News / Ottawa

Hundreds of Syrian refugees attend city hall job fair

From hotels to construction firms, prospective employers set up booths at Ottawa City Hall to meet with the job-seeking refugees.

Grace Choueiry, branch manager with job-listing company Adecco, speaks to a group at a Syrian refugee job fair at Ottawa City Hall on Thursday.

lucy scholey/metro

Grace Choueiry, branch manager with job-listing company Adecco, speaks to a group at a Syrian refugee job fair at Ottawa City Hall on Thursday.

Mohamad Toubeh worked as a car mechanic in Syria for seven years before civil war forced him out of the country.

Now, along with more than 200 Syrian refugees who attended a special employment fair on Thursday, Toubeh is trying to navigate the job market in a new country.

“It’s not easy now, even coming here, it’s not easy to get a job,” he said, through a translator.

From hotels to construction firms, prospective employers set up booths at Ottawa City Hall to meet with the job-seeking refugees. Some arrived with a career in mind, while others sought tips.

Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, said the goal was to get refugees networking.

“So many of us find our jobs because of someone we know, whether it’s someone we know who tells us about a position or someone we know who comes looking for us because they know our skill set,” she said. “Syrian arrivals, like any other refugees, don’t have that network here.”

Apart from networking, the biggest tip the group heard was to learn English – or at least the basics – and become accustomed to Canadian culture.

Grace Choueiry, a branch manager with the job-hunt firm Adecco, said about 90 per cent of the refugees she spoke with on Thursday did not speak English.

“I was a newcomer myself. I came here 28 years ago (from Lebanon),” she said. “I spoke English, but I needed the Canadian experience, so I volunteered for four months without being paid just to get the Canadian experience.”

Some of the highly educated bunch – like civil engineers and pharmacists – may be left seeking a new or slightly different field, rather than pouring years of studies into getting re-certified in Canada. Those who wish to stay on their career paths were advised to seek out the immigrant settlement services for more information on how to do so.

“You have many more skills and you are many more occupations than the one you came with,” said Corrine Prince St-Amand, of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, during a panel discussion at the job fair.

“I want you to open up your minds.”

Syrian refugees share their stories

Basel Al-Zoubi.

Lucy Scholey/Metro

Basel Al-Zoubi.

Basel Al Zoubi

Moved to Ottawa: About six months ago with his wife and three kids

Kind of job he’s looking for: Something in the non-government sector

“Everything is new for us. Different culture. We had a lot of difficulties – the food, the people, the culture. Everything is different.”

Nour Khanoule.

Lucy Scholey/Metro

Nour Khanoule.

Nour Khaoule

Moved to Ottawa: Feb. 16, 2016

Kind of job he’s looking for: Anything, but his background is in hairdressing

Through a translator, Khaoule said he has been looking for a job since he landed in Ottawa. He worked as a hairdresser for two weeks, but it was not busy enough, so he stopped working. He’s currently taking English classes as he hunts for a part-time job.

Zina Alkhalil.

Lucy Scholey/Metro

Zina Alkhalil.

Zina Alkhalil

Moved to Ottawa: Four months ago with her husband and two kids (he stayed at home with the little ones so she could attend the job fair)

Previous job: English teacher

“I hope to find a good job for me.”

Khatoon Alabed.

Lucy Scholey/Metro

Khatoon Alabed.

Khatoon Alabed

Moved to Ottawa: Four months ago

Where she wants to work: In a bakery

Because she has a big family of seven children, Alabed is looking for a part-time job so she can be home when the kids come back from school. 

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