Pathway Program lays foundation for bright future in Manitoba

RRC’s Language Training Centre students put language and technical skills to work for Habitat for Humanity.

Winnipeg, MB – Today, students in Red River College’s (RRC) Language Training Centre’s Pathway Program to Construction Skills will lend a helping – and skilled – hand for the day at Habitat for Humanity as part of an introduction to practical training.

The students are refugee newcomers to Manitoba who enrolled in the Pathway Program to enhance their English language skills and gain practical hands-on experience, with a goal to gain full-time employment working in the construction sector once they complete their training.

Many of the participants were forced to flee their homes due to war from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan, and have made Manitoba home after receiving refugee status. Though many of them have had to leave behind everything they know – their experience working in construction and the skilled trades is something they’ve brought with them and, now they are hoping to put those skills to work as they begin their new lives here in Canada.

“Most of us can’t even begin to imagine moving across the world to a new place where we speak a different language, and not be able to pursue employment in a career or industry we’ve spent our lives working towards – but this is a reality for many of these students,” said Stuart Schwartz, Program Manager at RRC’s Language Training Centre.

“Other students may not have previous experience, but have the desire to learn. This program aims to bridge the gap and remove the language barrier by providing students with the essential language training, technical skills and experience they need to gain employment working in Manitoba’s construction sector.”

One student eager to put his experience to work is Alazar Elyas. Elyas, who is originally from in Eritrea, moved to Winnipeg with his wife in June 2016 from Sudan. Prior to coming to Canada, Elyas worked as a plumber for close to 23 years.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and my career in plumbing. When I came to Manitoba, I talked to many places and offered to volunteer for experience,” said Elyas. “At the start my English language benchmark was a level four, so there were safety risks due to communication barriers. I heard about the Pathway Program from the Immigrant Centre and enrolled to participate right away.”

The Pathway Program was developed by staff at RRC’s Language Training Centre and was first offered in March 2017 through the support of the Refugee Employment Development Initiative (REDI) for refugees and newcomers, and provided training to 21 students in the field of dry walling, masonry, and flat-top roofing.

The second cohort began training this fall, and today students spent the day using some of their new skills gained in the classroom to help Habitat for Humanity put the final touches, including landscaping and building a new wooden sidewalk, on a new home for a family in Winnipeg.

This introductory experience will serve as fundamental training for the students, and will not only give them an opportunity to practice their language skills, it will help assess professionalism, how well they work with a team, and their ability to comprehend instructions and work safely – all while supporting an important community charity.

“We feel very fortunate to have Red River College’s Pathway Program to Construction Skills students here today giving their time to help us build a strong community,” said Sandy Hopkins, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Manitoba. “We believe in success through collaboration and this is just another example of how we can work together to help our city grow, diversify and develop into a stronger and more vibrant place to live.”

In addition to providing important language and skills training. The Pathway Program also provides each student with a month-long paid, on-the-job experience with the goal to support long-term employment in the construction sector.

“It’s been great to join instructors in the classroom and learn and develop new skills in areas like carpentry and drywall,” said Elyas. “When I graduate I hope to gain full time employment and work alongside a skilled plumber so I can continue my learning. In the future, my goal is to return to Red River College and complete my plumbing certificate and perhaps one day, open my own business.”