New Program at Emily Carr University Trains Immigrant and Refugee Women for Careers in Booming Tech Sector

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By Michelle Cyca

Posted on March 28, 2019 | Updated April 27, 2021, 2:21pm

As Canada embraces ambitious immigration targets by 2021, first-of-its-kind program offers life-enhancing educational opportunities for female newcomers.

Immigrant and refugee women new to Canada are being offered the chance to break in to Vancouver’s booming technology industry, thanks to TechWomen — an initiative spearheaded by Emily Carr and the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC). Launched in April 2018, TechWomen is the first free pre-employment program of its kind, providing free educational opportunities and career coaching to immigrant women seeking employment in the technology sector.

With Canada’s goal of welcoming more than one million new permanent residents by the end of 2021, TechWomen aims to tap into an underutilized segment of the population to spur economic growth and innovation within Vancouver’s technology sector, while also supporting and engaging one of the city’s most vulnerable groups.

The program is funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Startland, an initiative developed in 2016 by Kate Armstrong, artist, curator, and Director of ECU’s Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship, which supports creative projects, social venture, and entrepreneurship driven by art and design. Founded in order to offer free training for refugees looking to find meaningful and sustainable work in Vancouver, the initiative has raised more than $500,000 in the last three years to help those new to Canada find employment within Vancouver’s growing technology industry.

“It is an immense privilege to play a small part in helping to prepare and launch these incredibly bright, capable, and ambitious women into their new lives and careers in Vancouver,” says Armstrong. “Many of the women in ECU’s program trained in the technology sector in their home countries, and were designers, coders, and teachers before moving to Canada. By offering them the opportunity to network with other like-minded women and gain critical skills for achieving employment specific to Canada, we are not just setting them up for success — we are investing in the enrichment of their lives, their families, and their communities, which in turn only enriches the economic vitality and creative energy of our own city.”

Through its partnership with ISSofBC, TechWomen connects women who are new residents to Canada to education opportunities, by providing seats in a selection of courses offered by ECU’s Continuing Studies department. Participants are able to attend courses for free, such as Adobe basics, web design, industrial design, architectural design, and more, enhancing their resumes and skill sets for the Vancouver market. As part of the program, students are encouraged to gain work experience through short-term projects, such as the development of their own online portfolios as well as assisting with the website maintenance of organizations such as VAST, B.C.’s largest centre for refugee mental health.

“This program is providing lasting, meaningful opportunities for its participants, not only through skills development but through confidence building and professional networking,” says Sarah Rolling, ISSofBC’s program facilitator for TechWomen. “And for a job sector that is eager for skilled workers to help meet its ever-expanding needs, this is a win-win situation for all parties involved."

Since the first students enrolled last fall, TechWomen has provided training to 10 women, empowering them to pursue their career goals by upgrading skills and teaching Canada’s work customs and norms, including resume and interview etiquette as well as inter-office communication and assignment expectations.

One of TechWomen’s very first graduates credits the program with helping her hone her ambitious career goals. Anitha Amarnath came to Canada from India in 2017, with her husband and three-year-old son. Amarnath’s technical training took place with ECU’s Introduction to Web Design, as well as an Introduction to Web Development course offered by program partner, Lighthouse Labs. As she pursues employment, Amarnath has developed a professional website as well as volunteered with VAST.

“All of the components of this program have helped me carve a path toward reaching my professional goals,” says Amarnath. “The practical, activities-based learning has not only provided me with critical technical skills, but helped lay the foundation of understanding and engaging in Canadian culture and ways of interacting.”

Current student Saba Farheen plans to leverage her TechWomen training to return to her former career as a teacher of computer science. Emigrating from India in 2013, Farheen put her career on hold to start a family. Farheen credits the technical training — Lighthouse Labs’ Introduction to Web Development and ECU’s Adobe Suite — with laying the foundation for re-launching her career in her new country.

“This program opened my eyes to the Canadian job market and workplace expectations,” says Farheen. “It’s not only technical — it’s English, it’s what to say, what to expect from others, what to expect on the job. You learn so many things that can’t be put into words.”

To view program details or the program handbook, see ECU's TechWomen program page. For more information, visit ISSofBC.

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