The coming retirement of the baby boom generation in the coming years, along with the decline in birth rate, will lead to a shortage in the work force in Canada, like in other western countries. The last calculations estimate that in twenty years 30 per cent of the work force in the country will be born outside of Canada. Annually, 200,000 immigrants land in Canada, of which 40 per cent settle in the GTA area.
Non-profit organization Acces Employment was founded 25 years ago to serve the workforce guidance. The services are open to everyone, but the organization specializes in immigrant employment. The office serves both parties, it aims to find skilled workers for employers, and help work seekers in many ways to get started with their career in a new country. Acces Employment is funded at all three governmental levels and it has company sponsors. In addition, funds are applied from organizations such as United Way.
“Our organization is run like a business. Our funding is performance based, so we have to succeed well in what we do,” says Irene Sihvonen, Senior Director of Services and Organizational Development.
The organization has been prosperous in their 25 years. The success rate, judged by making thriving connections between employers and work seekers, is around 80%. “Many of our clients will get back to studying, which on its own lowers the numbers,” says Sihvonen.
Acces Employment has 130 employers in five offices in Toronto and the GTA. Annually over 15,000 clients use the services of the offices. “In the first years we had to be more active towards the companies and other employers to let them know about us and our services and get them involved. Nowadays our reputation in providing skilled workers has grown and the companies have learnt to contact us.”
All the services of the organization are free for both parties. All kinds of work seekers from different backgrounds are served, although the office mostly attracts academically trained people. In the first visit, the client and a consult map out the skills of the client and review the possibilities of a job search. After the consulting, the client can attend various workshops from resume development and job interview practice to workplace English.
The office offers information on training and job searching, helps with job search strategies and also offers translation services when needed. Programs running several weeks on fields such as financial services, engineering or human resources are available for eligible candidates. The aim of these programs is to prepare internationally trained professionals for employment in Canadian markets.
“Mentoring and making connections between employers and work seekers is a big part of our work. New Canadians do not necessarily share the same network of connections to the work life as, for example, those who have attained their degree in the country.”
The consultants of Acces Employment meet clients from different cultures and backgrounds everyday. “Training clients on workplace communication and Canadian work culture is one of the basic elements of our work. However, we have to treat all the clients as individuals,” says Sihvonen, who is in charge of the quality management of the organization.
“We have a lot of tools to help clients after they have found and come to us. Same goes to the employers. We are most likely able to find skilled workers for any job.”
Irene Sihvonen has worked for ten years for Acces Employment. Before that she was governmentally employed in health and social services in Yellowknife. “The life and nature in the north were very similar to Finland, I enjoyed myself a lot there.”
Both of Sihvonen´s parents are immigrants from Finland and also she possesses Finnish nationality. The whole family has an active connection to the country of their roots. “I visit Finland every year and have family coming over here as well. In my teens I was confirmed in Finland in the church of Karvia.” Sihvonen speaks excellent Finnish and got the idea for the informal language learning method of Finnish Cafe, which she co-founded, from her work. “I grew up in a multicultural immigrant community in Montreal. I have always worked with diverse groups, like aboriginals and immigrants. Perhaps knowing what it is to be different has lead me to these kinds of work environments.”