Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Business owners turn to Syrian refugees to fill job vacancies

Syrian refugee Hagop Jatalbashian, 48, came to Canada from Lebanon in December. He was hired by Breadsource bakery in Toronto in March.

Breadsource

Calgary coffee shop owner Rahim Merali hired Syrian refugees because he wants to help them get started here. But like many business owners taking on Syrian employees, his motivation is not entirely philanthropic – he's also looking to find hard-working employees in a sector with high turnover.

"Everyone has to start somewhere – these Syrians came here with almost nothing and they be need to be able to earn money to survive," said Mr. Merali, who owns two Good Earth coffee houses. "But it's also very tough to find good people – people who have loyalty, a good hard work ethic and actually want to be here."

Mr. Merali hired Syrian workers through an immigrant youth-employment program run by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Services.

Story continues below advertisement

"We didn't go in there and say, 'Give me Syrians' or 'Give me Koreans' or 'Give me Filipinos' – we just go in and do interviews," Mr. Merali said. "The main reason why we originally went there was because we had a void after a bunch of staff left to go back to school or go onto other jobs."

Some employers are looking at the influx of Syrian refugees as an opportunity to fill a labour shortage, says Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

"We've seen employers really stepping up in a big way to offer jobs, support and assistance," Ms. Eaton said.

But Syrian refugees – and all immigrants – do face barriers in getting hired.

"It's still tricky," she said. "The classic barrier in Canada is being told you don't have enough Canadian experience – it means you don't have the soft skills or cultural understanding to work here."

Another hurdle for newcomers from a war-torn country is proving that they have the education or certifications needed because the institutions that granted them are gone, she added.

Kevork Manougian owned a successful silver accessory business in Aleppo, Syria. Now, he's working as a goldsmith for a jewellery shop in Toronto, and he "thanks God" for the job.

Story continues below advertisement

"I knew that I'd have to work for other people at first to learn the rules of working in Canada," said Mr. Manougian, 37, who came to Canada from Jordan with his wife and son in February. "I was very lucky. One of my sponsors helped me get a job through a connection – but there are so many people I know who come from Syria who can't find a job and some have very good English."

Mr. Manougian's wife has been applying to jobs through an immigration employment agency and "hasn't had any calls," he said.

Unlike government-assisted refugees, privately sponsored refugees can't get social assistance and need jobs now, said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

"They have to get jobs to support themselves," Mr. Birjandian said. "With privately sponsored, about 20 per cent have found jobs in Calgary – but it's a process."

Language is also a barrier for some refugees.

Breadsource, a wholesale bakery in Toronto, has hired one Syrian worker through ACCES Employment, an immigrant employment service. There, language isn't always a barrier to employment – depending on the job.

Story continues below advertisement

"We may need them to understand some English because safety is involved, although we have many other employees who speak different languages who can translate," said Caroline Babakhanian, the bakery's office administrator. "But if worse comes to worse, we'll put them in an area where safety is not a major issue – where they're packaging by hand and wearing gloves."

While the company can't specifically request Syrian employees from ACCES, Ms. Babakhanian said she hopes to hire more.

"It may seem like this is a small gesture," Ms. Babakhanian said. "But it speaks volumes as these people need to start somewhere in order to be independent and contribute to society like the rest of us are trying to do."

The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit brings the brightest entrepreneurs in Canadian business to Toronto for an inspiring day of keynote talks, workshops and networking. Full lineup at globesummits.ca.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.