Immigrant Serving Organizations (ISO), commonly known as settlement or employment agencies, offer a wide range of support services. Their goal is to help newcomers integrate and find suitable jobs in Canada.
Why Does Canada Offer ISOs?
Canada is suffering from a labour shortage. A Business Development Bank of Canada study reveals that 39 percent of small and midsize businesses have trouble hiring the right talent.
To help fill this need, federal and provincial governments have created residency initiatives to bring fresh talent into the country.
When skilled immigrants enter the country, they can fill existing job vacancies or even start new businesses of their own. For example, a Statistics Canada report states that “immigrant-owned firms were much more likely than firms with Canadian-born owners to be job creators.”
But immigrants don’t always feel fully equipped to showcase the best of their talents as soon as they enter the country. Language barriers and cultural differences can make newcomers feel isolated, confused, and demoralized.
To ease the transition, the Canadian government also funded programs that would help skilled immigrants and their families get settled. That’s the origin of Immigrant Service Organizations.
How Do ISOs Work?
First, it’s important to note that there are ISOs across Canada’s provinces and territories—and each one offers a unique set of services. To learn about specific services in your area, it’s best to contact your local ISOs.
However, all settlement agencies help newcomers adjust to their new lives in Canada. They also provide job-training services.
Settlement agencies often train new immigrants in areas like:
- Résumé writing
- How to search for a job
- House or apartment hunting
- Finding childcare assistance
- Language proficiency training
- Social skills development
Because ISOs are funded by the government, these services are usually free of charge.
If you are interested in taking advantage of settlement services once you arrive in Canada, the first step is to contact your local agency and book an appointment. For the first appointment, bring documents like your visa, résumé, cover letter, and government-issued ID. During the meeting, you will fill out a form and sign a registration document.
However, to register for pre-arrival services, you will likely set up an initial meeting through the agency’s website. You will primarily communicate with them via email (although you might be able to conduct some appointments through phone or video conferencing). Most importantly, you will be expected to share any required documents online.
Will You Benefit from Settlement Services?
World Education Services (WES) recently studied whether employment services really helped new immigrants find jobs. The study reported that 77.3 percent of survey respondents who used employment services were able to find employment, compared with 69.5 percent of those who did not use them.
This matches data reported by COSTI, a Canadian ISO, which revealed in its latest annual report that 69 percent of its clients secured employment in 2018–2019.
However, a majority of newcomers expressed in the WES survey that they did not feel like they had adequate support when it came to developing social capital and professional connections in Canada. This indicates that more services are likely needed.
If you’re still unsure about whether ISOs will help you acclimate, here are two testimonies from individuals who used settlement services:
Ivy Anigbogu worked with a pre-arrival agency. She says: “A case worker met with me regularly over Skype to discuss my action plan and offer integration tips. These programs taught me how to prepare Canadian-style cover letters and résumés, as well as how to adapt to Canadian workplace culture. One program assigned me a professional mentor, who advised me on the accounting profession in Canada.” Today, Ivy is happily settled in Ontario and works as a Chartered Accountant.
Flavia Torres, a Canadian Registered Safety Professional, used employment services. She says: “I started with Engineering Connections, a bridging program designed for internationally trained engineers. The program included a section on improving one’s English skills. In particular, it focused on the vocabulary that professional engineers need.”
Sometimes a settlement agency will connect you with someone who previously used their services if you have additional questions about the experience before you register.
What Services Do Settlement Agencies in Canada Provide?
If you are interested in taking advantage of ISOs, you probably want to know what kind of services to expect. Below, you will find a brief overview.
(As previously noted, not all employment and settlement agencies offer the same services. If you are looking for something specific, you should contact the Immigrant Service Organization.)
- Orientation: You will probably be experiencing a bit of “culture shock” when you arrive in Canada. Agencies help integrate newcomers by explaining some of the cultural differences and useful facts about the local community. You will learn about health care, education, and more to ensure a smooth transition.
- Needs assessment: To determine what individual services make the most sense for you, an agency will begin by evaluating your specific needs. Then, it will provide referrals to complementary settlement and employment services. (These referrals are often based on your professional background.)
- Job search: Most newcomers turn to settlement agencies because they are having difficulty finding work. Thankfully, settlement agencies are designed to support you during your job search and prepare you for employment. Some ISOs even provide related support services like transportation, accessibility accommodations, childcare, and more.
- Employment services: Once you have a job, you need to be ready to join the workforce. Most agencies offer general employment preparation services. However, some provide industry-specific training. If possible, you should register with an agency that specializes in your area of expertise.
- Language training: Agencies assess your language skills and then recommend training that will boost your chances of success. Language proficiency can help you advance in the labour market and expand your social network.
- Community connections: Mentors can help you develop relationships within your new community for social, educational, and professional purposes.
These are just a few of the common services you will find through settlement agencies in Canada. So now you should be asking yourself: Would any of these services benefit me?
ISOs help newcomers get settled more quickly. They connect immigrants with suitable work that, in turn, fills a need within the labour market. Once you have eliminated the stress of finding a job that matches your skills, you can start fully enjoying your new life in Canada.