In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, Halifax has proven to be an inclusive, supportive and welcoming city for immigrants.

But helping immigrants succeed is about more than just putting a roof over their heads and food on their plates. Before new Canadians can truly settle down in their new surroundings, it’s important they lock down some meaningful employment in the field that’s right for them.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, considering factors like language barriers, the economy and simple culture shock. But if Halifax is going to remain a top-choice destination for new Canadians, they need to have opportunities in the job market.

Gerry Mills, executive director of ISANS, knows this more than anyone. ISANS works with new Canadians right from the minute they arrive, and is a crucial institution when it comes to integrating newcomers into society.

“You can’t stay anywhere without an economic opportunity. Everyone needs a job,” Mills said in an interview. “We run a whole range of programs that help us attach people to the labour force as soon as we can.”

Getting a job is important, but Mills doesn’t want her clients to work just anywhere. She said it’s important for immigrants to be given opportunities in the fields where they’ve been trained or have previous experience.

“You always hear the story of the doctor driving the taxicab,” she said. “But that’s happening a lot less now. It’s not just about getting any job. We want our clients to get jobs that allow them to look after their families, but also have opportunities for advancement. We want immigrants to set goals for themselves in the workplace. If they’re not where they want to be, we want to help them get there.”

The employment programs at ISANS include everything from writing and trades classes to on-the-job language training. Mills also just started a pre-employment workshop with a group of Syrian refugee youth.

“Immigrants choose to stay here for three main reasons: job, family and community,” she said. “We need to create an environment that welcomes new Canadians. We know we’ve already got one of the oldest populations in the country. Our labour force is shrinking, so when newcomers come to Nova Scotia to work, play and raise their families, it benefits the economy as a whole.”

According to Tanja Matthews, the employment workshop coordinator with ISANS, creating a positive environment for immigrants in the job market starts with employers. She said more and more employers around Halifax are opening their doors to new Canadians, and that’s a good thing.

“Even if we can just set up a 15 minute chat with a potential employer, we do it. It doesn’t have to be a full interview,” she said. “It helps new immigrants build confidence, talk about their skills and qualifications and learn more about the Canadian job market in general.”

ISANS does amazing work, but it’s not the only organization in Halifax helping immigrants break into the labour force. The Halifax Partnership’s Connector Program has helped more than 550 newcomers find work in recent years, and a team of connectors is always working to drive that number up.

The YMCA also offers special programs that help immigrants settle down in their new communities.  According to Matthews, helping newcomers feel welcome is a team effort that all Nova Scotians should embrace.

“These people are coming to Halifax because they want to start over and build a better life for themselves,” she said. “It’s our duty to try to give them that, and it starts with stable employment.”

One immigrant who’s benefitting from the ISANS employment programs is 40-year-old Michael Margulis, who came to Halifax two months ago from Israel. He just started a pre-employment workshop with Matthews and is hoping to find work as a lab technician, which is what he did back in Israel.

“This is very important for us, because it shows us the Canadian way of doing things,” said Margulis. “I’m learning how Canadian employers search for employees, and what they’re looking for. Tanja has given us a lot of tools, a lot of help and a lot of knowledge.”

Margulis said it hasn’t been easy adjusting to life in Canada, but he’s thankful for everything ISANS has done for him.

“ISANS has helped me understand so many new things,” he said. “Now I can continue my working life here in Halifax.”

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