite the many challenges she’s faced here, especially when trying to find a job.
A lawyer with 15 years of professional experience—six of which involved running her own practice—she has a master’s degree in law and has worked on civil, family and estate legal cases. While waiting to hear back from the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) about the courses she needs to take to be certified as a lawyer in Canada, she wants to apply her skills to roles she would enjoy, either in customer service, office administration or as a contract specialist, which has elements of law.
“For me, as a lawyer, of course I’m not able to practise law here yet, but there are other things I can do here to add value. And even though I wouldn’t be standing before a judge in court like I used to do, I would still enjoy working in these kinds of roles,” she says. That is, if she could get a foot in the door.
Canada welcomes roughly 300,000 permanent residents per year, highly educated, skilled people who are keen to contribute to our economy. And yet, there’s a disconnect when they arrive. While working-age immigrants to Canada are, on average, better educated than the Canadian-born population, skilled newcomers like Ola experience higher rates of unemployment and are significantly less likely to work in the fields for which they were trained.
For many, the greatest barriers to employment in their fields are:
Enter the Altis Newcomer Program, a three-week paid internship that helps newcomers overcome the barrier of “Canadian experience” by offering hands-on, practical guidance on finding job in the Canadian market. It also helps newcomers adjust to Canadian workplace norms and customs, while connecting them with a professional network who has their back.
Prior to participating in the program, Ola had applied to more than 200 positions, sometimes sending as many as 20 resumes a day, and still hadn’t landed a position. She had also taken advantage of government-run mentorship programs for newcomers.
Ola says the Altis Newcomer program gave her valuable tips on refreshing her resume, practising job interviews, using LinkedIn, and learning the kinds of questions people ask, how they ask them and how to answer them, particularly the behavioural questions, which she says aren’t as common in Nigerian job interviews. “The program has been very educational and enlightening.
“The way you need to present your resume here is different,” she says. “I now realize that each time you apply for a job you need to tailor your resume to fit the role, using key words so computer-based programs can see you as a match automatically and you have a better chance of being selected.”
So far, Ola hasn’t landed a suitable role, but while waiting to break into the job market, she isn’t concerned about wasting time. She’s a strong supporter of continuous learning, looks at every experience as a learning opportunity and already has plans to get another master’s degree here. “Even when I was in Nigeria, I went through a learning and discovery phase to get to where I finally got to. And now, I need to go through another phase, although this time it has to be faster! I have to do courses and get back on track.”
And despite the struggles she’s faced so far, Ola is a huge fan of her new-found home. She says she’s met very nice people—including a stranger who spontaneously insisted on paying for one of her pharmacy purchases even though she had the money—and praises the government for being very supportive of newcomers.
She’s also impressed by how polite everyone has been, particularly drivers in Brampton, who wait patiently for her to cross the road, something she said never happens in Nigeria. “They refuse to move! I’m not really used to this because where I’m from and where I’ve travelled, you don’t see this level of calmness and kindness,” she says.
“Everybody I know, I’ve told them, if you need to leave Nigeria for whatever reason, the only country I would recommend is Canada,” she says. “I’ve been here for over a year and even though we haven’t done much because of COVID, I still don’t want to be anywhere else. I’m not only feeling at home, I am at home.”
Her two kids, age 9 and 18, are happy and settling in well in spite of the pandemic. In fact, her eldest has just been accepted to Trent University to study business administration, majoring in HR. “So already, we are enjoying Canada and living the Canadian dream. We are moving forward, and we are going to get there,” she says.
Ola says relocating to a new country takes work and the right attitude: “People who want to relocate must be focused, persistent and they must persevere. Giving up shouldn’t be an option.” Sounds like the ideal attitude of a high-performing employee.
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