Success Skills Centre: Leveraging international skills to enrich the Canadian workforce

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An update: This interview was done in May 2019, since then Success Skills Centre has shifted its operations to become a social enterprise. Some of their services may have changed. Please go to their website or check with them directly for inquiries.

Success Skills Centre is a Winnipeg institution in itself. For more than 34 years now, it has assisted countless newcomers not only to get jobs but to return specifically to their occupations or related occupations. It has gone from helping a group of 10 immigrant women in 1985, to servicing more than 300 participants in pre-employment and training programs per year.

Success Skills began by offering a seven-month full-time training program, combining occupational language, related external courses, job search skills training and work experience placement. It is this formula, enriched with in-house courses that has resulted from an 86% to 92% success rate in getting their participants back to their occupations. Because of this track record, the Centre, as well as its staff, has received several recognitions due to exemplary service, among these the “Citation of Citizenship Award” from IRCC (formerly CIC). Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer, Monika Feist has been conferred the Community Service Award by the City of Winnipeg and the Long-Service Award by CIC for her dedication to helping immigrants achieve fulfilling careers for more than 30 years.

We had the good fortune to speak to Success Skills’ CEO, recently to talk about the Centre and its upcoming courses and activities:

English Online (EO): I love the Centre’s “Leveraging differences in the workforce” mission. What does it essentially mean?
Monika Feist (MF):
We are looking at individuals who are coming to Canada who have a lot of skills to offer, a lot of ideas and potential, which they are able to share with employers how things are done in their country. We look at this “leveraging” as a positive thing, as added value and promote those individuals to make sure that employers recognize this value. Diversity of ideas and people add the further potential for that company to grow farther. It allows companies perhaps to move to the next step up in their operations, whether it’s growing in people or ideas, different skills or add on skills that they already have in their operations.

EO: Is this why you encourage newcomers to pursue the occupations that they had in their home countries rather than shift to alternative careers?
Yes. I think what got me started in this area more than 35 years ago, was that we were losing these resources, these tremendous, valuable human resources, and we were tossing them aside in Canada. Coming from an immigrant background myself, I found that very tragic. People have spent years gaining all this education and experience in their home countries, and we’re not making use of those skills that they were bringing with them. Basically, they were being downgraded, which I found sad. We’re not talking only about those in the regulated professions, but also the unregulated ones.

We just had a case where somebody has been here for four years and had gone back to Red River to get his certificate in human resources. This person was already a holder of a Master’s in Human Resources from his home country (which he took in the English language) and he was going back and spending two years of effort and funding! That’s tragic to me. If he could’ve gone to the HR Association here and was assessed, then maybe he would have had to take several Canadian courses on Employment Equity, or perhaps something on human rights and labour legislation in Canada; that would have made sense. But to have to re-do, and to re-certify is something that has always appalled me. Also, that individual went to Employment Manitoba and they were going to fund it. And this happens so often; it’s also a total waste of government money. The government could be sending another Canadian or immigrant who really needed it, to school with that money, while this ahead trained person could be certified with a minimal amount of dollars. So there’s something not right. It’s a waste of human and dollar resources because the government staff did not realize that things could be done differently. Nobody pointed this person in the right and most resourceful direction. The two-year process would certainly get him to practice his career, but he was re-doing what is totally unnecessary.

EO: You have a track record of having 86% to 92% success rate in getting clients back to their occupations. What is unique about your training process?
First of all, let me clarify how we arrive at the success rate. For example, we have 30 individuals in a classroom. Out of the 30, usually, about a third of them are ready to go. They might have to prepare and write an exam or take a course, but other than that they’re pretty ready. Another third is almost ready. The other third is not ready. The latter may have problems with their soft skills or some linguistic issues. They’ve got a longer path to go but they’ll be ready maybe six months to a year down the road. And then some, like our medical doctors, may take up to three years as we guide them through the process and give them the moral support to get them through the exams. So that’s how my formula works: 2/3 of the people that go through are the ones that are calculated as part of the success rate. There’s always going to be some who are not going to be immediately successful but they may show up in next year’s statistics.

Our training here is hands-on and can be very intense. They do group sessions. But they also meet with their counsellor within the first two days on a one-on-one, when the career and job search planning starts. We look at their plan with them and strategize how they can get there. All the workshops that we recommend help build their job search tools and skills. It’s a two-week, full-time process. At the end, they start working one-on-one regularly with the counsellor. They set up their appointments for job and work experience interviews, and so on. We work very closely with them during their job search. We have an area for them to work in and meet with our counsellors. It can be every day, if they need it.

Their peer group helps them also. We do various exercises; they have assignments that they have to do. Then we have a variety of other programs for support. We have an Employer Engagement session at the end of the HOP workshops, where they get interviewed by employers on-site. It gives them the actual experience of meeting with employers and getting feedback of how they need to interact. We work a lot on the soft skills with clients. As well, they may also have one-on-one practices prior to a job interview. They can come in and practice with their counsellor again if they feel they lack confidence, or if they just need to review. We also have other programs like the Connector Program which helps individuals network and meet employers and individuals in their field. The intent is not for mentorship but to encourage networking, because many arrive here and they do not have the people connections to their industry. That program provides practice so they can learn to the build their own network of contacts. Through networking and socializing, things do happen.

EO: You accept Permanent Residents who must have a minimum CLB 6. Do you have options for those who do not meet the required CLB?
We can take them at a high 5, but we really encourage them to carry on with improving their English first. You’re not going be able to operate as a professional unless you can speak and write in the language well enough. You also can’t write the exams and pass otherwise. CLB 6 is a good start because individuals understand what they need to do. They can read the materials and start developing their vocabulary so that they can reach a high level 7 or 8 in order to begin to prepare for the exams. There are a lot of programs in Manitoba where they can develop their language, like EESE or English Online.

EO: Can clients continue coming to Success Skills Centre as long as they need, or is it done once they get a job, or when they become citizens?
As long as they are permanent residents, we can continue working with them, even if they already have a job in their field. We do have some clients who come back who have become citizens. We provide them with some guidance, but it is short. And we want them to use the regular services available, just like other Canadians.

We offered a special program recently for Canadian citizens. It’s a lot tougher once you’ve been here awhile and have become a Canadian citizen because a lot of doors to immigrant programs will be closed to you, even if you’ve not had the opportunity to access them before. For example, if you didn’t get your English language training during that period, you would have to do it on your own. There are other pathways through churches, conversational circles, but they’re going to be tougher. So we did this program to help that group. I’m still gathering the statistics on this because it just recently finished. I know 80 people were qualified and 32 got their work placement in their related occupations in that particular program. Others ended up going back to school. It didn’t work out for some because of a lot of reasons which we’ve documented and would like to talk to the funder about. It will be interesting to see whether we will be going ahead with that program, or whether we’ll leave it. Being able to participate full-time in the program was a big issue. Even though they were qualified to participate, it was hard for them when they couldn’t participate because they had to work in their unrelated jobs to survive.

EO: I’m sure you’ve had a lot of successful clients being in this field for more than 30 years. Are there client success stories that stand out in your mind?
We’ll share some of these stories by way of testimonials from some of our clients:

(An email from a client to Ha Nguyen, Labour Market Specialist at Success Skills Centre):
Dear Ms. Ha,
I wish to thank you and the entire Success Skill team for the tremendous work that you do. Words are not enough to express my gratitude and that of my family for helping me secure a job in my profession.

This is my fourth month on the job and I have been confirmed with other benefits too. I will be taking courses at Red River College to bridge certain knowledge gaps such as the Manitoba Building Code, Building Materials and Construction etc. and the cost is borne by my office. The various programs in Success Skills came in handy at my work place, more importantly the emphasis on soft skills. Focus and specialization have made the difference for me. How I wish you had Success Skill 2.0 – An advance class for working professionals.

I have had so much to take away and I can’t thank the entire team enough for their various contributions – the amazing welcome lecture from Ms. Nubia that got me inspired from the first day, the lecture on Focus from Rene was quite impactful along with the life experiences he shared, and Salma was subtly remarkable with the thank you piece she delivered that I didn’t have to ponder when I wrote mine. I literally copied and pasted and I watched as my councilor did the rest. Lenard’s soft-skill finger principle was the icing on the cake that saw me through the interview. Rina and Marina’s answer to every request was always “for sure,” overly helpful. And my Counsellor- Ha, I have never worked with anyone as effective, detailed and disciplined as you!

It was my first application ever in Canada and my employer said I was spot on throughout my interview application from resume to every single response I gave. I am about five-month-old in Canada with no training, formal or informal, since my landing, yet my employer considers me a good fit simply because I spent my first two weeks with you.

I trust you will continue the good work and possibly create programs for professionals in employment to help their career growth.


Here is Dayo’s Success Story:

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Success Skills Centre
Centennial House, 2nd Floor
310 Broadway Avenue Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada R3C 0S6
Phone: (204) 975-5111
Fax: (204) 975-5108

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