Toronto Star
Sep 13, 2007

Paul Dalby

In the 40 years since George Brown College first opened its doors, it has been one of the first stops for new immigrants arriving in Toronto.

Nearly half the college’s 14,000 full-time students were born outside Canada and 30 per cent of full-time students take English as Second Language instruction.

It’s this heightened contact with the immigrant population that has polished and refined George Brown’s approach in recent years.

“We have learned the importance of learning to listen for the subtleties and recognize what’s valuable as opposed to what’s different,” says Lorraine Trotter, dean of international and immigrant education.

Last year, the college amalgamated its international department – focused on overseas recruitment – with its immigrant education department.

It is one of the only such departments in Ontario with a mandate to provide free advice, services and programming to new immigrants.

“We want them to have that extra support in their early stages when they are navigating their way through the college system,” Trotter said.

She believes one of the college’s most helpful new tools are ESL programs tailored to teach “sector-specific language.”

There are two such courses: one for business and one for nursing.

“We use the courses to teach the terminology in that profession and also situations that are relevant to that workplace,” she said.

“It gives the students an opportunity to become more comfortable. From our point of view, it’s helpful for honing their experience.”

Employers have told the college that the program helps immigrants hit the ground running in their new workplace, Trotter said.

Trotter also likes to sit in on interviews for staff and students.

And she often finds language holds the key.

“That’s why I try to be very clear and specific,” Trotter said.

“In an interview, language skills emerge very quickly. I probe for clear meaning around something a candidate is saying. This often turns out to be a misuse of a phrase, but we can deal with that in the interview and that gives them more time.”

Trotter says the objective is to demystify education for immigrants and smooth their way into the workforce.

After 20 years in the private sector, she understands the pressure on employers, especially in small- and medium-sized companies without human resources departments, to hire someone and “get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

“There’s lots more we can do to help immigrants bridge any gaps they might want to fill and to support employers in their hiring practices,” she said. “However, we are making progress.”

Reference: Toronto Star