A new cohort of youth has entered the workforce since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduating into a turbulent and uncertain labour market rocked by large-scale layoffs, this cohort includes immigrant youth—immigrants, refugees, and international students—in significant numbers.
Immigrant youth face compounded challenges: the current economic climate as well as their backgrounds and cultures of origin and the Canadian culture and identity. They straddle two worlds and multiple identities and make an effort to balance both.
They are also more likely to encounter an indifferent response from employers when they seek to launch a professional career. Immigrant youth (76 percent of whom identify as racialized) have higher levels of education than their Canadian-born counterparts yet experience higher unemployment rates and are more likely to work in low-wage jobs.
In keeping with our mission at WES, to help society recognize the value of people’s education and experience, we are determined to play a part in changing this trend. Our strategy is threefold:
- Co-convene and co-chair a National Roundtable on Immigrant Youth Workforce Development with the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity to break down silos and build better systems of support.
- Engage employers to create pathways to employment that enable immigrant youth to obtain professional experience and launch meaningful careers.
- Collaborate on work-integrated learning opportunities with post-secondary institutions and employers with the aim of providing practical work experience that complements the education of immigrant youth.
To realize the second strategy in our capacity as an employer, WES hired five first- and second-generation immigrants as interns this past summer who worked on the Global Talent Bridge team and in Finance and Accounting.
“WES is committed to opening doors to opportunities for immigrant youth—including as an employer ourselves,” said Beth Clarke, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at WES. “Gaining early and relevant work experience can help to make the transition from student to professional much easier. The interns brought great energy and fresh perspectives to our work at WES.”
Here’s what the interns had to say about their experience.
I came to Canada in June 2019 from South Korea as an international student. I applied to do an internship at WES because I hoped to understand and represent at WES the perspective of immigrants and international students. I have been working as an intern for the Global Talent Bridge team with Beatrice Kohlenberg (Associate Director Program Delivery and Integration) on the WES Gateway Program, which assesses the educational credentials of individuals who have been displaced as a result of adverse circumstances in their country of education and have limited proof of their academic achievements. I contributed by creating the Intake Questionnaire for prospective applicants in the United States, in collaboration with the Gateway team. I collected and analyzed data and transferred them to the Survey Monkey platform to make sure data are easily accessible. My work during my time at WES facilitated faster and smoother institutionalization of the Gateway Program at WES. This work has impacted my life in a significant way since I was able to apply what I have learned in the classroom, such as data analytics and business maths skills, into real work experience. I look forward to using my skills and experience to direct my future career towards working at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Somin Park is a third-year Hospitality and Tourism Management student at Ryerson (X) University
I joined WES as an intern on the Global Talent Bridge (GTB) team in Canada, supporting the Youth Initiatives and Knowledge Management portfolios. Throughout the internship, I actively contributed to various initiatives that facilitate the workforce development and labour market integration of youth, including first- and second-generation immigrants, newcomers, refugees, and international students. When working towards solutions for youth, I participated in planning projects including the National Roundtable on Immigrant Youth Workforce Development and the State of Immigrant Youth Report (forthcoming). I was also able to build a youth-Led organization directory–an environmental scanning source—that maps youth-driven initiative coverage at both the national and local level. I worked to raise awareness at WES by providing critical updates on sectoral research, policy, and innovation through an internal weekly publication. I was able to draw from sources including analytical reports, op-eds, and academic papers to provide timely and digestible summaries for on-the-go reading. My time at WES allowed me the opportunity to enhance my professional skills, but also to meaningfully contribute to the change I want to see in the world. As a first-generation Canadian and post-secondary student, the ability to do work that directly shapes the future of youth in Canada means everything to me. This internship sat at the intersection of my core interests and has set the foundation for my future endeavours in advocacy, public policy, and global affairs. Thank you, WES!
Theresa Jones recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with minors in French and Spanish.
As an intern on the Employer Initiatives team, I had the privilege of working on the #ImmigrantsWork initiative which was launched in three regions across Canada. The initiative’s objective is to support employer efforts to attract and integrate immigrant talent, specifically by developing tangible tools and strategies from an employer perspective and a localized approach. The initiative also aims to cultivate a network of employers, service providers, and other local leadership to support knowledge sharing within local communities. Working on the initiative was a great opportunity for me to see the labour market from the employer perspective and identify innovative opportunities to support workforce integration of immigrant talent. One of my favourite projects from #ImmigrantsWork was conducting an environmental scan of regions where the initiative was launched. Not only did I learn about economic trends, I also learned how to draw connections between various factors within a big picture. In the future, I would like to work in the area of economic development and support Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities as a career. This experience gave me valuable tools to evaluate the challenges we face today.
Lanxin Jiang is a fourth-year Business Management student at Western University.
This internship at WES has taught me that it isn’t all financial statements in an Accounting and Finance department. Accounting and Finance plays a major role in the success of the company by ensuring its day-to-day operations and overall financial health. The work I completed at WES included performing accounting and administrative duties for clients and applicants. This included processing refunds, changing addresses/names/birth dates, and more. It helped me grow and become more confident to enter the workforce as a recent graduate. I particularly enjoyed working on a team powered by women–from colleagues to management–which highlighted to me the endless possibilities in the field for women, and more specifically women of colour. I am more determined to pursue accounting and plan to use the knowledge and skills developed over these three months to keep me motivated on the path to complete my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.
Samantha Gilzean recently graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management from Seneca College and is currently pursuing a Post-Graduate Certificate in Professional Advanced Accounting at York University.
I had the opportunity of working with great individuals in Strategy, Policy, and Research on the WES Global Talent Bridge team, focusing on internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs). I helped to collect secondary research on numerous projects ranging from a policy backgrounder to stakeholder mapping. I also supported the initial stages of Salesforce integration (a customer relationship management service). In terms of primary research, I worked with members of the communications team to conduct interviews with IEHPs—the most rewarding part of my work at WES. Lastly, I was able to further develop my presentation skills by presenting to the senior management team in Canada. As a first-generation Canadian, I have seen many of my family members struggle through the arduous process of getting their education and skills accredited in Canada. It is heartbreaking to see that people must redo at best a portion of their schooling and training, and at worst, the entire process. WES helps immigrants and internationally trained individuals get where they need to be in an inclusive and expansive way. To be a part of this has been extremely meaningful. The work I have done can impact people both directly connected to me and on a macro level. My time at WES has encouraged me to continue supporting immigrants in Canada whether through my work, school, or activism. Throughout my career, I always want to consider the people in the background whom I can help, and to initiate systemic change.
Sandra Matti is a third-year student at York University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She plans to attend law school upon graduation.