New arrivals find success with networking program

The Employment Mentors' Program in Abbotsford helps immigrants prepare for work in their new country.

Recent immigrants Poonam Singh (left) from India and Michaela Enzmann (right) from Germany struggled to find jobs until they found assistance through Pat Christie

Recent immigrants Poonam Singh (left) from India and Michaela Enzmann (right) from Germany struggled to find jobs until they found assistance through Pat Christie

The two women sitting at the table couldn’t be more different.

Michaela Enzmann speaks first; the petite, demure German talking quietly about her arrival in Canada.

After a three-year waiting period, Enzmann and her partner, Frank Weinschenk, were told they could fulfil Frank’s childhood dream and emigrate to Canada.

Skilled workers in management, in June 2011 their prospects looked bright. The excited couple took the first three months to travel the country by motorhome, trying to decide where they ultimately wanted to settle. The two handed out resumes and spoke to managers as opportunities arose. There was no response.

Enzmann, 48, looks at her husband across the table as she touches on the self-doubt that inevitably sunk in by Christmas and its impact on their relationship.

“Should I go?” he jokes, pretending to leave the room.

“You get in a deep depression,” Enzmann says in her soft German accent.

“I didn’t know where to go, really. I didn’t doubt that it was the right decision to come, but we expected it to be easier to get something to work. You’re in a situation where, after your education, you’re at the beginning again and that feels a bit …” she trails off.

Acclimating to a foreign country and watching a bank account dwindle is a hefty test of any relationship, but the couple says they gained new admiration for each other and thankfully found help when they needed it most.

CARE Abbotsford (Career Assistance and Resources for Employment) – a no-cost program for unemployed Canadians – teaches soft skills like resume writing and conducting interviews, and also, how to put their situation in perspective.

Enzmann learned that her decades of European work experience meant little to Canadian employers, and that networking was a key difference between the two cultures.

“The mistake I made in the beginning was to apply for too many jobs and you don’t get any answer. The better thing is to go out and speak with people, learn the conditions.”

Through CARE she was put into the welcoming arms of Pat Christie, the Employment Mentors’ Program coordinator.

“Employers look for the Canadian experience, so we really try to encourage our newcomers to volunteer in the field of their expertise,” explains Christie.

Her clients are paired with mentors in their field for information interviews – meetings with industry experts intended to foster knowledge and connections rather than result in immediate employment.

Poonam Singh glows as she relates how she went from self-conscious immigrant to post doctoral researcher at Kwantlen University, thanks to the aid of a mentor.

A year ago, Singh was at the peak of her career – an assistant professor in India with a PhD in horticulture – when her husband informed her that his work in Canada would be keeping him here. She made the difficult decision to move to a new country to be with him, but formed a strategy from the beginning.

Singh, 35, enrolled in Christie’s program on the fifth day of her arrival in Canada, having learned about it from the immigration office at the airport, and was paired with renowned horticulturalist Brian Minter. Through volunteering and his advice, she made the connections necessary to reclaim the role she was passionate about.

“I was highly motivated to be in my field,” she says. “But coming from an Asian country, your expectations are unrealistic and your hopes and dreams start shattering. At first you feel like an imposter. You have to get out of your comfort zone. It’s not easy for anybody. It’s not just me as an immigrant.”

Christie’s comprehensive program has requirements. Participants need to have goals, to have been in Canada no more than five years, fluency in English and measurably skilled in their field. However, she wishes to correct a misnomer many immigrants have about their abilities.

“A lot of our newcomers come to Canada and they think that they need to upgrade their education, when really it’s the soft skills that they require. They will spend their money to further their education when they already have it and they can be tapped in through the programs.”

She has seen a lot in her four years of working with newcomers.

“Even the men cry. From the loss of identity and wondering if they are doing the right thing, to the decision to pull up their boot straps and carry on, it really is an interesting cycle.

“It takes at least a year, sometimes two.”

At the tail end of their cycle, Enzmann has happy news to share. She has to withdraw from her speaking engagement at the Business and Professional Women’s Club1 luncheon because she and Weinschenk are leaving to start a job together.  They’ll be managing a hotel in Alberta, one of the places they had passed through that piqued their interest, and plan to blog about the experience at Delfinder.ca.

The focus shifts back to Singh, who is also scheduled for the BPW International Women’s Day event, as she speaks from the heart on her success. “You need to keep on pursuing – know that this is where I find pleasure, this is where my place is.”

LUNCHEON RECOGNIZES INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

The Business and Professional Women’s Club of Abbotsford hosts a special event on Wednesday, March 14 in recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8).

The club has partnered with the Employment Mentors’ Program to provide support and mentorship to new immigrant women.

Four women who are newcomers to the country will make presentations during the club’s monthly luncheon meeting, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cascade Community Church (35190 DeLair Rd.).

The speakers at the meeting on March 14 will be:

• Olena Zagoskina – arrived in Canada from the Ukraine in 2009 and has a master of science degree as a mechanical engineer;

• Poonam Singh – arrived a year ago from Nepal and has a doctor of philosophy degree in horticulture and a master’s of science; and

• Gail Gromaski – from the United States and has a bachelor of science in international business.

Cost for the luncheon is $15 for club members and $20 for guests. Reserve a spot by emailing bpwabbotsford@gmail.com. For more information, visit bpwabbotsford.ca.