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Unique VCC program welcomes newcomer women into trades

Posted on June 1, 2020



VCC baking instructor Leanne Bentley (top center) and Trades Sampler students meeting via Zoom

What do a former restaurant owner from Turkey and a mother of three from South Sudan have in common? They both discovered a love for hairstyling, thanks to a unique Vancouver Community College (VCC) career training program for newcomer women. 

The first Hair Design, Culinary, and Baking Trades Sampler program for newcomer women ran March 2 to May 29, 2020. Designed and delivered by VCC instructors in partnership with Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) and the B.C. Industry Training Authority (ITA), the program offered customized, practical introductions to a variety of trades careers in Canada.

Ten women began the program with hairstyling training at VCC’s Downtown campus Salon and Spa. After COVID-19 restrictions suspended face-to-face instruction, the students continued the program remotely via Zoom and Moodle.

Lyazzat Alkan, originally from Kazakhstan, immigrated to Canada three years ago and has enjoyed learning hairstyling skills in the program. She now has her sights set on working as a hairstylist in the film industry. “Thanks to an excellent teacher, Mr. Stewart Anderson, we learned to cut and colour hair, and got a lot of knowledge in a short time,” says Lyazzat.

Nelly Duku arrived in Canada in 2005, having fled the civil war in South Sudan. She previously learned hairstyling techniques by watching online videos, and has now also built up employable skills in culinary and baking. “The instructors were super supportive and experienced,” says Nelly.

According to Pam Khinda, senior program coordinator at VCC’s Partnership Development Office (PDO), students have remained engaged and inspired to apply their learning at home, such as cutting hair and making professional-quality meals for their families. “This speaks to the students' commitment to learning and project team's passion, dedication, and creativity despite the lack of hands-on teaching options as originally planned for,” she says.

Opening doors to trades careers

According to Statistics Canada, only one in 10 trades apprentices today are women. Since VCC offers many of the most sought-after trades training programs in B.C., Pam jumped at the chance when the ITA approached her to help deliver a trades program specifically for immigrant women. 

“Many immigrants in B.C. miss out on rewarding opportunities in the trades, mainly because of the lack of awareness. New Canadians are an integral part of the community, and apprenticeship fast-tracks their ability to participate in the economy,” says Paulette Higgins, ITA Training Investment Director.

In addition to trades training, program participants also learn job-search skills and get personalized support from a PICS employment counsellor. "These women bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, but prior to this, were not able to pursue their passion," says Raj Hundal, PICS executive director.

For a number of the students, this is their first formal educational opportunity in Canada. “We were thrilled to be able to help address this need,” says Pam. “We saw this as a great opportunity to assist immigrant women explore different trades in a safe, welcoming, and group-based environment.”

Learn about more VCC programs that are are thriving using online and hybrid delivery.