The Hamilton Spectator

Ukrainians finding jobs below qualificat­ions


Viacheslav Samsonenko would need at least two years of experience to work as a profession­al engineer in Canada.

So, like many newcomers, he signed up for a job below his qualificat­ions and is working hard to move up.

Samsonenko, who moved to Canada last May after fleeing the war in Ukraine, knew two decades of work experience in the field wouldn’t be relevant in Canada. But he managed to find work in the same industry within a month of arriving.

“I’m glad to be here in Canada (and) do my favourite work,” said Samsonenko, who has been working as an estimator for a British Columbia-based constructi­on company.

He said it wasn’t hard finding a job in his preferred industry, but it will be a while before he becomes a profession­al civil engineer in Canada — requiring him to write a series of tests and continue gaining experience.

Samsonenko’s situation isn’t unique. People working in immigratio­n say newcomers often struggle to land meaningful jobs that are in line with their qualificat­ions or previous work experience.

“It boils down to the lack of Canadian experience (for many employers),” said Darrel Pinto, employment director at Jumpstart Refugee Talent, a refugee-led non-profit organizati­on helping newcomers find relevant jobs.

Newcomers often feel they get screened out of opportunit­ies, he said. The lack of soft skills and cultural integratio­n are among the biggest problems when it comes to employers accepting newcomers into profession­s, he added.

The equivalenc­y of education credential­s is another barrier that employers need help understand­ing.

Pinto said employers fail to recognize that some foreign universiti­es “far exceed the quality of graduates than our own Canadian universiti­es.”

“Many newcomers tell me that the United States is far more open and welcoming to their difference­s compared to the Canadian marketplac­e, which is a little bit more closed,” he said.

Viktoriia Kulakovska moved to New Brunswick last August after fleeing the war that reached her hometown in Odesa, about 475 kilometres south of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Kulakovska and her husband, both qualified as lawyers, were running their legal firm in Ukraine. Soon enough, she found out her law degree was not recognized in Canada.

Instead, she landed a finance job through networking.

She said her husband has been going to English classes in Fredericto­n and is also preparing for a career shift. He is considerin­g becoming a taxi or truck driver.

She said she sees a lot of opportunit­ies to try new things in Canada, but obtaining another law degree might not be feasible for her and her husband. And that is the case for many immigrants to Canada.

A report from the Royal Bank of Canada indicates that despite immigrants being younger and better educated, they have a harder time than Canadians finding jobs that match their qualificat­ions.

However, Pinto said the experience of Ukrainians coming to Canada after the Russian invasion last year is different from other waves of refugees.

The government responded innovative­ly to the crisis in eastern Europe, said Pinto.

“That made it a softer landing for them when they arrived in Canada.”

Faster timelines to process open work permits under a special program, faster resettleme­nt services and increased assistance in landing jobs in the community worked well for the Ukrainian newcomers, which he said could also become a template for future newcomers from other countries.

Patrick MacKenzie, CEO of the non-profit Immigratio­n Employment Council of B.C., agreed. MacKenzie recalled a recent case when a Ukrainian landed a job at a Vancouver bakery before even coming to Canada. “He just needs to get here now.”

“Ukrainians are being welcomed into the workplace, and employers are finding that they’re contributi­ng really quickly,” he said, adding the higher level of Canadians’ awareness about the war in Ukraine could also play a role.

“I hope employers will take that lesson and apply it more broadly to all newcomers to Canada so that we can make headway on the underemplo­yment that we see so many immigrants face,” he said.

Since March 2022, the Canadian government has received more than 860,000 applicatio­ns from Ukraine, and close to 170,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada, the government site shows.

But language continues to be the biggest barrier, particular­ly for profession­al jobs, said Kael Campbell of Victoria, B.C.-based Red Seal Recruitmen­t Solutions.

 ?? CHAD HIPOLITO THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Viacheslav Samsonenko is a Ukrainian refugee and constructi­on engineer who fled his home country nine months ago for a new opportunit­y in Canada.
CHAD HIPOLITO THE CANADIAN PRESS Viacheslav Samsonenko is a Ukrainian refugee and constructi­on engineer who fled his home country nine months ago for a new opportunit­y in Canada.
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