​Edmonton-area program helps immigrants gain Alberta construction employment

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

A program launched this year to help newcomers to Canada gain industrial employment is still needed despite lower oil and gas prices dampening activity, says its practicum coordinator.

Jenny Park runs Constructing Futures, offered by the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN). She says the program serves a key need since thousands of baby boomers will be leaving the Alberta workforce in the next few years.

“It’s aimed at people [immigrants] who were engineers and technologists in their home countries, most of whom had experience in project management, but lack Canadian workplace experience,” Park said.

EMCN was established in 1983, when a large influx of Vietnamese immigrants was moving to Canada.

“It started with two employees at one location and now there are six EMCN locations and 200 employees,” said Park.

EMCN provides several programs aimed at helping new Canadians, including language instruction, bridging and training services.

Those programs have been very successful over the last 20 years in helping professionals with training from outside of Canada find meaningful employment, she said.

“Normally, the Alberta government considers a program that has a 70 percent placement rate as a success, but the engineering and technologist program has a 90 percent success rate and the accounting program has a 70 percent success rate.”

The Constructing Futures Program, which builds on that success, has been in the works for a few years, with a booming Alberta economy badly in need of all skilled workers and professionals.

The program has funding from Alberta Labour and two groups of students taking the 18-week program this year. EMCN worked with Edmonton’s NAIT to provide the program.

“We provide training in Canadian workplace culture, computer skills and business communication,” said Park. “NAIT takes care of training in the classroom setting.”

That training, which the students in the program take, along with other students, leads to them obtaining a Certificate in Project Leadership. It consists of six courses. That designation qualifies them to perform project management jobs in the construction sector.

Following completion of the training, the students are placed in eight-week practicums with a number of companies, where they gain Canadian work experience.

The students are from Iran, India, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, China and Nigeria and most are in their 30s and 40s.

Pipeline and power sector giant Enbridge Inc. has also played a large role in the program, she said.

“They’re helping with the classroom component,” she said, providing input on the management of large pipeline and other infrastructure projects.

“Because we’re partnered with Enbridge, project managers came into the classroom to describe what role they play in the pipeline sector.”

She is now reaching out to businesses to find placements for the students who graduate this fall.

Dereje Eshete is a student who just completed the course and has been offered a placement with Edmonton-based engineering and design firm Manasc Isaac, which specializes in designing and developing sustainable buildings and buildings in cold climates.

Eshete, who is originally from Ethiopia, where he graduated in civil engineering and worked for nine years in building construction and project management, moved to Canada last May, to join his wife and newborn child.

The 37-year-old said the course gave him an opportunity to learn Canadian building management practices.

“I have a professional background back home, but the practices are very different there than in Canada,” he said.