‘I Wish to Open My Own Business’: Sudanese Refugee Ambitious After Finishing Skills Program

Idris Bela Amin. Image: Inda Intiar/Huddle

MONCTON – Idris Bela Amin only entered Grade 1 at the age of 14. A Sudanese who lived at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, the 26-year-old is now preparing for his apprenticeship with Canadian Tire in Dieppe.

“Before, I didn’t know how to look for a job, how to apply [for jobs], how to use computers,” he said. “This program helped me understand how to research a job, now I can find a job by myself and I can do everything by myself now.”

Bela Amin is one of 24 graduates in the first cohort of Skills Launch, an employability initiative for Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John by the New Brunswick Multicultural Association (NBMC). The program is aimed at newcomer youth who weren’t able to complete high school due to gaps in formal education, unrecognized credentials and language barriers.

The 10-month program provides various skill development training for four months and a six-month work placement. Sixteen employers, including Canadian Tire, YMCA and Cafe Codiac took part in the first cohort.

Supports like coaching, child care, disability supports and wage subsidies are made available for participants through the Departments of Education and Early Childhood Development and Social Development, employers, and settlement agencies.

During his placement at Canadian Tire, Bela Amin learned how to change oil and fix brakes for cars from licensed mechanics.

“I made a good friend and he’s always teaching me, and he’s always saying, ‘you can do this and do this,’ ” he said.

Canadian Tire has offered Bela Amin an apprenticeship position, which means the hours he works will count towards his professional training. This would help him get his mechanic license.

The construction and trades sector is a focus of the program. It also targets the health and human services, and the hospitality, sales and service sectors.

Alex LeBlanc, Executive Director of the NBMC, said the selection was strategic.

“We chose those sectors because there’s a demand for people to work in those areas,” he said. “So all participants are likely to get full-time jobs at the end of the experience because they’re learning about sectors where we need people.”

The second cohort is already underway, with nine participants from each of the three cities. The program aims to serve a total of 81 participants over three years.

“This is what this program does – it helps your quality of life, it helps you to be successful, and it helps our economy to grow,” said Finance Minister Cathy Rogers, who announced an investment from the provincial government.

The provincial government is investing $403,415 in the program through the Workplace Essential Skills program and will provide placements through the Youth Employment Fund regionally for participants. The federal government is also contributing $1.4-million through Service Canada’s Skills Link program.

“Youth are the future of our economy, and that’s why investing in young people is a top priority for the government,” said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Federal Health Minister.

The work through the placements are entry-level jobs, but LeBlanc said they can help participants identify a career path in the future.

This is really about launching them,” he said. “There’s a career journey that they’re going to go through to eventually, hopefully, get their dream job in New Brunswick. But this is providing them exposure to sectors they may be never had exposure to in the past.”

Bela Amin was forced to leave Sudan as a teenager when the civil war broke out in 2004. He dropped out of school because he had no monetary support for supplies. Instead, he looked for work to support himself.

When he arrived in Canada in May 2017, it was an adjustment.

“I never knew about Canadian culture, it was hard to me to learn. But at least I was pushing hard,” he said. “And the winter time was very hard for me because it’s my first winter. But I try to manage. And I feel like a Canadian now.”

LeBlanc said the program is made for newcomers like Bela Amin.

“In particular, when refugees come later in their youth, it could be difficult for them to catch up with the Canadian school system,” he said. “We wanted to create a program that would help them springboard into employment or further education in New Brunswick.”

“It’s really important to remember that we’re talking about human beings who have all had very unique immigration stories in New Brunswick,” LeBlanc added. “Many of them in the program have overcome incredible hardships to get here. So this is really about shining a light on the potential and the opportunities that they can realize in New Brunswick.”

Bela Amin, who speaks English, Swahili and a bit of Arabic, hopes his career will allow him to contribute to the economy and give back to his home country one day.

“In the future, I wish to open my own business and when I get a good job and make good money, I’d like to help the people back in my country because really they’re suffering,” he said. “That’s what I wish to do while I’m still alive.”