SAINT JOHN – Osama Ibrahim moved to Saint John from Cairo, Egypt, a city that was way too big for him to find jobs through personal networks. Ibrahim was told by people who had already settled here that there were formal job-search processes, but that he also should find ways to get inside the “network” here.
“Everyone [in Saint John] knows everyone. It’s a small city,” says Ibrahim. “It’s completely different from Cairo. I know the people in my building there, but not my street.”
“I heard before I came here that networking is the number one way of finding the ‘hidden jobs.’ Most of the jobs are in the ‘hidden job market,’ people told me.”
Ibrahim moved here in January with his family and soon began developing his social media network and getting involved in community activities.
In just a few months the software developer landed a job at Innovatia.
Ibrahim is attending the New Conversations event Tuesday evening at the Diamond Jubilee cruise terminal in Saint John. It’s one of 15 community conversations taking place across the province about the ties between immigration and economic development.
The province is experiencing low levels of immigration relative to larger urban centres across the country. At the same time, there are labour-force needs that could, in part, be met by newcomers like Ibrahim who have the right skills and experience.
Immigrants do find work through formal channels like employment fairs, job postings and newcomer support services. But Ibrahim also understood from the beginning that getting to know people in the community was important too.
He developed a network of contacts on social media, in particular, LinkedIn.
“I found people with similar interests and tried to connect with them,” he says. “If they accepted my invitation I would ask them for advice on how to get involved in the community. I recommend it to any newcomer.”
He also met people by getting involved in community activities. Most importantly, for him, he joined the Saint John committee putting together a proposal for the Smart City Challenge, a national competition for a $10-million grant to implement a digital strategy to solve a pressing social or economic issue.
“It was the start of getting more involved in the community and meeting a lot of people in my field,” says Ibrahim. “It opened a lot of doors for me. I made some friends from my contribution there.”
People helped him prepare his resume and told him about potential jobs, including the one at Innovatia. It was a good fit for Ibrahim, who has 15 years experience as a software developer serving clients in the U.S. and Europe from Cairo.
“I had a few interviews with Innovatia and they liked my experience and believed that I would add value to the company and the R&D department there,” he says.
Roxanne Fairweather, the president and CEO of Innovatia, says companies need to be open and adaptive too. Just as newcomers like Ibrahim learn the ways of their new country, she says companies have to adapt to the needs and challenges of employees who have risked much to build a new life here.
“When you’re open to people and inviting them in, making it a personable place to work where they feel valued and they can make friends, that’s huge. You have to be welcoming,” says Fairweather, who will be speaking at the New Conversations event in Saint John.
“We are very open and have zero-tolerance to any kind of bias,” she adds. “We talk about that openly. There is no differentiation in terms of sexual orientation, religion culture, and colour. We just don’t accept [discrimination of any kind].”
Fairweather says they don’t have issues integrating newcomers because they encourage everyone to socialize together. One employee started a soccer club and as a group, Innovatia staff regularly get together to share food from different cultures.
“People are wonderful if you start making open spaces for them to have those conversations,” says Fairweather. “We find food is a great way to get people together and chatting and sharing, having different kinds of food available from time to time. It’s a great ice-breaker. People have been great about welcoming new people into their mix.”
Fairweather says new immigrants have the right skills and global perspective to help companies grow beyond the province’s borders. Immigrants currently make up about 13 per cent of Innovatia’s Canadian workforce.
“We are working with customers globally and we have to incorporate these global perspectives into how we’re managing the business,” says Fairweather. Innovatia has an office in India in addition to the ones in Saint John, Halifax, Calgary and Houston.
Ibrahim says he’s integrated well into Innovatia because there are similarities between IT companies, no matter where they are in the world.
“I am fortunate to be in this field,” he says. “The tools that I used in Egypt are the same used here in Canada or the United States, or India. The workplace environment in general in medium- and large-sized companies is almost the same too.”
But he also says the people here made things a lot easier once he learned how to access their networks.
“I find people here very helpful,” he says. “Most of them try to help me from their heart, which gives me confidence that sooner or later I will find my way and settle down in this city. It bore fruit.”