Nine young African refugees recently completed two months of hospitality industry training at Camosun College and have been guaranteed job placements in Tofino, as part of the new HIRES program. (Photo courtesy Camosun College)

Nine young African refugees recently completed two months of hospitality industry training at Camosun College and have been guaranteed job placements in Tofino, as part of the new HIRES program. (Photo courtesy Camosun College)

Camosun College trains nine refugees for work in Tofino

Education-based immigration program aims to help reduce labour shortages

Nine young refugees from Kenya will soon be working in the Tofino hospitality sector, thanks to a partnership between Camosun College and World University Services Canada (WUSC).

The education-based refugee settlement program, targeting young single applicants, is unlike anything yet practised in Canada, according to Geoff Wilmshurst, vice-president of partnerships at Camosun.

“It’s an opportunity for these people to change their lives, but even more so, it’s an opportunity for Canadian employers, who are desperately needing people, to get access to really motivated and highly qualified people,” he said.

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The new HIRES program, created by WUSC and funded in part by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, saw nine students formerly listed as refugees in Kenya attend two months of hospitality management training at Camosun.

They were slated to begin work placements at Tofino’s Long Beach Lodge Resort, Tofino Resort and Marina and Shelter/Shed Restaurant and a one-year term of community settlement support. The positions at Long Beach Resort are entry-level housekeeping jobs, said general manager Samantha Hackett. She added several international staff members started there and have worked their way up to supervisory positions over the last 14 years.

The students’ refugee status makes their situation unique, Wilmshurst said, as it allows them to become a permanent resident immediately following their arrival to Canada, without completing the 12 months of full-time skilled work required of those arriving on a work visa. “I think this can be seen as the beginning of an approach to how (Canada) would do immigration,” he said.

Hackett said she is grateful to be considered in the HIRES pilot run. Long Beach Resort typically employs one to two foreign workers per season, she noted, but she and other Tofino hospitality industry managers had difficulty filling those positions this year amid the pandemic.

Wilmshurst said the nine students are “young, skilled people, some of whom with great experience in the industry.”

READ ALSO: Victoria senior invites public for fundraiser walk for Kenyan school

Their journey to Canada follows an announcement earlier this year by the government of Kenya that two of its largest refugee camps would close by June 2022. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, most of the 430,000 people populating Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma camps have fled war and instability in neighbouring Somalia and South Sudan.

Kelowna and Fairmont Hot Springs will see HIRES employees by the end of 2022, following the hoped-for success in Tofino, Wilmshurst said.


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