By Cheryl Clock, The Standard Monday, January 25, 2016 4:30:32 EST PM
She has a masters degree in science and decades of work experience, but when she came to Canada she couldn't get a job. Not even as a dishwasher, or a restaurant server, or even at a fast food outlet. She tried them all. And more.
Indeed, Galina Ismavilova sent out dozens of resumes. But after a year of looking for work, the woman who once managed a quality-control department in the wine industry in Azerbaijan had lost hope.
"I felt, I don't know what to do," she says.
Her husband had not found a job either, and he had been manager of a brewery with some 400 employees.
Ismavilova felt defeated. And guilty for being the one to suggest that her family immigrate to Canada.
It was then that the 62-year-old St. Catharines woman found the Niagara Women's Enterprise Centre, an organization that provides employment training programs and support services to women in the region, including new Canadians, victims of abuse and women facing barriers to employment.
The centre is a division of Niagara Peninsula Homes, which manages co-operative and non-profit housing properties in the region.
Ismavilova participated in the eight-week hospitality, retail and customer service program, and followed that up with the five-day Wine Country Basics program.
And this past spring, she landed a job at a local winery. She greets customers, and works in the wine boutique, tasting bar and at special events.
When the call came to offer her a job just a few hours after her second interview, Ismavilova was taken by surprise.
"I thought, I can't believe," she says. "I was prepared for a long way to go.
"It was like a gold metal for Olympic games."
Every year, there are about 150 women who take part in the centre's employment programs. About 70 per cent of women who complete their certificate get a job, start a business or return to school within six months of their graduation, says Brenda Martin, program manager.
The 10 women in Ismavilova's program represented a diversity in ages, backgrounds and education. Indeed, women who were once doctors and engineers in their home countries, enrol in the retail program to work in customer service jobs while they learn about Canadian culture, and make friends and connections.
In Ismavilova's part of the world, strangers who pass each other on the street never smile at each other. People are detached from their community and are mostly preoccupied with their own survival. In stores, clerks wait until a customer approaches them with a question before they offer help.
When Ismavilova came to Canada 2 1/2 years ago, she spent six months improving her English. Her first language is Russian.
Walking along the street soon after arriving in Canada, she realized what she hand longed for in her own country. "I realized what it was – it was a feeling of freedom," she says.
In addition to retail skills, the program helped her acclimatize to the Canadian experience.
A work placement at Shopper's Drug Mart increased her confidence. And a job developer at the centre put together a resume.
A job in retail might not be the ultimate dream, but it's a start.
"It gets women moving into their first job in Canada," says Martin. "It gives them confidence to take that next step."
"To get them beyond the self talk that says I can't do that."
Despite the eclectic mix of women, they shared a collective bond.
"What was common for all of us, we had lost our faith in ourselves," says Ismavilova.
The program, and her new job, have given Ismavilova confidence, structure and purpose to life, she says.
"Whatever I want to do next, I can do it."
What: Niagara Presents is a social enterprise that makes small-batch preserves. It opened a holiday pop-up store in Welland. It provides an opportunity for trainees in the retail program to get hands-on work experience. The store features preserves, gift baskets and other locally made foods.