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Hands-on hospitality training helps Edmonton newcomers pursue Canadian dream

Obse Rikitu taught chemistry in Ethiopia but only began pursuing her true passion when she participated in a hospitality employment program for newcomers to Canada.

Five months after arriving from Kenya’s capital Nairobi in April, Rikitu, 29, graduated and scored a job with a major downtown hotel in Edmonton.

“I’m in love with my job. I’m excited every single day to see my days,” said Rikitu, who took a quick break from her housekeeping duties to speak with CBC News.

“I would like to say to the Multicultural Health Brokers – thank you so much. Because they gave me a great chance and also they gave me morale. They taught me within a short period of time how to catch the system of Canada.”

The program, which includes English language learning, was launched by the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative eight years ago.

Partnering with major hotels, students get hands-on training in areas such as food safety, housekeeping and banquet service before four weeks of job shadowing.

But soft skills are also emphasized to empower and build confidence, including wellness, self-awareness and an understanding of the Canadian work culture.

A smiling woman in green blazer
Judy Sillito says students learn the soft skills that help them feel confident when they start working. (Nathan Gross/CBC News)

“When people move to Canada and they’re in a new culture, they’ve got to deal with so much settlement stuff,” said Judy Sillito, a program manager with the cooperative.  

“And then you’re in this very weird, unrecognizable work culture, and it’s really intimidating.”

Sillito helped develop the program that has trained more than 180 students. With a placement success rate of 80 percent, alumni work in hotels, restaurants, seniors residences, and warehouses, with many now in senior positions.

“It’s uplifting for the whole community,” Sillito said. “It makes Edmonton feel like a more welcoming and hopeful place to be.”

A lot of participants learn about the course through word of mouth, like Beytu Abbas who was friends with Rikitu in Nairobi. 

A mother of four who owned a clothing store in Kenya, Abbas says she is happy she has the opportunity to learn about Canada’s workplace culture and acquire employable skills, while making good friends from around the world.

Abbas said her children, aged between 5 and 13 years old, are encouraging her to succeed and even studied together for her recent food safety exam.

“They are telling me ‘mom you have to pass — as a girl you have to pass this exam and get a job here’.”

Abbas is also appreciating her new-found gender equality in Edmonton and the mindset she is learning from her instructors.

“Here, I learned something good — never give up,” Abbas said. “That is what they are teaching us and that is what I’m seeing.”

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