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Conversation with Chenai Kadungure

Acting Associate Director

Skills for Change

Toronto, Canada

April 2021

What connects us: curiosity, laughter, layers of depth.

What does Skills for Change strive to do?

Skills for Change serves newcomers to Canada. We support up to 20,000 immigrants per year; they bring skills to Canada that are not easily recognized here. So, we advocate for credentialing of their international skills and work experience to ensure their talents are not wasted. We also provide skills training. We support integration, not assimilation.

Often, employers may count on us to provide linguistic translation, yet cultural translation is equally important. For example, in some cultures there is no such thing as  comfortable silence, so in an interview, a candidate may be perceived as rambling. We help bridge the cultural gap.

I lead employment programs and services, such as our program for immigrants and women in technology. We teach clients how to use Salesforce, prepare them for IT Sales roles, and more. It is joyful when a client gets a job; it’s like everyone in their family got the job. It represents stability and success in their new home country. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your community’s work?

The pandemic has affected everything. We provide trades training. How do you teach someone to build a house when you can’t meet on site? When we are able to meet, we provide personal protective equipment. We didn’t budget for thousands of masks. Plus, the number of people we serve has decreased for two main reasons: immigration has decreased due to lockdown, and some people are scared to leave their homes for work because they live in multi-generational settings, or with immunocompromised people.

How does racial equity and social justice intersect with your organization’s work?

Many immigrants work in roles they are overqualified for because their home country credentials are viewed as less valuable here. We see this happen at all levels, including people with experience at multinational corporations. As a result, a lot of people don’t pursue jobs in their sector.

Let’s look back 40 years ago: immigrant parents with skills took labor jobs so they could stay in the country. Fast forward to today and it’s still the same story. It doesn’t matter how the market has changed; the same barriers remain. You don’t have equal access to opportunities.

When you have a survival mindset, you can’t wait for the job you are qualified for. It makes it hard to integrate. It’s why Skills for Change was launched 38 years ago by seven immigrant women – to level the field, to enable newcomers to be productive, contribute, and thrive.

Skills for Change supports up to 20,000 immigrants every year.

A must read from Chenai on countering imposter syndrome.

What connects us: laughter and much more.

When was a moment when you saw groups mobilize; what did they accomplish?

We are part of First Work, a network of employment service agencies that advocate to increase access to, and eligibility for, employment services. As an example, to be eligible for support from our agency, you must be “underemployed” or doing what we call a “survival job”. That’s a job not in your sector, such as when a person with IT skills works at a fast-food place. In addition, anyone with a full-time job is not eligible to seek support from our agency.

So, if you’re working full-time, you don’t have time to search for another job, and you can’t access our employment services. Plus, if you’re working in a “survival job”, you have limited workplace and economic mobility. It’s a system of barriers. Because of our network’s advocacy, the Canadian government has responded with a shift in policy. Eligibility requirements have changed; employment services are accessible to more people.

What can people do individually and in their communities?

People need to put their money where their mouth is. A “like” on Instagram is not the same as talking with your family about racial inequities and systemic barriers. If you have hiring power, are you hiring someone that doesn’t look like you? Do an honest audit of your role in the system.

What are some of the best books you have read?

Most recently, More than Enough by Jada Monica Drew, and You are the Girl for the Job by Jess Connolly. They counter imposter syndrome and help women look at themselves in less critical ways.

What brings you hope?

My faith. It gives me humility and reminds me that I am only in control of so many things. Plus, stories of people that achieve amazing things in extraordinary circumstances. It makes me believe we can do anything.

Learn More about Chenai

Learn more about Skills for Change. Follow Chenai on Instagram @chenkad and connect on LinkedIn.

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