City of Montreal’s Internships Give Newcomers First ‘Canadian’ Experience

Program helps newcomers integrate into Quebec workforce through on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching.

New immigrants to Canada face a challenging Catch-22 when trying to find jobs commensurate with their skills and experiences: They can’t get a job without Canadian experience but they can’t get that experience without a Canadian job.

The City of Montreal, which is the largest employer in Montreal and the surrounding suburbs with more than 25,000 employees, recognized this barrier was preventing many bright and talented individuals from fully participating in the Quebec labour force.

To help newcomers, as well as recent graduates, overcome that barrier and help the City be more reflective of the population it serves, the City launched an internship program — the Professional Sponsorship Program (Programme de parrainage professionnel) — in 2006.

Since then, 262 people have participated in the program. Of those, 142 have found permanent jobs after their internships, of which 108 were with the City of Montreal.

How the Program Works

The program includes a six-month paid internship with the City of Montreal and aims to increase the workforce integration of ethnic and visible minorities, who account for nearly 85 per cent of participants. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a post-secondary degree or diploma and less than one year of work experience in Quebec in a field related to their education.

The work placements include a wide variety of positions and give participants the opportunity to develop their skills in a stimulating job related to the field in which they trained.

One foreign-trained engineer was hired as a trainee building inspector intern and was paired with a City employee who mentored him. After several weeks of coaching and on-the-job training, the intern was able to work successfully on his own and then was hired on a permanent basis after the internship.

The Key to Success

The mentoring and training component of the internship program are key to its success. Not only do new entrants to the Canadian workforce need to learn the technical ins and outs of the job, but they must also learn to adapt to a new workplace culture.

To that end, mentors and interns both receive diversity and cross-cultural communication training. The training helps them become more aware of their own perception of cultural differences and better understand where the other person is coming from. It also teaches them to communicate using negotiation, mediation and problem solving.

“This program promotes intercultural and intergenerational understanding while promoting careers in Montreal’s public service,” said Mary Deros, a member of the City’s executive committee responsible for diverse communities, at the launch of the sixth and most recent internship cohort in September 2011.

In addition, the program promotes the exchange of expertise, meets the needs of the workforce and prepares a new generation for skilled, in-demand jobs, she said.

The program is funded by Emploi Québec, which provides a wage subsidy equivalent to the provincial minimum wage, the City of Montreal, which tops up the wage to the job-appropriate compensation level, and Quebec’s Department of Immigration and Cultural Communities, which finances an annual evaluation as well as training for mentors and mentees.

Tips for Employers

  • Pair new hires, be they interns or permanent employees, with a mentor to help them learn the ins and outs of the job and the workplace culture.
  • Focus employment programs on under-represented groups — new immigrants, visible minorities, youth — to tap into new talent, expertise and ideas that will strengthen your organization.
  • Tap into government programs and funding to reduce the financial burden on your organization.
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