Newcomers to Ottawa all have one thing in common. They want to give back to their community as soon as possible. That’s true of youth newcomers as well. That’s why the Catholic Centre for Immigrants Youth Program has a job program that helps young people get ready for the job market.

Ana Gabriela Lopez explains the program.

Q. Who can participate in the youth jobs program?

A. The youth program is open to youth between the ages of 14-29. We run a variety of programs with the help of some amazing volunteers from Monday through Sunday. Employment support is offered three times per week including offsite at Sawmill Creek, Donald and Bayshore Public school. Our one-on-one support is offered on weekends, evenings and offsite as well.

Q. What are some of the workshop topics?

A. We cover a variety of topics from basic resume support to interviews. We also get the youth to vote the topics they want us to cover. Last week, for example, we had a job fair coming up, so we held a mock job fair. The youth practised what to say, how to dress and how to act. We did another fun topic called “How to Elevate you resume.” Everyone brought in their resume and we spent the evening learning new adjectives and synonyms to help everyone’s resume stand out. By the end of the evening everyone left with a new list of words to use in their resume and also at school and in their day-to-day activities.

Q. What has the response been like so far?

A. Amazing! I think our employment program stands out because we offer one-on-one support. I get to know the youth and help them make a unique resume. In the group sessions, some youth can be shy or worried about what their friends think. In a one-on-one session they have a safe space to ask for help. I design the session for them. We had a job fair last month at IKEA. We had three youth who made it to the second part of the hiring process. They had to make a presentation on an IKEA product. A lot of our youth were nervous as they had no experience with making presentations. We helped everyone come up with a unique presentation to express what each product meant to them.

Q. Paint a picture of what you do with a young person out in the field?

A. I make appointments three times a week offsite. It is usually a one-hour session. We create an objective, perhaps we start with a resume, then apply to the stores in the mall, fill out applications. I might also provide support and encourage the young person when he/she is handing out their resume. Handing out resumes is important. We go over tips and tricks to make sure they get the most out of it. We teach them things like asking for the manager, speaking with confidence, knowing something about the stores, etc. We do all of this coaching during our offsite meetings. We also help people prepare for interviews. We can meet with the young person an hour before the actual interview and practise. This eases a lot of nerves and gives the youth an opportunity to ask any questions they might be stuck on. One question young people get stuck on is: “What are you strengths and weaknesses?”

Q. What other support do you provide?

A. I help young people meet with managers in the industry they want to work in. I worked in retail for more than 10 years, so I have a lot of friends in the malls. I have had youth speak with managers in clothing stores, cellphone companies and in the restaurant industry. Even though these managers might not be hiring, they’re often willing to speak to a young person and provide valuable insight.

Q. Are there challenges for youth newcomers that are unique to their demographic?

A. One of the biggest challenges is confidence. We have amazing youth but they can get discouraged when they don’t get a call back or when they don’t make it to the second interview. I tell them these are challenges youth of all ages face.

Q. There are a lot of adjustments to settling in a new country. What does it mean for a young newcomer to find work?

A. I have witnessed firsthand what it means for a youth to even begin a resume. The youth I have worked with gain confidence with each step of the job search process. To see a young person walk out of a store and have a manager acknowledge how great their resume is and how they will be called for the next step is rewarding. This helps with integration because it is a normal part of being a Canadian youth.

Q. Can you share with us any moments that have been deeply gratifying?

A. Nothing makes me happier than getting a call or an email from someone who has worked very hard and made it to an interview, or even better, landed a job. One of my first youth to land a job was Patrick. We worked hard and had several one-on-ones. I was able to connect him with a manager for a company he really wanted to work for. Here’s what he wrote me. “I would like to thank CCI, especially Ana Gabriela Lopez who helped me during my job search. She was able to teach me how to get ready for job interviews, prepare my cover letter and resume. She also organized a meeting for me with one of the best tech players in Canada at Klipfolio, where I went and asked them all the questions I had about the tech industry in Canada. This really helped a lot in knowing the tech business in Canada. I am now a full-time employee at Mademill thanks to CCI. I would like to encourage the continuation of the program to support young immigrants like me.”

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