Syr­ian new­com­ers on the road to em­ploy­ment

Skilled, anx­ious to work and ready to make a con­tri­bu­tion one year af­ter ar­rival

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NATALIE PAD­DON npad­don@thes­pec.com 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

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.”

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mem­bers of the WorkLINC man­u­fac­tur­ing grad­u­at­ing class, in­clud­ing Samer Sab­bagh, cen­tre left, and Zek­eriye Alammo, cen­tre right, dance in cel­e­bra­tion on Wed­nes­day.

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

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