Thank you very much, Mr. Oliphant.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
My name is Mario Calla, and I am the executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services.
COSTI is an immigrant settlement charitable organization serving newcomers in the greater Toronto area. COSTI was founded in 1952 by the Italian community to help settle newly arrived immigrants. Today, it is a multiservice organization providing settlement counselling, English language training, employment, housing and mental health services to approximately 40,000 newcomers per year in over 60 different languages.
As your committee studies what works and what needs improvement in settlement services, it is important to acknowledge that Canada represents the international gold standard for how it receives and integrates newcomers. Every year, COSTI receives numerous delegations from other countries who come here to study Canada's success in settling immigrants and refugees. Immigration works well for Canada. In Toronto, this success is largely driven by a coordinated set of services by all three orders of government.
For my first comment, I would like to focus on the importance of intergovernmental co-operation on the successful integration of newcomers.
During the Syrian refugee initiative, COSTI was responsible for resettling the largest cohort of government-assisted refugees in the country: 2,200 in 2016. We would not have succeeded in this task without the co-operation of all three orders of government. Planning and coordinating tables were established where service providers in all three orders of government set priorities and activated services. The municipality had their children's services department set up programs in hotels, and their public health department had a mobile dental clinic make the rounds at these temporary sites. Meanwhile, the province had the school boards bus the children to local schools, and health clinics were established in the temporary sites.
This kind of coordination was critical, and in many respects continues today. The federal government and the Province of Ontario co-fund the orientation to Ontario initiative, the purpose of which is to establish a standard of orientation services for settlement agencies. The province also takes a balanced approach to settlement services by funding services for newcomers who are ineligible for federal programs.
It is concerning, however, that we are not seeing this same level of co-operation in addressing the numbers of refugee claimants in Toronto's shelter system. In our work with refugee claimants, it is clear that some are willing to travel to other destinations in Ontario in search of jobs and affordable housing. However, once they arrive in Toronto, they start to get established and it makes it more difficult to move.
What is required is a service in Lacolle, Quebec, or a reception centre in Ontario, where the new arrivals can be informed about various settlement options available to them outside of Toronto. This would ease the stress on Toronto's shelter system while providing potential labour market talent to cities that have been trying to fill workforce positions.
My first recommendation is to implement a triage system for refugee claimants crossing at the Quebec border to provide them with information about the profile and benefits of various destinations outside of the greater Toronto area to divert them to destinations where they can get established more quickly.
The other item I would like to table with you is what we at COSTI have learned about the ingredients for successful employment programs for newcomers. The unemployment rate for working-age immigrants in 2017 dropped to 6.4% compared to 5% for the Canadian born. While this is an encouraging trend, we need to continue to move that unemployment rate down by assisting newcomers in becoming productive citizens.
We have found that the employment programs with the greatest success for newcomers have two characteristics. The first is that these programs specialize by focusing on the specific needs of newcomers. This specialization includes providing Canadian context, such as how to go about a job search in Canada, understanding the Canadian corporate culture, expectations of Canadian employers, connecting with Canadian professional networks and so on. The point is that one needs to bridge the knowledge gap between the newcomer's frame of reference and the Canadian context.
The second characteristic is the importance of an internship or work co-op. We find that internships are an effective way for employers to evaluate an individual without making a long-term commitment. It also provides newcomers with the opportunity to gain Canadian experience. Typically, we find that employers will offer employment at the end of an internship, as they discover that the newcomer has a good work ethic and the talent they require.
In 2016, La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso approached COSTI with a proposal to provide funding to support paid internships for professional Syrian refugees. This led COSTI to establish a Syrian refugee professional internship program. Of the 20 refugees in the first round who completed their internships, 18 went on to full-time employment, the majority in the companies where they had interned, including two architects and several accountants.
Enhanced language training and bridging programs use these principles and are effective in bridging skilled newcomers to good jobs. These specialized programs are typically more expensive, but are small investments when one considers that skilled immigrants come to Canada with 14 to 16 years of education that another country has paid for, and our investment is meant to leverage that.
My second recommendation is to encourage the federal government to fund specialized employment programs for newcomers to improve their employment outcomes.
This completes my brief. I thank you for the opportunity to present COSTI's view on a subject that affects the future of Canadians. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Good afternoon. I'm Gemma Mendez-Smith and I'm the executive director with the Four County Labour Market Planning Board.
We are part of a network of 26 workforce planning boards across Ontario. These boards conduct localized research and actively engage organizations and community partners in local labour market projects.
Each board is as individual as the community it serves. Each addresses labour market issues in its own way, as all communities have their own priorities. As a network, Ontario's workforce planning boards also work together to address labour market issues from a province-wide perspective.
The Four County Labour Market Planning Board serves Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth counties. This region has been consistently experiencing a low unemployment rate over the last five years. In 2018 the economic region saw its lowest unemployment rate, at 3.7%. In fact, this was the lowest unemployment rate for any economic region in Ontario in the last decade. It is no wonder that our 2019 EmployerOne survey results saw that 72% of responding employers shared that they had hard-to-fill positions, with 37% trying to fill positions for over one year.
To address the challenge of a constricted labour market, the first inclination is to say we need to attract more people. While this is easy to say, it is not easy to accomplish.
First, similar labour market challenges exist across Ontario, so hundreds of communities, large and small, are trying to attract candidates from a finite pool of workers. Second, attracting people is a multi-dimensional undertaking involving housing, transportation, social supports and other things. A plan that focuses on attraction would need to involve a range of services within the region. Third, as it currently stands, Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth counties already attract thousands of people on an annual basis, though lose a similar number to outmigration, which suggests that significantly increasing the number of residents is not easily achievable.
Our focus, therefore, is on how we engage in labour force development activities through immigration. Even within a constricted labour market, there are ways to increase the supply and quality of the workforce.
This leads me to highlight some of the gaps that our region is experiencing as it relates to settlement services.
At a recent healthy communities partnership meeting, we discussed the need for English as a second language services to be readily available to assist newcomers, including refugees, to build skills in our vibrant job market. This critical service is offered through a volunteer system, which cannot adequately support the flexibility needed to be engaged in the workforce, as well as increase language skills.
Connected to ESL for adults is the gap that exists within schools to support children's integration into the learning environment. To grow our workforce through immigration, we find that parents will decide to stay in a community where settlement services are readily available to help their children. If these services are not available in rural communities, then attracting and retaining this demographic is highly problematic. Communication with peers is imperative for social integration into settlement communities, and if the appropriate levels of supports are not in place, this can lead to isolation and mental health challenges that weigh heavy on young minds.
Settling in rural communities often requires that immigrants separate from their ethnocultural group which, if not addressed through adequate, accessible and appropriate settlement services, can lead to significant feelings of isolation.
Additionally, information and orientation sessions, needs assessments and referrals are integral to settlement in a new community. Newcomers need to learn a whole new way of doing things. For example, how to obtain a social insurance number, where to receive mail, how to set up a bank account, and where they can volunteer in their new community.
I would like to suggest a few recommendations to improve settlement services in rural communities. First, I would like to point out that we cannot look at settlement services as something to supply after people have moved to the area. Instead, it must be a proactive approach in the area as immigrants will use this information to make decisions about where they will move to and where they will grow their new roots.
Settlement service workers would be an asset to rural communities as they are available to serve newcomers immediately and expedite their integration. Settlement workers in our schools, SWIS, will be beneficial to integrate children, as parents often take cues from the well-being of their children. Adults and children alike require these integration services to fully invest in a community.
Another recommendation would be to have more funding for support by settlement service providers and for agencies to train volunteers to be ambassadors for integration, for example, a host family that will ensure that the new family joins a network of local people who will help them find work, enter their children into sports and build a strong social connection.
Knowing how best to support a newcomer family in the community will help support retention in that community and definitely grow the workforce in rural areas.
Technology can be used in a supportive context for settlement services through virtual settlement services. Technology exists in schools and other community services. Almost all newcomers have a smart phone and access to the Internet through libraries and other municipal linkages. While this is not to replace direct interactions, utilizing technology that already exists can aid in enhancing and extending settlement services and will prove to be beneficial in rural Canada.
Isolation is a prevalent factor in rural communities, and we have seen people leave after being there for a very short time because of it. We need to provide more activities that connect newcomers with other community members. Those will go a long way to creating personal bonds to this new community. To aid in this, I recommend making certain that the community connection program is part of settlement services for all rural areas. The social, cultural and professional interactions and connections between newcomers and the community that this program encourages are crucial to keeping immigrants, including refugees, engaged in the community.
Transportation is another factor affecting the newcomer workforce in rural areas. Ensuring that this critical service is available through funding for the settlement service program is vitally important for immigrants to connect in the community for work, training and general integration. For example, there is no public transportation available in our area, and taxis are very expensive. Newcomers rarely live within the distance of employment opportunities, so supports to help adults get their driver's licence would be a huge benefit.
I would like to highlight that having services offered in rural communities is a positive way forward. Itinerant services, while offering a functional alternative in settlement services in rural areas, are not always ideal as they are itinerant and less flexible and may not be timely.
There are many measures in place. Certain programs are easier to measure than others. For example, I can tell you that I was referring to the employment programs, and clearly if the outcome one looks for is a job, then that's easier to measure. We know, for instance, that in the enhanced language training programs we've been running, last year 90% of the graduates of that program got jobs in their field. In the mentoring program, it was about 75%. We measure that, and that's easier.
Where the challenge basically comes is in the other settlement services that seemed like softer services in the sense that there isn't a hard outcome like a job, but each of those services is a step toward integration.
I think there are two things that at least I as a service provider try to keep in mind in terms of outcomes. One is that to measure integration, you need a much longer-term plan. The structure for that is in place. The IRCC has its iCARE database into which we all input the information of every client we see, and that database has basic information on services provided and the outputs of those services.
What I would like to see is a long-term look at that, because they can follow these clients. If the person gets a service in Toronto and moves to Winnipeg, they can pick that up in the system and know what services are being activated there. Hopefully, at some point they can match that to CRA data, income tax data, to see how the individual is doing economically and so on. That's what researchers do. Those are true integration outcomes, and I think the system is there.
The short part is what challenges us day to day. What we did for the Syrian refugees were short outputs—the first thing was to find them housing, so they got housing, etc.—but we did follow-up studies because we wanted to know how that worked.
We did a one-year study and a two-year study. The questions were basic: are you taking English classes; do you have a job; that sort of thing. But there were other questions we asked such as whether they had made any friends outside of the Syrian community. We were pleased to see that 73% responded yes. Were their children involved in after-school activities? Ninety-six per cent of the kids were, which means that they are trusting Canadian institutions to look after their kids. We asked about their emotional health. Seventy-five per cent said that it had improved since they have come to Canada.
These are the kinds of measures that need to be taken, but in response to your question, that was an initiative we took on our own. It's not integrated into the actual program, so we're looking at setting up something at COSTI, a quality assurance position, to help us with that.
We have just started to pilot—I'm sorry; I'm taking too long, but it's a big really important question.
We happen to have a settlement worker who has a Ph.D. and understands research, and so we've engaged her for a second job where we're doing exit interviews with all the refugees going through our RAP, our resettlement assistance program.
We're getting qualitative information that then provides continuous improvement, from the feedback we're getting from the refugees, on how we're doing, what worked and what didn't work.
That's the short-term quality piece. I say the long-term one would be the government's iCARE piece.
Absolutely, and thank you for the opportunity.
The main things that we look at in the rural communities are around transportation and housing. Those are the two pieces that are key priorities for us as we look at workforce development.
In our region, we have thousands of jobs that go unfilled on a regular basis. We talked about employers' saying they can't fill jobs. If we are to engage in the attraction of a workforce to live and work in rural communities, thinking about how we're going to do integration of immigrants into our rural communities needs to be a little bit different from how that happens in the cities and urban centres, for sure.
Taking into consideration the idea that many of the funding opportunities that come out look at a critical mass of people already in the community, rural communities don't have the luxury of being able to say they have x number of immigrants already living here, so they need service. We need to look at it as our goal. Our goal is to grow the workforce. We have jobs that are going unfilled. What can we do, proactively, to ensure that we can attract and integrate that workforce into our region?
It will take looking at housing differently, if we have larger families coming into our region, and certainly, a consideration of what we are going to do about transportation. I live smack dab in the middle of fields, and there is no transportation. We need to think about how we're going to do that well in rural communities.
The pilot program I spoke about was the internship program for refugees. Surprisingly, we did it on $50,000. It worked out to about $2,200 per person, per client. It was very effective. As I say, there were two architects, several accountants, one engineer.... These were all high-end jobs. It's possible to do. It wasn't funded by any order of government. It was a private foundation. That's the kind of thing we would like to see.
You're absolutely right about the role of the employer. That's a key ingredient. Our employment consultants and our staff work hard at establishing those relationships with employers. I'll give you an example. One company in Vaughan, Rex Power Magnetics, makes electrical transformers. Once they got to know us and saw that we were sending quality, talented people to them, over the last number of years they've hired over 200 of our clients—immigrants and refugees—because they know we can deliver. It's about the relationship.
There are other players in Toronto, like the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, with CIBC and TD. CIBC has done over 1,100 mentoring matches.
What is really important about those relationships is that we also influence the company. We talk about Canadian experience. I mentioned it in my remarks as it is such a big issue that they don't have Canadian experience. That's really a bit of a catch-all, for we, as employers, don't know if they understand our corporate culture here in Canada or our work ethic. We don't know if they understand how we operate. If the individual has had some experience in a Canadian company, then they have some comfort that the individual gets it.
Those kinds of relationships transform the company and the co-op or internship also helps with that issue.
I wonder whether or not you could send something to our committee to more fulsomely express that need and how to match it up. I think that would be appreciated as well.
In fact, just during the break week, I was in Victoria. I met with a refugee who was hired by Vancity, which recognized his training from before. He is now working up to becoming a manager in the branch, which is very exciting. These are stories that we never hear. People are just kind of doing it off on the side, but if we could coordinate our efforts in a concerted way, I suspect that we would be met with greater success.
On a different issue, I wonder if your organizations have come across individuals who have had their training, but they have this problem that they left their country without any of their papers because of the state of the place they have left. The university may have been flattened because it was bombed and they can't get their credentials verified. Consequently, they have nowhere to begin. They literally have to start from the beginning and go through a B.A. and so on and so forth.
I wonder if you have encountered that problem with people who have come to your organization. If so, do you have any proposals for the government for how we could address this issue?
Again, that's a waste of talent that we should try to capitalize on.
Ms. Mendez-Smith, there are a couple of things you were mentioning in your testimony and in answering questions. You said that 30%.... You've been trying to fill those positions for over a year. Also, when you were asked questions, you said that you don't have housing in certain communities.
I want to talk about the investments that our government has made. We've looked at integration and opportunity, and the success of Canadians and newcomers requires a substantial amount of investment. That's why we moved forward with the national housing strategy of $40 billion over 10 years, so that we can alleviate the pressures that we're seeing with housing in metropolitan areas, whether it's Toronto or Vancouver and even in rural areas.
I know that in my area some wait-lists for housing are six-plus years, and it's higher in the GTA, from what I hear.
We've also made historic investments in transit and in infrastructure, and we've increased settlement funding by 20% since 2016. These are some of the things we've invested in so that Canadians and newcomers can see their potential success currently and in the future.
With these types of investments, have you seen positive results within settlement services, within newcomers coming to your regions?
Obviously, we need to do more. More investments are needed in rural areas. Adding to that, we've put forward the new rural and northern immigration pilot. Can you elaborate on that?
I would have to say offhand that no, we haven't seen a lot of the benefits of the housing situation in our region. I know that our local municipalities are working towards changing some bylaws that will allow some different types of housing, but we haven't seen significant movement on that portfolio yet, which is going to be an important key for us moving forward.
On the topic of the rural and northern partnership, most of our region didn't qualify for the program. We had a lot of our partners across our four county region desperately looking at how we might be able to benefit through this program. Unfortunately, most of our communities didn't qualify. That's why I spoke about the fact that, although we may not have critical mass and although there might be services available in Barrie, London or Kitchener-Waterloo, it is not close enough, and the transportation becomes an issue for residents to get to those services, and it may not be available when they need it.
What we would like to see when we talk about rural communities is how we can get that service in our community so that, if someone comes in today, they can get that service tomorrow, not weeks or months away, to get them integrated into the community, really thinking about, when that distance is determined, what the other parameters are that might have a region considered outside of that main parameter.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks, witnesses, for your presentations.
I also, as Ms. Mendez-Smith does, come from an area of small communities. In fact, I just wrote down 36 of them in my constituency. That's not counting four that still have a signpost but hardly anybody lives there, maybe five or 10 people.
With respect to getting access to some of these training opportunities, there are jobs in those areas in many of these small towns. Someone from Cartwright, Manitoba, was here about a month ago. He made a presentation to us on what they've done with Westman Immigrant Services in Brandon, Manitoba, as a centre out of Winnipeg. From that area. I think there are actually 100,000 people, unless they've changed it, in the rural and northern development program.
Everybody outside of Winnipeg qualifies in Manitoba but it's a situation where there aren't one or two or five or 10 people being accepted in those areas. I think the government indicated there would only be 15 or 20 places. Well, if you're going to limit the number of communities to be involved, you need to have hundreds of people apply for work in one company or in that area in order to really qualify.
You're saying there's no English training funded in your region. They have to come in to Brandon and there are areas here where they are. Fortunately, in Cartwright, some English training is also done by volunteers.
Can you expand on that? What do you think can be done outside of the funding that Mr. Tilson, my colleague, referred to? I think it's a big thing that you mentioned in your earlier comment, that transportation and housing are big problems as well.
We had situations where the housing was available, when I was an MLA, before I became a federal member.
Can you comment on how volunteers in a community help make these people feel at home, and how important that is to their fitting into the community in the long term?
Our annual budget is $32 million. We're the largest settlement organization in Ontario.
Yes, basically when you're doing this work day in and day out, you can see what's working and what's not working and what's missing. Our staff works at identifying those needs and going to the appropriate sources, so if we know that it is within the mandate of the provincial government, we approach them and say that the issue is something that we have an idea how to address.
You mentioned, for example, that some of these things happen accidentally. You saw on our website that one of the funders was the Secretary of State, the American government. They approached us. They wanted to do something with the Syrian refugee program and heard that we were working with youth, and they actually funded a very successful youth program, whose funding has ended. Those Syrian youth now are involved in the community in volunteer activities and so on. These were youth whom we felt were marginalized because they didn't speak English. They weren't fitting in at high school, and now they're actually doing speaking engagements for us.
These are the kinds of things that we identify and then we approach governments and, sometimes, as I say in that instance, they approach us.
Before I suspend, I want to welcome students from Trinity Western University. When I notice a group come in, I always wonder who they are. It's delightful to have you here in Ottawa. Thank you for coming, and I hope this is an informative time for you.
We'll suspend for a moment while we get our witness on the video conference.
First, I would like to go over the schedule for the next week. I have my personal notes but they're in English only because I worked them out today with the clerk and the analysts. If anybody wants them, I can hand them out. I'll give them to Alex and anybody who wants them can take them.
We can meet on Monday, May 6, at our normal time at 3:30 to begin the consideration of division 15; that's the consultants point. However, the meeting will be booked for four hours. By the end, by the way, we will have met three times on division 15 and three times on division 16 for a total of eight hours each, which is the equivalent of eight meetings. The motion is for a minimum of six meetings, but we're meeting for the number of hours the NDP motion had requested.
It's four hours on May 6, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The minister, officials and witnesses will be here for the first three hours. The last hour will be drafting instructions on this study, settlement services, so the analysts can start working on that. That's four hours on May 6.
There's a three-hour special meeting, on Tuesday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to noon on division 15, with three panels of witnesses.
There's a second meeting the same day, May 7, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This will begin division 16, which is the IRPA amendments, with the minister, officials and then two panels of witnesses.
The next day, on May 8, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., there will be two panels on division 16.
Those four meetings, one on May 6, two on May 7 and one on May 8 will be the meetings to hear witnesses, ministers and officials.
On Friday of that week, May 10, there will be a noon deadline for amendments you would like considered on divisions 15 and 16, to submit them to Parliamentary Counsel. I would like them to come to us as well so we can use them for our meeting on the following Monday, with both Parliamentary Counsel and the Clerk.
As well that day, May 10, just so you know, we'll get the draft migration study report circulated to the committee for consideration.
The following week, on May 13, at the normal time, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., we will consider the report for division 15, which will turn into a letter to the finance committee. This is an unusual process because we've taken on something from finance. On May 15, we will report consideration of division 16 at our normal time. We have two hours to deal with division 16 and the letter you want me to send to finance.
That will conclude divisions 15 and 16 of part 4 of the BIA.
Then we have a constituency week and we come back on May 27 and it looks as if we will then consider the main estimates at that meeting with the minister. The mains will be dealt with on May 27.
Did I get all that right?
After May 27, we'll be working on completing the settlement services study report and the migration report, after we finish divisions 15 and 16 and the mains.
The clerk will get that out. Nothing is official until you get your notice of meeting, however, because the ministers haven't confirmed their presence. I'm attempting to have them come to those meetings. We may need to mix and match. Those times will be good. The exact agenda may change a little.
Thanks so much for the invitation to appear before you today.
Canada is an international leader in government supported and provided settlement services for its immigrant population. This is part of the widely renowned Canadian model of immigration and settlement that includes the system of managed migration, an official policy of multiculturalism, the timely naturalization of newcomers and a wide range of government supported settlement programs that are delivered by non-profit organizations close to the immigrant communities that they serve.
Such provision of services is an important part in enabling immigrants to more successfully settle and integrate in Canada. Government funding of settlement services not only provides material newcomer support but sends a symbolic welcoming message to immigrants and to Canadian society about the value of immigration to Canada.
Integration is approached as a two-way process for immigrants to adapt to life in Canada and for Canada to welcome and adapt to newcomers. This approach is critical for providing the warmth of welcome to newcomers that is absolutely essential for successful immigration. It is a model that has proven successful and that needs to be preserved and strengthened.
There have been some recent developments in this regard that have been positive and that I think are worthy to note. First is the move to a longer term, in this case, a three-year immigration levels plan, in terms of yearly numbers of permanent residents to be settled in Canada. This enables settlement organizations to better plan services into the future.
Second, with increased immigration levels, federal funding for settlement services have also been increased to match the new immigration numbers, providing a continuity in funding support.
Third is IRCC's move this year to issue funding proposals with five-year time frames based on a performance approach. This, again, offers settlement organizations the ability to plan into the future. Past approaches of one-year competitive funding created considerable financial instability in the settlement service sector, as organizational finances going into the future could not be depended upon. Extreme levels of employment and organizational precarity were often the result for the sector. The five-year funding approach helps to mitigate such precarity.
Fourth, IRCC has begun to move toward an approach to managing funding dollars in a more flexible manner focused more on outputs, that is, performance goals, rather than inputs, a counting widgets approach. This will enable organizations to more effectively use funding dollars for settlement success with fewer dollars caught up in overly restrictive reporting processes. These are more effective funding dollars.
More stable, multi-year funding allows for both long-term planning of services and broader development within the settlement sector. By continuing to improve stability in the settlement sector for both services and staff, resilience is extended to newcomer communities, which are continually strengthened by effective institutions and services. These recent developments by IRCC are positive developments that should strengthen settlement service delivery and effectiveness.
There are, of course, some issues that need further attention. I want to quickly address four of these. First is settlement service eligibility. IRCC should reconsider its stringent eligibility requirements for federally funded settlement services. Those who are most disadvantaged by this policy include refugee claimants and international students, and this is particularly important with respect to express entries.
So many express entry applicants and successful express entry recruits are from international students as well as temporary foreign workers. These are mostly visible minority migrants, often with limited social and human capital, who are already facing great barriers in settlement. Many immigrants and refugees who become Canadian citizens may still need further support in the long term in terms of their settlement. Better funding and facilitating the social inclusion of these groups would greatly decrease their vulnerability.
I think policy-makers should at the very least permit greater flexibility in determining the length of time individuals are eligible for particular settlement services. By allowing those in need to access these programs, the government could foster better settlement outcomes and greater resilience among those most affected by the challenges of establishing a life in Canada.
It's also important to note that refugee claimants and international students usually have work permits. They need help finding employment, but they cannot at present access IRCC-funded services. This, of course, is becoming ever more important in the case of Ontario, for example, because the province has scaled back its funding for these groups. This year in Ontario, settlement agencies lost funding for projects for refugees and other vulnerable newcomers who were formerly financed through the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. That now has been eliminated by the new Conservative government.
A second point is pre-arrival services. Newcomer resilience can often be best fostered before the settlement journey even begins by offering a wider range of pre-arrival services. Pre-arrival settlement services not only orient and prepare newcomers for settlement in Canada; they also help connect them with services and support upon arrival. The IRCC has embraced pre-arrival services for prospective economic-class immigrants and are funding non-profit providers that target programming geared to such occupations and areas of specialization as engineering, entrepreneurship, finance, supply chains and the like. The Canadian Council for Refugees also notes that these services are particularly important for refugees coming to Canada, and emphasizes that some of those services should also be delivered in a refugee's first language.
The ability for agencies to provide a continuum of services from pre-arrival to employment, however, is limited, because pre-arrival and post-arrival services are funded through two separate pots of money. Pre-arrival services originally prepared clients only to enter post-arrival employment services upon arrival; really it was more of a referral model. Some sector-specific pre-arrival programs are preparing clients for employment before they arrive, and some clients are job-placed before they come. The majority, however, when they arrive in Canada need to make use of other services, particularly employment services.
Good afternoon, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with you today.
My name is Christine Buuck and I'm the associate vice-president of academic administration and international education at Conestoga College. We are located in Kitchener-Waterloo. Conestoga is one of 24 publicly funded colleges in Ontario and one of 13 polytechnics across Canada.
To serve our workforce needs, we offer more than 200 career-focused programs. Our programs incorporate experiential and work-integrated learning with input from over a thousand industry and community leaders.
Conestoga has a long history in offering specialized programming and services to support newcomers. I have had the privilege of being part of that for the past 30 years. It occurred to me as I was flying here today that I began my career in 1989 in a program for newcomers that included a language program with a workplace component. I can tell you we've come a long way.
Programs that are now offered at Conestoga include language instruction for newcomers to Canada, LINC, which is provided to over a thousand newcomers each year. We offer occupation specific language training, self-employment for newcomers, building excellence in entrepreneurship, language interpreter programs, and a TESL program. Our graduates are teaching in the ESL and LINC programs in our community and beyond, including IELTS testing.
Today, as we discuss settlement services for newcomers, I would like to focus on the importance of community collaboration, which has already been talked about, but I'd like to give some concrete examples. You asked about what success looks like. It includes integration of services, innovation and pathways to employment.
With regard to collaboration and integration of services, community partnerships that focus on this are key to providing successful programming for newcomers. Let me give you some examples.
No longer do we offer a language program in isolation. Our partner, in our case, CKW YMCA settlement services, ensures that language assessment upfront is done.
We also offer settlement advising by settlement workers. This is beyond what Conestoga does. Our partner provides that for us. We ensure there are orientation and information sessions to help integrate newcomers, again, beyond language programming.
We have often talked about barriers, barriers of transportation, barriers because there is no child care. To overcome this, we have partnered with the local YWCAs who provide child care for us.
We are recognizing an increase of newcomers with various needs. We have partnered with the CNIB to assist us in providing programming for individuals with visual impairments.
Our language interpreter program is offered in partnership with the multicultural centre, and it goes on.
With regard to innovation, encouraging, supporting and sharing innovative initiatives are essential for continuous improvement of programming for newcomers. Where are those innovations? We know they're out there. For example, our faculty team saw there was a need to develop language assessment tools, something that was concrete, the ability to assess language skills within a real world task-based context with clearly described outcomes that could be measured.
Our faculty also felt strongly that the assessment tools should be shared, that faculty teachers across the country shouldn't be doing this in isolation but should share what they are doing.
Our faculty posted over 160 assessments on Tutela, IRCC's national platform, a great initiative by the way. The response has been more than 6,500 views and 2,000 downloads in this past year alone.
We know there are many more innovations out there. We think these should be readily available for all.
Finally, on pathways to employment, newcomers are eager to begin their lives in Canada. Employment-related programming needs to begin as soon as possible. Our feedback from our newcomers is that they're stressed when they arrive about work, about entering the workforce.
Here are some examples of things that have been working. Incorporate LINC to work with language modules that focus on workplace English in Canadian workplace culture integrated throughout the LINC program, beginning with literacy level 1. It can be done. With employment advising, LINC participants receive one-on-one advice to develop individualized learning and career plans. LINC in the workplace offers language programming in the workplace. Conestoga has piloted this model and is working with employers to expand it so that language training is not separated and is right in the workplace.
I'd like to talk about occupation-specific language training, OSLT. IRCC funded 13 colleges in Ontario, including Conestoga, to deliver occupation-specific language training. It prepares newcomers to find and retain work within their professional fields. OSLT covers six sectors and 35 occupations, sectors such as health sciences, business, technology, human service and skilled trades. Many of our graduates of this programming require further training. They focus on the community service sector. They may end up in our ECE program and fast-track. We have folks in business going into accounting and into the workplace.
Another program I'd like to briefly mention is self-employment for newcomers, building excellence in entrepreneurship. This is a 16-week funded program and provides one-on-one support, information, resources, tools and business planning training to newcomers who are focused on starting their own businesses. For your information, I have included some of our success stories.
Finally, we have recommendations.
Collaboration and integrated services are key to what we do. It's no longer stand-alones. It is focused on our newcomers' needs, with newcomer input.
You mentioned the importance of the whole family. Right now for language programming and child programming, parents and children are separate. We are piloting a program, families as authors, newcomers as authors, to share their program beyond our LINC program, but with members in our own community.
Again, a continued focus on programming that provides pathways to employment is key.
I have not spoken much about this, but an enhancement of programming for newcomers with special needs has been mentioned:
Number one, it's key for motivation. It's key for newcomers to secure employment as they come in along the continuum that we have talked about.
We know, though, that employment is not accessible for everyone, so we need willing employers to work with us. We've had success whereby the language training is done during the work day. The employer is willing to have an hour or two of workplace language training. It could be once a week. Of course we want more. Right on site is the most effective. I mean the newcomers will come afterwards, but it's too much.
Also it's interesting to note that more and more employers have asked to come onsite to meet and recruit a workforce. These employers are eager—yes, there is a labour shortage—to have newcomers work for them, so we are working with them to bridge the language gap.
In terms of language assessment, I would like to say that there has been a lot done over the past decade. We have a national framework, Canadian language benchmarks. They are clear assessments of the four skill areas from beginner to higher levels. On the comment about workplace integrated language, yes, we need to do much more.
I was wondering whether or not institutions, universities and so on, can step up to assist with that assessment process. I'm aware of St. Paul's in Vancouver, for example, which is a teaching hospital. They can do that assessment if they're funded. When I inquired, it was going to cost $60,000 per assessment, for six months of one individual with physician training, but they weren't funded by the province. Consequently, the program never took off. I'm saying that if it could, we could actually go a long way.
In fact, at that time, we had a situation where there was a shortage of family doctors, especially in the rural communities. We went around talking to the rural communities themselves, and they said they would welcome these newcomers to be their physicians, if they had been properly assessed.
I'm wondering whether or not there is some capacity within universities and institutions to do this work. It doesn't sound to me like there is, which is disappointing.
I'm going to focus on another issue.
Professor Shields, you talked about the issue around family, and in particular, children. In your experience with children who are integrating and resettling into Canada, and the level of challenges they face, particularly around trauma, and sometimes a latent showing of trauma, have you seen that? What are your suggestions as to how to address that issue, so that we can support children and youth?
Thank you very much, Chair.
We're getting towards the end. I might be one of the last questioners in our study on settlement services.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses for the excellent testimony.
We've heard from providers right across the country: rural communities, urban centres, school boards, church groups and government-funded agencies. It's been very interesting. For anyone looking to start a settlement services agency in their community, it would provide a set of best practices and many different options on how to do it. At the same time, it's unclear the direction in which our recommendations should go, and what the federal government's role is in ensuring that communities have a path towards competing for the opportunities that immigrants provide.
I'll ask each of you to provide your thoughts on whether or not our communities should recommend ideas around best practices, whether there should be direct funding provided by the federal government, whether the federal government should provide guidelines for communities or provinces and what they should consider to be spending opportunities for them.
Let's start with you, Professor Shields.