Syrian newcomers on the road to employment
Skilled, anxious to work and ready to make a contribution one year after arrival
The past year in Canada has brought Samer Sabbagh a type of calmness he hasn’t experienced in a long time.
The 43-year-old automotive painter from Aleppo, Syria has felt “emotionally better” since arriving in Hamilton with his family last February, he explained through a translator.
His wife has been attending English classes and his four children have been going to school.
But Sabbagh wants to make his own mark — by starting his own business — and “pay back” the country that has provided refuge to him and his family.
He is one step closer to achieving that dream after graduating from the Immigrants Working Centre’s WorkLINC manufacturing program on Wednesday.
He is one of 12 Syrian newcomers — a cohort made up of welders, carpenters and shoemakers — who were all smiles as they completed the five-week program that prepares participants to work in the food, manufacturing and construction industries.
The program was launched as a pilot project in response to the talent and eagerness workers at the Immigrants Working Centre noticed in Syrians arriving in Hamilton.
“We were overwhelmed by how skilled people were coming in,” said Elizabeth Webb, assistant director of the social services organization at 8 Main St. E. “There may be a perception that they’re not ready to work, but they are.”
WorkLINC offers participants a chance to boost their confidence, learn the ins and outs of Canadian workplaces and visit job sites, all while practising their English. “That’s what makes it unique,” Webb said. At Wednesday’s graduation, the men beamed as they posed for photos with their certificates before later breaking out in dance to celebrate.
Mohamad Alshami, who completed the
program three months ago, came back for Wednesday’s ceremony. Since he graduated, the 29-year-old has been attending English classes and looking for a job.
The Syrian native comes from a 100-yearold family line of welders. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all welders, and he started learning the trade at six years old.
In Homs, where Alshami is from, they were known as the “welding family,” but his relatives have since been forced to abandon the business for safety reasons.
“It was hard because this is what they’ve been doing for so long,” he said through a translator.
“But they have a trade, so wherever they go, they can work in it.”
Now that Alshami has learned about workplace safety and the job market in Canada, he’s eager to get to work.
“The first step is the most difficult one,” he said.
At a time when uncertainty and divisiveness surrounds immigration across the border, he explained his experience in Canada has differed from that.
“The people are very nice and the government as well,” Alshami said.
“They helped us more than they expected.”
Members of the WorkLINC manufacturing graduating class, including Samer Sabbagh, centre left, and Zekeriye Alammo, centre right, dance in celebration on Wednesday.
Samer Sabbagh holds a buffing tool as he talks about work in an auto body shop during his graduation from the WorkLINC manufacturing program at the Immigration Working Centre.