When Shehbaz Ahmad and his wife came to Canada from Dubai, they came with a lot of optimism and positivity. Despite the fact that both their families were based all over the world, they chose Canada because they felt it was a very liberal and welcoming country for immigrants.
“It was not a well planned move,” he admits. “I think you can never prepare enough for immigration. We had some savings, but no job, and no family or friends in the new city. There was no option to go back either.”
He and wife were no strangers to international moves. They moved from their native Pakistan to Dubai. That move was much easier: he already had a job – he’s an accountant – and his new employer helped with the relocation.
In Vancouver, Shehbaz first registered with an immigrant settlement service and began taking courses to help his job search. His wife focused on improving her English skills and began volunteering. But as time went on, he found his biggest challenge was not the tasks associated with finding a job or even financial pressures – he became overwhelmed with the many negative messages he was receiving.
“It’s going to be very difficult to survive in Vancouver. The economy is not growing. There are 500+ applicants for a single job. You don’t even have a Canadian education or experience.” Someone suggested he get a job in a grocery store. “I became lost in the advice,” he says. “My mind kind of got frozen. I couldn’t even apply for a single job.”
And that was when what he calls his first miracle in Vancouver happened.
He was walking on Davie Street and saw a sign board that said, ‘are you looking for work?’ He walked upstairs to the Vancouver City Centre, WorkBC Employment Services Centre run by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, and “could instantly feel the warmth and a feeling of care in the air.”
He registered for a job information session and was assigned a case manager. “She did not talk about the things that people usually talk about – your degree, your qualifications, and your skills. She immediately understood what I needed: “What I needed was motivation, to clear my mind, and to gain confidence. That was quite the turning point for me.”
Shehbaz definitely appreciated his case manager’s strengths-based approach. “She listened without any rush and then said to me what I still remember: “Forget whatever negative things people have told you.”
“She reminded me of what skills I already have and how many years of international, professional experience I came to Canada with. She put things into perspective and made me believe that there’s no need to feel panicked if I couldn’t find a job in just two months after landing.”
Careful not to duplicate the job search courses he had already taken, Shehbaz enrolled in the ESC’s Workplace Culture and Social Media workshops. He also updated his LinkedIn profile, a move that would prove fruitful. A few days later he received a message from a large recruitment firm interested in talking to him about a contract position with one of the “Big 4” accounting firms. He happened to be with his case manager when he received the phone call. She encouraged him to take that call and coached him through it.
She also helped prepare him for the interview process and contract negotiation with success; with the help of the recruitment firm he set up his own business and had his first consulting contract. “I still haven’t applied for a job yet,” he says smiling.
The contract is coming to a close but Shehbaz isn’t worried. The contract allowed him to work with a wide variety of clients and gave him a taste of different corporate cultures and future possibilities. He’s networking with other professionals, and is exploring further education opportunities.
For now, Shehbaz and his wife are settling into their new life in Canada. They are enjoying the diversity of their West End neighbourhood and they’re even taking Italian language lessons.
“I am so happy I read that sign that day and walked upstairs to the WorkBC ESC Vancouver City Centre office – that was the best thing I did in Vancouver. They proved to be angels in the new country for me. In fact, the staff does not seem that they are doing a job-it’s their life. They are doing a great service, with a human touch.”