English at Work…Works!

Sylvia Thiessen

The English at Work program is positioning new Canadians to solve an old problem for St.Amant.

“High staff turnover is a challenge that we face here and throughout the sector,” said Jennifer Rodrigue, ‎Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at St.Amant. “Working with children and adults with developmental disabilities is rewarding work, but it doesn’t pay very well so many staff don’t stay long. We are often looking for people.”

At the same time, St.Amant has enjoyed great interest from new Canadians looking for volunteer and paid opportunities when they settle in Manitoba. A large number of new Canadians work for St.Amant and about 75% of the organization’s 300 volunteers are also new Canadians. For many, volunteering at St.Amant is their first Canadian work experience.

St.Amant is a multi-faceted organization that supports more than 1,600 children and adults with developmental disabilities in over 100 community sites and homes. The staffing needs are immense and diverse.

In 2014, St.Amant partnered with Manitoba Start to offer the English at Work program to current staff and long-serving volunteers. The partnership continues today with Enhanced English Skills for Employment. The program is designed to help newcomers feel more competent and confident in the language of the workplace. So far, 62 people have enrolled in the program, including the current cohort of students. All staff born outside of Canada are eligible to participate, as are volunteers who have worked for at least 100 hours.

“We have designed a curriculum quite specific to working at St.Amant,” said Sylvia Thiessen, the federally-funded teacher of the program. “While the students become more comfortable with English in general, they are also learning the language that we use to communicate with each other in the workplace and with the people we support. They are also learning how we use English in our reporting and paperwork.”

The program can accommodate 24 students per year. They are split into two groups, each meeting twice a week for two hours. Thiessen, who has been teaching English as an Additional Language for 12 years, also schedules one-on-one time with the students to answer their questions and further their learning.

Aside from helping current staff and volunteers feel more confident in their roles at St.Amant and opening doors for advancement, the English at Work program also helps newcomers feel more comfortable in Canada, helps them meet their citizenship requirements, and helps them achieve recognition of their professional credentials in Canada, mainly nurses. The English at Work program helps to bridge the gap between the skills they have and the jobs they get when they first arrive in Manitoba.

“One of the most important outcomes that we see is that participants and graduates of the program are taking on informal leadership roles at St.Amant and enriching our workplace culture,” said Thiessen. “Many of them take on active roles at our events and in motivating others. With better English, they are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about their work.”

Thiessen and her St.Amant colleagues are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about the potential of the English at Work program to solve the HR crunch, and they encourage other organizations to look at matching new Canadians with the right training as a way to enrich their organizations.

“Newcomers choose Manitoba and they come here with passion and drive,” said Thiessen. “If you respond with grace, understanding, and the right support, your organization will benefit.”

For more information about St.Amant, visit https://stamant.ca/

By Stu Slayen

 Posted May 2017

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