Sandra Astaiza has the drive and ingenuity of an experienced entrepreneur – she knows how to identify market opportunities and turn them into viable ventures. In her home country of Colombia, she started a unique and successful business: selling reusable water bottles that she had branded with inspiring quotes on one side, and water consumption guidelines on the other. She also worked in her family’s advertising business as a graphic designer and provided marketing strategy advice to its clients.
So when Astaiza moved from Colombia to Canada in 2016 with her husband and their two sons, then ages 16 and 8, she was set on continuing her career in either marketing or business. Soon after the family settled in London, Ontario, Astaiza discovered Occupation-specific Language Training (OSLT) courses that help newcomers develop the language skills and cultural competencies to navigate Ontario’s workplaces. She signed up for two courses offered at Fanshawe College: one called Entrepreneurship and Sales & Marketing, the other Project Management.“I knew I needed to learn how things work here in the employment market and to improve my language skills before I could start working again,” says Astaiza about her decision.
Her decision proved wise, as the courses helped her build the communication skills necessary to work in a variety of business settings. In the Entrepreneurship, Sales & Marketing course, she learned how to effectively interact with customers, colleagues, employees and suppliers in person, by phone and online. The second course focused on understanding the occupational language and culture of project management employment.
Both courses also provide participants with an overview of the business landscape in Ontario, key employment resources and opportunities to network with local employers. As well, Astaiza was able to practise her new skills through small group exercises and role-playing scenarios. This practice included delivering presentations to the class and participating in mock job interviews. She says her teacher’s detailed input and encouragement made all the difference.
What Astaiza also gained from the OSLT course was the opportunity to network with other internationally experienced businesspeople. Since completing the courses, she and her classmates, who hailed from countries such as China, Colombia, Iran, Mexico and Venezuela, have stayed in touch through a group chat app and have supported each other through their career-building journeys.
“We are all in the same situation, so we try to help each other out,” Astaiza says. “And because Ontario is so multicultural, it’s been beneficial for me to connect with people from different backgrounds.”
Today, Astaiza is applying what she learned as she pursues her goal of working in digital marketing and says the job search process is going well.
“Thanks to the OSLT course, I feel much more confident about my job hunting,” Astaiza says. “When I go for a job interview, I feel more prepared now than before.”
Since we wrote this story, Sandra has successfully found work as a sales and marketing advisor for the Access Centre for Regulated Employment. She has the opportunity now to connect other internationally-trained professionals with employment opportunities in Southwestern Ontario in their regulated professions.
Occupation-specific Language Training (OSLT) courses are free workplace communication training courses for immigrants. They are available full-time or part-time; classroom-based or online. These courses are offered at many Ontario colleges and cover a range of occupations in business, construction, health sciences, human services and technology. OSLT is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and coordinated by Colleges Ontario.