Aneesh Kumar came to Newfoundland and Labrador four years ago to work on an interdisciplinary master’s degree in humanities and social sciences at Memorial University. He’s originally from Kerala, a state in southeast India renowned for its tropical beauty and beaches.
Looking for some work to help keep him afloat financially while pursuing his studies, he became aware of a student internship program that suited his needs. Funded through the provincial government’s labour market partnerships program, it helps full-time international students connect with small and medium-sized businesses or non-profit organizations for 12-week full-time paid internships (or up to 21 weeks part-time). AXIS Career Services, the employment division of the Association for New Canadians (ANC), oversees the pilot project.
“They did a good job in terms of giving the training and connecting with the employers,” he said.
Finished with his studies at MUN, Kumar is now a full-time employee with the same organization that initially hired him thanks to the pilot project — the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (LDANL). He’s grateful ANC helped him get there.
“I didn’t know about the Learning Disabilities Association before that, and I wouldn’t have perhaps gone with them,” he said. “I have some experience working with kids and challenging behaviours, but not necessarily with learning disabilities. My interest was more in terms of human rights. But then I realized the cause matters, and bringing those skills and working for the community, that’s very interesting.”
The Student Internship Pilot Program and My First Job in Newfoundland and Labrador Pilot Program were introduced simultaneously in 2017. The latter is geared toward international graduates from Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic and provides a 16-week paid placement. Initially planned as two-year pilot projects, the government announced last August nearly $415,000 in funding to extend both programs for an additional two years, carrying them through to March 2021.
To date, the programs have supported the employment of more than 50 international students and graduates in the province.
Sheri Abbott, an employment development manager for AXIS Career Services, said these programs are meant to ease the transition from being a student to a working professional. And, ideally, the programs will encourage participants to become permanent residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I certainly think it helps kickstart their careers,” she said. “Newfoundland is a place where a lot of international students come and want to stay after they graduate. They’re hoping they can build a new life here. Getting that connection, getting that foot in the door, getting relevant experience, it’s all a part of making that happen and making that dream come true. They’re certainly getting that relevant experience and they’re getting exposure to the labour market. All of those pieces are really important. That’s helping them move on, apply for their permanent residency, move into full-time positions and contribute to our economy.”
All of this falls in line with the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s strategy for building a more economically, socially and culturally vibrant province through the presence of skilled immigrants. By 2022, Newfoundland and Labrador aims to attract 1,700 immigrants annually.
The pilot projects have created employment for workers coming from a variety of educational backgrounds, including engineering, business and social sciences.
“It’s a little bit all over the place, really, because they’re not designed to focus on specific fields,” Abbott explained. “It’s more about finding an employer to match with their skillset. No matter what the skillset is, we’ll go and tap into an employer who meets their needs.”
Jennifer Larkin is a human resources manager for C-CORE, a research and development organization based in St. John’s. C-CORE already had a pre-existing relationship with the Association for New Canadians, since it has hired lots of international students over the years. Through the My First Job in Newfoundland and Labrador Pilot Project, C-CORE agreed to hire a recent MUN graduate with a master’s degree in engineering — the applicant had already worked with a C-CORE employee prior to joining the organization.
“We knew the individual, so it was just something that helped us be able to hire him,” Larkin said.
“We’ve been around for over 45 years now, and it’s nice to get fresh ideas from new students who just recently graduated, and the program was able to help us be able to pay for him. Everything that we do is based on project work. In order to hire a new employee, we have to either have funding from the client or we need to come up with another source of funding, so it was really great that we were able to bring him in on a project we didn’t have extra funding to bring someone in on.”
Larkin said that engineer was recently hired as a permanent employee.
“I think the Association for New Canadians is doing a really great job of helping new graduates and new immigrants find employment when it could potentially be difficult for them based on language and cultural differences,” she added.
Now working full-time with the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador as a communications and development officer, Kumar is keen to stay in St. John’s.
“It’s interesting, too, because I’ve been going for different meetings and meeting with ministries and government, all kinds of getting involved with the community,” he said, adding there’s limited supports available beyond the St. John’s metro area and a considerable need for the services the Learning Disabilities Association has to offer.
“I kind of see a lot needs to be done, and things can be done here. That’s the beautiful thing about Newfoundland and St. John’s. Everyone is connected and the community is pretty strong.”