Newcomer students attending an OSLT Graduation ceremony at Humber College

OSLT students attending a graduation celebration at Humber College.

For newcomers with years of experience in their sector, transporting their skills to a Canadian workplace can be difficult without a bit of language training.

Along with other colleges across the country, Humber College in Toronto offers a number of occupational specific language training (OSLT) programs that can help professional immigrants adjust to working in a new country and have a successful job search. Humber’s Entrepreneurship, Sales and Marketing OSLT program is set to launch in early 2018.

Peter Paul, Manager of Community Outreach and Immigrant Services and Rina Di Mito, OSLT Project Coordinator, share information on the OSLT programs the college offers and what students of the new program can expect.

What can students hope to learn from an OSLT program?

Peter: An occupation specific language program is designed for newcomers who are looking to understand the terminology and nuance of working in a specific sector in Canada. It’s really designed for folks who are professionals in their field and at Humber College the programs we have are in project management, technology, and in January we’re starting for the first time one on entrepreneurship, and sales and marketing. So students are seasoned professionals in these fields who have many years of experience in their home country, but are looking specifically to understand the kind of Canadian terminology, the usage, the idioms and all of those kinds of things that help people be successful in the workplace. They get a better grasp of what that looks like in the Canadian workplace. It is a 10-week program, it’s free for newcomers and funded by the federal government, and it exposes the students to the kinds of things one would hear in an average workday working in their sector.

It’s free? What’s the application process like?

Peter: Absolutely free. Prospective students can go to our website and register for the program. There’s a short and rather painless application process that applicants go through. Our OSLT recruiter will get in touch with them, have a brief conversation, collect some of the documents that are necessary to get into the program, and then they learn more details about the date and time and so on about when they’ll need to join the program. Students in this program need to be permanent residents, convention refugees or a protected person.

What documents does an applicant need to have ready?

Rina: Applicants need to have their language skills assessed by the YMCA and they need to fit into the Canadian language benchmarks between 6 and 8. Sometimes applicants will come to us with an old application, older than a year, so they’ll have to go back. They also have to have their resumes prepared – that’s a part of the application process. We have a fellow right now who’s applying and he’s got his resume in his own language, but he needs to have it in English. So we’re sending him back to our employment center, which is one of the support portions of our program. Our classes take place at Humber’s Community Employment Services centres, so if students run into those obstacles, they can get assistance through the employment center to get their resumes ready to apply for the course.

What is the learning environment like?

Rina: Students are professionals, very seasoned and they come with a lot of knowledge, so it’s an adult training class. There is a lot of collaboration, group work and communicative language that happens in the classroom. Teachers are professionally trained instructors and they look at all different kinds of learners and learning strategies like visuals, kinesthetic and auditory learning.

Peter: Classroom size is small as well. Typically, we have ten to fifteen in the class. Like Rina said, it’s very collaborative and people learn from each other in addition to learning from the instructor. Through the assignments and so on, there are a lot of group projects that happen. That cohort experience is very important because for many newcomers, this is their first network of professionals that they have in Canada. We take it for granted here, but many newcomers only know a few people in Canada, so these are new connections and they’re real bonds that form in the classrooms. In that spirit, the instructors try to keep it less of a didactic approach and more of discussion and conversational learning.

What kind of impact does this networking have on students?

Peter: Since we have four bridging programs here in Humber in addition to the language programs, we’ve started to try to include the OSLT students in the networking events that are held on campus. We have bridging programs in IT, engineering and supply chain management, so we’d like students who are interested in attending these employer networking events to do so.

What kind of resources or events are in place for students?

Peter: Students have a chance to participate in a mentoring program that is run out of Humber’s Community Employment Services centres. So they can sign up to find a mentor in their field, which is a wonderful opportunity to expand their network in their particular sector. Through the work of the employment center, they’re able to participate in other networking events that are held there. Also, each of the employment centers have job developers and job advisors who can work one on one with each of the students. All those services that are available are open to OSLT students.

What kinds of benefits can come from a program like this?

Peter: We’ve got people from across the world in these classes, even sometimes people who come from English speaking countries. They come to this program because it helps to “Canadianize” their skills. Students learn to articulate things in a way that Canadian employers will understand. So, in addition to the terminology and language they’re exposed to, it gives them confidence and that helps them speak to a Canadian employer in an intelligible way and in a way that makes them more employable. We had a graduation recently and what was striking to me is how confident graduates feel. They’re happy to go out there now and apply and they feel so good about their chances. And the reality is their chances are now improved because they know what a Canadian employer is looking for.

“In addition to the terminology and language they’re exposed to, (the OSLT program) gives them confidence and that helps them speak to a Canadian employer in an intelligible way and in a way that makes them more employable.” – Peter Paul, Manager of Community Outreach and Immigrant Services, Humber College

Rina: The confidence piece is huge. It’s the kind of feedback we get from students over and over again. They’re able to develop their confidence, which is so important in the spoken word. They’re able to overcome their fears of speaking in public and learn to be confident when responding to emails or reports or having a conversation with their managers. There is so much public speaking and mock interviews that happen in the classroom that contributes to the rising of the confidence.

Peter: Only other thing I would add is in very real tangible terms, they increase their connections. There are opportunities to talk to people in the bridging programs, through the employment centers. At the end of the day, if they’re able to talk to five employers in their field, then talking to the sixth and seventh and eighth is so much easier than if they are just starting fresh. It’s not the primary focus of the program, but it is a very great side effect.

Selena Dawod