Written by Sharon Aschaiek
Communications courses give determined newcomer an advantage in Ontario workforce
When Faisal Alsafadi arrived in St Catharines, Ontario in the fall of 2017, he already had several years of work experience as a project manager in the IT sector. But translating international education and experience into a relevant, viable career in Ontario hasn’t been easy.
However, Alsafadi was prepared, having researched the province’s employment market beforehand. His investigation turned up a vital resource for newcomers determined, as he is, to re-enter the workforce: Occupation-specific Language Training (OSLT). OSLT are free courses that teach internationally trained immigrants the workplace communication skills and cultural knowledge needed to successfully navigate a wide range of jobs and sectors (see sidebar). Alsafadi’s resilience and determination allow him to hold onto the vision of where he sees himself once he resumes in his career in Canada.
The information and concepts presented in the OSLT course apply directly to what I’m doing now. It provided a very strong base to build my knowledge and experience in the local workforce.
“I felt like this would be a great opportunity for me to merge my skills and knowledge with the local job force, practise my work-related English and learn about the Canadian workplace,” Alsafadi says.
Alsafadi was right: through the first of two OSLT courses offered at nearby Niagara College, he gained an understanding of technology workplaces in Ontario; learned how to interact effectively with colleagues, supervisors and clients; and improved his professional networking and job-seeking skills.
He followed this up with a second OSLT course that focused on entrepreneurship, sales, marketing, accounting and finance.
It was there that Alsafadi discovered what it takes to express himself clearly and effectively in a business environment in Ontario. The course covered the essentials of business communications: writing emails and memos, engaging in phone calls, running meetings and preparing reports.
The course material also extended to the less obvious but still important aspects of professional communication: eye contact, tone of voice, body language, even making small talk.
The knowledge was useful and relevant, but what made it stick for Alsafadi was the practical instruction methods.
“There was roleplaying of different scenarios to help us prepare and use what we learned. We also had an opportunity to visit a competition where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to investors,” he says. “I learned a lot about how to communicate properly in the workplace.”
Faculty-led instruction was complemented by informal learning between him and his classmates—other internationally trained professionals from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South America. Faculty created an online chat group for the students to practice their communication skills with each other. Alsafadi also applied his interpersonal skills by helping with course orientations, taking part in conversation cafés and providing technical support whenever it was needed.
After completing the second OSLT course, Alsafadi enrolled in a one-year certificate program focused on English language enhancement for newcomers, which included a work placement in Niagara College’s IT department. His strong performance in the role led to a part-time position, and he now works there 12 hours a week, doing a mix of data entry and writing status reports on department projects. He also took the opportunity to transfer credits from the certificate to a full time General Arts and Science Diploma course. He is completing that at the same time he is working at the college.
“The information and concepts presented in the OSLT courses apply directly to what I’m doing now,” he says. “It provided a very strong base to build my knowledge and experience in the local workforce.”