TORONTO — The Atlantica Hotel in Halifax is part of the new Destination Employment program coordinated by Tourism HR Canada, the Hotel Association of Canada, and strategic regional partners across the country. The opening and closing keynotes at the recent HAC conference highlighted the innovative program, and HAC showed a video about The Atlantica involvement in the program at the recent HAC conference.
David Clark, general manager of the 230-room independently branded hotel owned by Manga Hotels, couldn't be happier. He already has two employees from the program, and at press time was expecting two more within the week.
Clark was already working with immigration services in Nova Scotia in 2017, and was an HAC board member at the time the program was developed. “I got a phone call during a board meeting, and said, 'Absolutely, I would love to be involved as soon as the program launched,'” Clark told CLN.
“During the Syrian refugee crisis, Nova Scotia welcomed far more immigrants than in any given year,” said Clark. “At the same time, we had labour shortage issues at the hotel. It made sense to put those two things together. Destination Employment is another avenue to get access to qualified workers.”
Clark currently has two workers from the program. Amer Sankari is already in the hotel, working in various positions, and currently as a guest services agent. The hotel was able to secure a promotion for him through the program, and will be placing him in a supervisory position in the near future.
Abdoulie Bojang got involved two months ago through the housekeeping department. “He has really come out of his shell,” said Clark. “He used to be so shy — now he's a little bit of a rock star!”
The Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council is the regional delivery partner in Atlantic Canada. Having them involved has been fantastic from his point of view, Clark said. “They take care of the administrative part because they are the delivery agent. When we had the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, when the employee's visa ran out, we would have to go through the whole process again,” he noted.
“With Destination Employment, all of that is taken care of by the delivery agent — they take care of all the paperwork. It's seamless and easy,” said Clark.
Here's what the program involves
The program was officially announced on World Refugee Day in spring 2018, by The Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and government leader The Hon. Bardish Chagger, plus representatives from Tourism HR Canada and Susie Grynol from the Hotel Association of Canada.
With nearly $7 million in funding provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Tourism HR Canada and the Hotel Association of Canada, alongside other provincial and local labour market partners, will work together to employ newcomers in sustainable, long-term hotel jobs. Minister Hussen identified hotels as a key interest and place to start.
“It provided a labour solution to a longstanding problem, and a way to offer meaningful, stable employment,” Alana Baker, director of government relations, HAC, told CLN.
The three-year program, which was up and running that fall, is designed as a user-centric model — meaning it can be tailored to meet the needs of each new Canadian, and is flexible enough to meet the needs of the employer.
To be eligible, applicants must be a permanent resident of Canada (with PR card or conformation of permanent residence letter); or a Protected Person and/or Convention refugee with a valid work permit.
Employment opportunities are available in occupations that require minimal proficiency in English or French (e.g. Housekeeping Room Attendant/Light Duty Cleaner; Banquet Service, Food Preparation/Kitchen Helper; Grounds Keeper), and in executive roles for individuals with prior experience in the field (e.g. Accounting, Director of Food Services, Events Planning and Coordination, Sales).
“It targets the key challenges newcomers face — language and skills training,” said Baker. “We are offering contextualized language training to overcome the language barrier. This allows for specific language training and a mentorship process.”
The program is strategic for both participants and hotels. The participants are employed at a welcoming hotel, and provided with language and skills training they need to gain confidence. The hotels have access to a group of eager, qualified employees, and access to specific training on how to work with these employees.
The employment process consists of a one-on-one preliminary interview, information and orientation, diagnostic or needs assessment, an independent learning plan and counselling, formal group-led sessions in language training, and work readiness training.
“They want to make sure there's the right fit,” said Baker. “The training and orientation is continuous — both on the job and workplace language training.” Tourism HR Canada is in charge of this aspect of the program, along with its regional delivery partners.
Jon Kiely of Tourism HR Canada said one of the advantages of the program is that IRCC has given them the flexibility to find out what is available from the delivery partners and work together to provide what's needed.
“Some workers only need two weeks of language training, while some need eight or nine weeks. Every jurisdiction is flexible.”
Kiely said the cultural or social part of the training is as important as language and skills training. “That's why they are matched with a mentor. The mentor is not in a supervisory role — the newcomer can ask them questions and get feedback.” The questions are not always work-related. For example, a woman from a male-dominated country may not feel comfortable speaking up. Making eye contact is important in the business, but is not necessarily done in other cultures.
The program is a pilot project that is currently available in five regions: Atlantic, Ontario, Yukon, Saskatchewan and Alberta. “Other locations will be added ,” said Baker. “Minister Hussen is also keen to expand and scale the program.
Each of the five regions has a specific delivery partners, responsible for the application process and placement in available hotels.
“Our role is primarily the communications aspect,” said Baker. “We will be sharing key developments and success stories, and supporting the delivery partners.”
“There will be a mix of newcomer types, but we anticipate the greater part will be from recent refugees,” said Baker.
HAC and THRC are developing the pilot program to make the model scaleable to prepare and employ newcomers, first in the five pilot regions and later Canada-wide. The goal is to place 1,300 unemployed or underemployed newcomers in sustainable, well-paid, long-term hotel jobs, i.e. in occupations where there is significant demand and allow for the greatest mobility of workers, in a variety of skills levels.
IRCC is eager to increase the scale of the project once it demonstrates success, and at that time will be open to expansion in other tourism sectors.
The Hotel Association will be communicating the program using a series of 10 case studies, similar to The Atlantica video shown at the HAC Conference.
“More people should jump on this [program],” Clark said. “With the Temporary Foreign Worker program, there were hurdles, mostly dealing with proving we were not taking jobs away from Canadians. There's a different environment now. It's getting harder to find people to fill positions. Nova Scotia's population is aging, but the aging population is also increasing.
“We still struggle to fill positions. I started as a bellman, my favourite position of all time. It's a good-paying job with great gratuities. Now it's tough to find people to fill that role.”