January 15, 2009
Special to the Star
When Marcelo Sagel first answers his cellphone for our interview, it’s not a good time to talk – he’s in the cockpit of a Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprop at Toronto City Centre Airport, about to fly to metro New York.
Amazing what two minutes of “face time” can do …
Back in January 2003, Sagel, 44, and his wife Marcela left their home in Buenos Aires. The economy wasn’t good and the airline that employed him went under.
A friend in Lancaster, Calif., hired him to manage a group of physical therapy clinics. Meanwhile, the Sagels had applied to come to Canada.
“I was missing flying,” he says. “I was applying everywhere.”
Sagel landed a job in Northern Ontario, flying air ambulances for an Elliott Lake company.
“If you can land on remote territory in winter, you can handle anything,” he says. Sagel and his wife loved the North, but he wanted to get back to working for an airline. He sent out resumés but had no takers for a while.
Then in 2007, after his mother visited, he drove her to Toronto to fly home. While there, he decided to drop in on some potential employers.
“I walked into Porter and asked to talk to the chief pilot. He gave me a couple of minutes of his time.
“He asked what I was looking for, what experience I had. And a week or so later, he called me. That two minutes of eye contact made all the difference.”
She hates the words ‘Canadian experience’
Life in Israel was good for Haya Zilberboim, her husband Moty and their three sons, Etay, Ido and Joey.
Moty was an electronics engineer, doing light and sound for events, and Haya (pronounced Hiya) had held top positions in investment banking and the high-tech industry. But they’d both also served four years in the Israeli military and, given the volatile situation in the Middle East, didn’t want their sons to have to follow suit.
“But it’s compulsory,” Haya says. “In 2004, Etay was 14, so we decided to move to a safer and more politically stable environment. He wouldn’t have to do his military service until he was 18 but, at 16, he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country.”
The Zilberboims found themselves starting almost from scratch in Canada. English was not their first language and, “You don’t have your network, you don’t know people and what you’ve achieved in the past is not recognized.”
Haya counts herself lucky to have landed a job with an affiliate of a company she’d worked for in Israel, albeit at a much lower level. She then studied for her Canadian chartered accountant designation and built up the necessary 30 months of Canadian experience.
It’s paid off. She’s now chief operating officer of the North American offshoot of a top Israeli investment group. Her husband is working as an electrician.
She hates the words “Canadian experience.”
“That’s a barrier,” she says. “I’m very active in the Israeli-Canadian community and I hear it all the time from professional people, even doctors, who are looking for work. There are other things they have to offer.
“If employers would remove ‘Canadian experience’ from their vocabulary and give immigrants a chance, I don’t think they’d regret it.”
Seek ‘job ready’ programs
When Caryl Registe moved to Canada from Dominica in 2006, she seemed to have everything going for her – on paper, at least.
She had studied business administration and management in the Caribbean and then, between 2001 and 2004, earned an honours degree from York University with a major in human resources. She went home for two years to get some HR experience before returning here in 2006 as an immigrant.
She applied for “a zillion” jobs, but every door in her chosen field was closed to her. “I searched for nine months. Most of the applications, I didn’t even get a reply to.”
Most organizations, she says, wanted to hire from within, especially at a certain level.
“They may hire an HR administrative assistant from outside, but higher than that and they want someone who has grown up in the organization.”
A lot of people told her she should take whatever job she could get. But Registe had been partnered with a mentor through the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and he advised her to hold out as long as she could for what she really wanted. Meanwhile, she attended job fairs, did volunteer work – “it’s all Canadian experience,” she says – and fine-tuned her resumé.
Since May 2007, she has worked in human resources for Legal Aid Ontario, a job she loves. Registe urges employers to step outside established networks and study applicants’ resumés for “the story they tell … of work ethic, tenacity and loyalty.”
‘Don’t operate in ghettos’
Living in Mexico City, Javier Santos never experienced temperatures below 5C. So, before he immigrated to Canada, he figured he’d better check out a Toronto winter with a mid-January visit.
“But that was in 2005 and they told me it was the mildest winter in 20 years!” he says. He has seen a few harsher cold spells since then, and says he has learned that “embracing winter” is the key to enduring it.
Santos, 43, left Mexico City to escape the pollution, crime and overcrowding.
With an MBA from the University of Texas and solid corporate experience, including with Gallo Winery, he figured he had a lot to offer a new employer. But, he adds, “Immigration is a difficult process and there’s a price to pay.”
His first job here was also with Gallo – “nothing senior but it was all they had,” he recalls.
“I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I figured my skills and hard work would compensate, and that turned out to be true. Six months later, I found my dream.”
Santos was hired as director of the LCBO’s wine business unit. The bad news is that he was recently laid off.
“It was a scary moment,” he says. “You think, ‘Wow! Now what?’ But I’d met a lot of people and made some good contacts in the wine business and now I’m doing some consulting work. So I want to build on that. I’m very confident.”
His advice to newcomers is to treat immigration as an adventure. Become part of the community, “don’t operate in ghettos,” know why you’re here – and embrace those winters!
Reference: Toronto Star