P.E.I. newcomers introduced to hotel industry through new tourism program

A new, free six-week program is introducing newcomers on P.E.I. to the hotel and hospitality industries, even if COVID-19 has put a damper on their immediate job prospects.

The Destination Employment program was first introduced in 2018, starting in Nova Scotia, with the goal of reducing labour shortages in the hotel sector and providing newcomers with their first Canadian workplace experience.

The first 10 participants on P.E.I. are finishing up the program this week in Charlottetown. 

Facilitators Phyllis Duffy and Ahmed Oduwaiye have led this first-time program on P.E.I. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

“Prior to the pandemic, there was a labour shortage in hotels in Canada so it was really designed to help address that,” said Alex MacKenzie, HR co-ordinator for the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island 

“Tourism HR Canada figured who better but newcomers to Canada, who want to build a career here in Canada.” 

Excellent response

MacKenzie said the training focuses on employability skills, such as resume and cover letter writing as well as practice interviews, plus training programs for working in hotels such as the responsible beverage service course, first aid and CPR. 

“They’re also learning about what tourism’s like here in Prince Edward Island and how much value that we put into tourism here on the Island,” MacKenzie said.

“So it’s an excellent resource for them and we feel it’s very rewarding for the participants.” 

MacKenzie says the program focuses on employability skills, plus training for working in hotels, such as the responsible beverage service course, first aid and CPR. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The group currently in the program includes five newcomers from China, two from Vietnam and one each from Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria 

“The response was excellent. We had ten newcomers for this sitting of the program and so that filled our program,” MacKenzie said.

‘Totally new for me’

Vivian Wei was a software engineer in China before moving to P.E.I. two years ago. 

“Being a newcomer, I want to learn more about P.E.I., more about the culture and the tourism industry and, also, I want to improve my English,” Wei said.   

“I think through this program I will have more friends and improve my networking skills that will help me to get a job and settle down in P.E.I. for a long time.” 

Vivian Wei was a software engineer in China before moving to P.E.I. two years ago. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Wei said she was looking for a different career in Canada and that attracted her to the program. 

“Because I’m a software engineer before I come here, so that’s totally new for me if I were to work in the tourism industry,” Wei said.

“Everything is new, but it’s exciting. So many new skills and knowledge, new certificates.”

Vivian Wei said the biggest skill she has learned is confidence. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Wei said she’s interested in working as an administrator, or a cashier or in housekeeping, but said the biggest skill she has learned is confidence.

“Before this program, I feel nervous when I speak English with others. But after this six weeks, I feel more comfortable about that,” Wei said.  

“I know what I can do, and I have confidence to apply for the job, and I have confidence to do the job.” 

‘I have learned a tremendous lot about the tourism industry in P.E.I.,’ Liling Bai says. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Liling Bai operates a travel company that she started when she moved to P.E.I. in 2018.

“I have learned a tremendous lot about the tourism industry in P.E.I. — and not only tourism, a whole lot about the industries and the cultures and histories in P.E.I.,” Bai said.

“Also, I think I my confidence in the English skills have improved a great deal.”

The first 10 participants on P.E.I. are finishing up the program this week in Charlottetown. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

MacKenzie said the program is also being offered in the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the other Atlantic provinces. 

“The hope is that the participants would go into the workforce right away, but we know that that may not be the reality of the situation,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said the timing of the P.E.I. program during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been ideal. 

“The pandemic has obviously dampened the job market in Prince Edward Island, and in Canada as a whole, so we’re hoping that they can try to find employment,” MacKenzie said.

“But it’s not necessarily something that we’re expecting to happen right off the bat, especially being as seasonal as Prince Edward Island is.” 

Destination Employment is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, delivered by Tourism HR Canada, and supported by the Hotel Association of Canada.  (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

MacKenzie said a couple of the students in the program have been invited for job interviews. 

“We’d like to see all of our participants employed in the hospitality industry,” MacKenzie said. 

“But other than that, I think it’s successful in its own way, that we are providing them with the skills and the knowledge needed to build a future here in Canada.”

MacKenzie said the Tourism Industry Association plans to offer the six-week program again in January. 

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