A group of Canadian companies that pledged in March to help bring up to 1,000 Ukrainian families to Canada says progress has been unexpectedly slow as job offers have gone unanswered and barriers such as language training have proved difficult to overcome.
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, a group of 18 Canadian companies, mostly based in Quebec, made a public commitment to provide employment and support for as many as 80 Ukrainian families each.
The coalition is being led by music and media provider Stingray Group Inc. RAY-A-T and includes Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. ATD-T, National Bank of Canada NA-T, Bombardier Inc. BBD-B-T and KPMG Canada. Other companies joined the initiative in the following months.
While several of the participating companies have made hires, many said they had not hired any employees at all and half did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s requests for an update.
“It’s been a lot slower than we expected. The participating companies have posted a number of positions and résumés are trickling in, but it’s taking longer than we had hoped,” said Eva Hartling, a spokesperson for Stingray. “It’s hard to know why exactly, but interviews are taking place, and the employers are still hopeful.”
Among the most successful of the original coalition participants are Groupe Helios, an industrial-machinery manufacturer, based in Longueuil, Que., which has hired 15 Ukrainian newcomers, and Resolute Forest Products Inc. RFP-T, which has hired 14 into its Ontario pulp and paper operations.
CGI Inc. GIB-A-T said it had hired employees but did not share exact numbers; the Montreal-based IT company said it was providing a $5,000 lump-sum payment on the new employees’ first paycheque. Manufacturer CAE Inc. CAE-T, National Bank and Bombardier all said they had hired one employee so far, with Bombardier adding that it is offering 30 days of accommodation to new hires.
Stingray itself, technology company Coveo Solutions Inc. CVO-T and KPMG Canada said they had posted jobs but had not made any hires. The Desjardins Group and Couche-Tard did not respond specifically to questions about hires.
But Craig Batten, a regional HR manager at Resolute Forest Products, said it’s a learning process: Companies are continuing to share insights and grow their communities of volunteers in Canada to reach Ukrainians looking for jobs.
“I’m not going to look at the 1,000-employee goal as a daunting task, because we have hundreds of opportunities here,” he said. “We’re going to continue to advertise these opportunities to find the best candidates who want to come work for us.”
At a time of record-low unemployment, many employers have seen an influx of Ukrainian newcomers to Canada as an opportunity to fill jobs as well as support families fleeing conflict.
Nearly 70,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since Russia invaded in late February, and while early delays in work visa applications have mostly been sorted out, experts say, Canadian companies are now facing some unexpected challenges.
Some obstacles start even before the newcomers arrive in Canada. Reaching Ukrainians abroad has proved difficult. While many companies have posted jobs on online employment boards, these haven’t attracted as much attention as expected, some executives said.
Groupe Helios president Simon Beauchamp said that while the company had initially posted more than 20 jobs online, they had little success finding applicants.
But momentum built when several Ukrainians arrived in the town later in the spring, and they hired two as translators. These two new employees now reach other Ukrainians through social media and community connections, and have helped the company find the rest of its 15 new employees.
“They now co-ordinate recruitment, training and the translation of documents. They also assist newcomers with the details of setting up their everyday lives,” Mr. Beauchamp said.
For communities and companies outside of the GTA, having such a “champion” is essential in raising awareness of opportunities outside of the major urban centres, where most refuge seekers first land, said Chris Garwood, economic development supervisor for Norfolk County, a municipality outside of Hamilton.
His community’s “champion,” a Ukrainian immigrant who has been in Canada for 14 years, serves as interpreter and keeps track of incoming Ukrainians as they travel here.
“By the time they get to Toronto, they already know they are heading to Norfolk County,” Mr. Garwood said. To date, 25 Ukrainians have settled in their community.
But he said employers still face one of the largest roadblocks to employees: language barriers. Most employers are posting translated job descriptions online, but while many newcomers to Canada do have some English skills, many require additional classes before qualifying to work. For companies in Quebec, where French is required, this presents an added roadblock.
In his county, providing English training has proved difficult in recent months, Mr. Garwood said.
“The agencies here that usually offer classes only do so during the school year. We had to buy textbooks, get volunteer teachers and set up an ESL classroom ourselves. We have so many businesses looking for workers, but newcomers have to be brought up to a certain level of competence in English first.”
Once settled, many need further support in their personal lives before finding employment. For instance, many are mothers with young children who face additional hurdles to entering the work force, said Tania Maksymenko, project lead for the Rural Employment Initiative at the Newcomers Centre of Peel, an organization that helps people once they have arrived.
Ms. Maksymenko said that since the beginning of the year, between 4,500 and 5,000 Ukrainian mothers who are new to Canada have joined GTA parent communities. In addition to language barriers, she said, they often have trouble finding adequate transportation or child care. “There is a lot of community support, but it’s still very tough,” she said.
And as with all other newcomers, finding housing is an issue – rent is expensive in cities, and where it is cheaper in rural areas, a car is often required. In order to attract employees, some companies are offering accommodation, as well as transportation to their employment base from as far away as Ukraine itself.
One such company is Resolute Forest Products, which runs operations in 30 Ontario and Quebec towns – many of which are northern or remote. The company is offering new employees three months of accommodation as well as transportation for their families and belongings from Toronto.
“We don’t just assume this person already has this looked after,” said Mr. Batten. “It isn’t just a one-time effort.”
Their efforts have created momentum: Those Ukrainians who have settled at Atikokan, a Northern Ontario town where the company runs one of its lumber facilities, have started to attract their own friends and family, drawing in the next wave of potential employees.
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