This year will definitely start differently for many immigrants that attended the Employment Opportunity Exchange – EOE Victoria 2018 – promoted by Here Magazine in partnership with the Construction Foundation of BC and Your Entrepreneurial Society of Victoria. The event happened at the end of November and was hosted at the Comfort Inn & Suites conference room with approximately 120 job seekers and 13 employers. I would probably fail trying to describe exactly what happened at the event or all the incredible people who presented their stories. What I can do, however, is to share my own experience, which I believe is what the EOE is all about: sharing.
The main goal of the EOE was to create an opportunity for both job seekers and employers to meet, connect and maybe become partners in the job market. The employers would find good workers, and the newcomers would finally get the opportunity they were looking for. However, I think the EOE went beyond that. The sensitivity of the hosts and participants created a tangible sense of community throughout the room.
The event started with a panel in which 6 people with completely different backgrounds shared their experiences as immigrants in Canada. I was one of the participants on the panel and I confess I was a little bit nervous to be beside people with such great academic backgrounds or prominent positions in their work areas. In contrast, I was unemployed and struggling to find something related to what I used to do in my country. For a moment, I started to ask myself what I was doing up there. What would I possibly share to help someone when I feel I am the one needing help?! Then I started to hear their stories and I was able to see myself in their experiences. The same struggles, the same insecurities, the same doubts and feelings. People from completely different cultures unified by the same challenges and barriers. Suddenly, I felt comfortable to be there; I found myself in the right place to speak and to be heard. This single moment of self-confidence that took over me could define my entire experience in the EOE. It is all about being heard, but also to feel able to speak with confidence and to conquer your space again.
During the event, we had the opportunity to talk to the employers in the round table dynamic. All the employers and job seekers were face-to-face discussing their challenges and goals on the job market. We could then exchange contacts, and also hear from the employers about what they were expecting from the prospective employees. These round table discussions really threw a light on the employers’ perspective: sometimes, as immigrants, we tend to put ourselves on a victimized position, as if the whole world was against us. However, what we saw at EOE were lots of employers seeking workers and willing to give great opportunities based mainly on the heart and their belief on people. Many testimonials shared at the event showed openness by the employers to hear our story, understand our background and give us a chance to start a new life here in Canada.
Of course, the fact that our background and portfolio is built upon another language makes a resume presentation a harder task. It is also harder for us to downsize from what we used to be in our home countries and start over again. However, it is important to understand that it is part of the adaptation process to gain experience first, improve your skills or even discover new ones to finally get where you want to. We need to find a balance between not pushing too hard trying to be perfect and accepting that we need to take a step back temporarily in order to acquire experience and build a strong background here in Canada. The good news is that there are companies seeking immigrants; there are employers that understand our struggles; but before anything happens, they need to meet us! And that will not happen if we stay locked in our houses insecure about our abilities or language skills.
Furthermore, the EOE made me realize some aspects of the Canadian culture that really made a difference in my approach when looking for a job. For example, the sense of community in Canada is very strong and volunteering work is really valuable here. It is also a great way to get to know people and discover new skills. When you volunteer, you keep yourself active and you contribute with the community by becoming part of it. Thus, you are gaining relevant experience and connecting with people that can lead you to what you want, or even hire you afterwards. Networking is a very strong aspect in the Canadian culture and the EOE was the perfect opportunity to achieve that and understand how the industry works in your target area.
To illustrate, I had the opportunity to talk to ChengBo Su (36) that heard about the EOE from VIRCS, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugees Centre Society. He has a background in Environment and Management and he was seeking a position related to his previous job as environmental administrator. He was already familiar with the company H&R Block and its services. There was a possibility to work as environmental auditor, which is closely related to his previous and intended job. Fortunately, he got an interview right after talking with H&R representatives at the company’s stand. ChengBo was able to register to their tax training course during the event. After completing the course, ChengBo Su has recently received an official employment offer from H&R Block. Before attending EOE, ChengBo described that he struggled to find opportunities or any chance to talk directly with prospective employers. Also, he mentioned the difficulties he faced to find more entry-level positions and get responses from online applications.
“EOE event kick started a new career life for me, and I believe for many people as well.” – ChengBo Su.
After all, I believe the EOE was an incredible chance for employers to find eager workers that just need an opportunity to start and for job seekers to show their skills and discover new paths. At the event, I was able to connect with new people, get career advices, create new professional contacts and even schedule a job interview. While reinforcing my goals and skills, I was also able to discover new perspectives to explore. It was really a safe space for newcomers to find support and motivation, helping them to keep going and believing in themselves. It is not a coincidence that I felt confident enough to write this article. Being an immigrant trying to get into the job market in another country is hard, but it is even harder when you think you are doing this all by yourself. At the Employment Opportunity Exchange, I was able to realize I was not alone. We are not alone.