Today, students in Red River College’s Pathway Program to Construction Skills provided a helping — and skilled — set of hands during a Habitat for Humanity build that doubled as their introduction to practical training.
The students are refugee newcomers to Manitoba who enrolled in the program to enhance their English skills and gain practical experience, with an eye on securing full-time employment in the construction sector once they’ve completed their training.
Many participants took up residence in Manitoba after being forced to flee their homes in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. Though some had to leave almost everything behind, they brought with them their experience in construction and the skilled trades. Now they’re hoping to put those skills to good use as they begin their new lives in Canada.
“Most of us can’t even begin to imagine moving across the world to a new place where we speak a different language, and not being able to pursue employment in a career or industry we’ve spent our lives working towards,” says Stuart Schwartz, Program Manager at RRC’s Language Training Centre. “But this is a reality for many.”
“Other students may not have previous experience, but [they] have the desire to learn. This program aims to bridge the gap and remove the language barrier by providing students with the essential language training, technical skills and experience they need to gain employment working in Manitoba’s construction sector.”
One student who’s eager to put his experience to work is Alazar Elyas, who moved to Winnipeg from Sudan in June 2016. Prior to coming to Canada, Elyas worked as a plumber for close to 23 years.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, and my career in plumbing. When I came to Manitoba, I talked to many places and offered to volunteer for experience,” says Elyas.
“At the start, my English language benchmark was a Level 4, so there were safety risks due to communication barriers. I heard about the Pathway Program from the Immigrant Centre and enrolled to participate right away.”
The Pathway Program was developed by staff at RRC's Language Training Centre and was first offered in March 2017 through the support of the Refugee Employment Development Initiative.
The initial class of 21 gained experience in drywalling, masonry and flat-top roofing. The second cohort began training this fall; today, students used their newly acquired skills to help Habitat for Humanity put the final touches on a North End build, including landscaping and installing a new wooden sidewalk.
The experience served as a fundamental training session for the students, affording them not only the opportunity to practice their language skills, but to assess their professionalism, how well they work with a team, and their ability to comprehend instructions and work safely — all while supporting an important community charity.
“We feel very fortunate to have Red River College’s students here today, giving their time to help us build a strong community,” says Sandy Hopkins, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Manitoba. “We believe in success through collaboration, and this is just another example of how we can work together to help our city grow, diversify and develop into a stronger and more vibrant place to live.”
In addition to the valuable language and skills training, the program also provides each student with a month-long, paid, on-the-job, which in turns supports their long-term employment goals.
“It’s been great to join instructors in the classroom, and [to] learn and develop new skills in areas like carpentry and drywall,” says Elyas. “When I graduate, I hope to gain ful-time employment and work alongside a skilled plumber so I can continue my learning. In the future, my goal is to return to Red River College and complete my Plumbing certificate — and perhaps one day, open my own business.”