Ready to Launch: Language and Entrepreneurship Training for Newcomers
A skill-training entrepreneurial program for newcomers. Over twelve weeks, participants learn about Zoom video-conferencing, business language, culture and communication, Canadian workplace culture and expectations, employment rights and responsibilities, federal and provincial labour laws, professional meetings, emails & phone calls, business structures & registrations, regulations, permits and licenses, SWOT(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of their business goals/plans, understanding market research & developing effective marketing techniques, product development and customer service/experience, and designing a professional business plan based on participants’ field of interest. A template for hosting online networking events for learners to interact with local guest speakers/mentors from places of employment, including local entrepreneurs, finance experts from financial institutions, and various community supports will help participants with their business and employment goals/plans. Vocabulary competitions, homework assignments and weekly quizzes from the modules reinforce the training so learners can be successful in following through with their business/employment plans/goals. Classwork equips learners with the necessary knowledge and skills within the English language and entrepreneurial field to prepare them to design and launch a business as well as connect them to opportunities with workplaces, organizations, mentors, and fellow entrepreneurs to provide resources and supports for their business plans and/or employment goals.
The Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning in Grande Prairie, Alberta, was granted funds through Settlement, Integration and Language Projects (SILP) to facilitate a skill-training entrepreneurial program for newcomers in Grande Prairie, entitled Ready to Launch: Language and Entrepreneurship Training for Newcomers course. This project began in March 2020 and concluded in March 2022. The following will provide an overview of the project, including, outcomes, successes, challenges, and lessons learned.
Many newcomers to Canada, and for that matter, Grande Prairie, bring with them extensive work and business experience from their home country. While some are content to gain employment with an established organization, others are highly motivated to launch their own business. These are key components for newcomers to successfully integrate into Canada. However, many struggle to start and maintain a business due to the following challenges: difficulties communicating professionally in English; unaware of Canadian workplace culture and expectations as well as the rights and responsibilities of employers & employees; uncertain of the rules and regulations of operating a business; the lack of financial knowledge to access capital and how to manage business finances wisely; the inability to navigate various entrepreneurial licenses, permits, forms and reports; little or no experience in conducting labour market research as well as writing a business plan; and not knowing how to network and connect with local entrepreneurs, workplaces, organizations, community services, financial experts and mentors. The Ready to Launch: Language and Entrepreneurship Training for Newcomers project sought to alleviate those challenges by offering a 12-week, part-time training program, that was made available to permanent residents and/or naturalized Canadian citizens in Grande Prairie, who were either unemployed or underemployed.
In 2019, a student needs survey was conducted by the Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning to assess students’ learning gaps and future learning goals. Out of the 75 students surveyed, 46.6% indicated a strong desire for entrepreneurship language training; hence it was evident that newcomers required this specialized skill-training program in Grande Prairie. For this reason, an original curriculum for the Ready to Launch program was developed by an ESL Instructor and an associate from Business Link, an organization from Edmonton that specializes in professional entrepreneurship training. Both created content for eight of the twelve weeks of classes, with the instructor developing the first three and final weeks of language training content as well as creating a classroom dictionary, using her lessons and those created by Business Link. Along with the ESL Instructor, who taught online and in-person, following COVID protocols, Business Link delivered the program by Zooming into the class remotely. As a result, the Ready to Launch curriculum was taught across four cohorts from fall 2020 to fall 2021, serving a total of 15 participants. This program was enhanced by inviting 31 guest speakers/mentors from various workplaces, local entrepreneurs, and financial organizations during class sessions and networking events, which occurred on the last day of classes. By the end of the program, these learners had a broad and deeper understanding of the specific steps required to start and run a business successfully, including future access/ability to connect with those community guest speakers/mentors that attended the online class sessions and networking events.
For each cohort, the ESL Instructor had every learner write down their own professional business/employment goals to identify and support their ventures. They completed pre- and post evaluation forms to determine if they had increased knowledge of the course content, awareness, and ability to access labour market and community supports and resources from the online training and networking events. Exit interviews were also implemented to see whether they had achieved their business plans/goals or attained employment.
Over the twelve weeks, participants learned about the following topics within the 12 modules: Zoom video-conferencing; business language, culture and communication; Canadian workplace culture and expectations; employment rights and responsibilities; federal and provincial labour laws; professional meetings, emails & phone calls; business structures & registrations; regulations, permits and licenses; SWOT(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on their business goals/plans; understanding market research & developing effective marketing techniques; product development and customer service/experience; and designing a professional business plan based on participants’ field of interest. On the last day of classes for each cohort, online networking events were held for learners to interact with guest speakers/mentors from places of employment, including local entrepreneurs, finance experts from financial institutions, and various community supports in Grande Prairie to help them with their business and employment goals/plans. Vocabulary competitions, homework assignments and weekly quizzes from the modules were conducted online to reinforce the training and for participants to be accountable for their learning so they can be successful in following through with their business/employment plans/goals. Overall, class work was designed to equip learners with the necessary knowledge and skills within the English language and entrepreneurial field to prepare them to design and launch a business as well as connect them to opportunities with workplaces, organizations, mentors, and fellow entrepreneurs to provide resources and supports for their business plans and/or employment goals.
Participant Demographics, Outcomes, and Successes
Grande Prairie is a diverse city, and the Ready to Lauch program served participants from 11 different countries. Participant educational background varied from not completing high school to possessing a graduate’s degree, and ages ranged from late twenties to early sixties. Three key outcomes for this project were the following: newcomers having awareness of labour market and integration of resources, programs, and services; the ability for newcomers to access labour market integration services; and having the ability to connect with workplaces, including knowledge, skills, and opportunities.
Data collected from the surveys across the four cohorts indicated the following: 89% of the participants had increased awareness and confidence of labour market and integration of resources, programs, and services; 90% experienced increased ability to access labor market integration services when developing their business ideas/plans; and 90% of the learners had the ability to connect with workplaces, which included attending and connecting with guest speakers/mentors that were local entrepreneurs, various workplaces, experts from financial institutions, and community services. The end goal for each participant in this project was to complete a professional business plan and to follow through with their venture or to obtain employment in Grande Prairie or Alberta. At the end of the program, over 90% participants completed their professional business plans in which they have the confidence, knowledge, and ability to follow through with their business plans/goals and 53% gained new employment. One learner from cohort 2 has already started her own business and another from cohort 4 is conducting more research to move ahead towards his business plans.
Two learner success stories are as follows:
A learner from the Philippines came to Canada about 3 years ago with his family. He left his country during Grade 12 but completed his high school diploma in Canada. The learner lives in his family’s home as he was unable to support himself based on his current income. He worked at a corporate retail department store as a part-time customer online ordering clerk, which was not enough to pay the bills. At this job, he handled all the incoming orders and provided customers with information on a product and service. The learner desired to be an on-line retail arbitrator, buying and reselling items. He wanted to create a more efficient on-line ordering system. The learner stated that he needed support with understanding the labour market and how to network. He also wanted to know how to financially run a successful business as well as help creating a business plan. The learner successfully completed his business plan after taking the Ready to Launch program. After receiving mentorship from a guest speaker, he became a reseller with a large online retail outlet to receive more online business experience. The learner is still currently employed at a corporate retail department store, but on track with keeping his small business with this large, online retail outlet as a reseller.
Another participant from the Middle East immigrated to Canada 2 ½ years ago with his wife and 3 children. Both him and his wife took turns looking after their children in their rented home. They tried to purchase a house, but they had difficulties as they needed to establish credit history in Canada. The participant is the main breadwinner of the home since his wife goes to management classes. Even though he works part-time at a large on-line retail outlet doing payroll and customer service, he is financially stable. Because he has a strong business and accounting background due to his education and job experience from his home country, the participant was very eager and determined to improve his knowledge, skills, and abilities to start a consulting business in Canada. Obtaining an education to increase his knowledge, skills and abilities were important first steps in starting his business venture. The participant desired to have his own consulting business in Canada where he could refer clients to various services, such as accounting and bookkeeping firms in addition to technical and telephone companies. The participant wanted to gain a better understanding of the labour market and business tax system in Alberta and required support in connecting with workplaces, organizations, mentors, and other entrepreneurs. He explained he “wanted to build a business where his children could take over in the future” as well as “designing a business plan that works” were his future goals. After completing the Ready to Launch program, the participant received a full-time job opportunity at a post-secondary institution as an accountant. Even though he received employment, he will also “move towards starting up his business venture and is in the process of gathering more information towards his business plans.” The participant also expressed that “this is really a great course! I was looking for a course like this since landing in Canada 2 ½ years ago. I had been an employee all my life and now trying to get off this mindset of being an employee. I will do my best to succeed in my business journey and will open my own business soon, thanks to the resources and tools that were provided to me through the course, and the connections to owners and mentors, who have also helped me understand the process.”
As with any pilot project, several challenges occurred along the way. They can be summarized as
Needing to adjust to the constant fluctuations of the provincial health restrictions was a challenge. Adult learners often struggled to attend all classes or to consistently make it on time due to taking care of their children at home or trying to help them with online learning due to the COVID pandemic. When COVID numbers increased in Grande Prairie and throughout Alberta, participants were uncomfortable attending class in-person as their risk level had increased. This program was pivoted to Zoom videoconferencing during lockdowns and restrictions. As a result, our staff continued to follow safety measures by disinfecting tables and workspaces, spaced desks and maintained social distancing as regulated, wore masks and had learners wear masks as well as used hand sanitizer, which was placed at the entrance of the classroom. A COVID Checklist was developed and given to each learner indicating that if they had a series of COVID symptoms listed, they were to stay home and learn online, so they would not miss any content. When restrictions eased, the project instructor continued to provide online and in-class learning to meet the delivery needs of the students and to make them feel more comfortable and anxiety-free. She also provided them with Zoom recordings of each training session if they were unable to join virtually. Nonetheless, we were able to serve those that attended our training by offering both in-person and on-line learning. All classes proceeded without cancellation due to our blended learning options
Local entrepreneurs, employers from various workplaces, and other community supports in Grande Prairie have proven to be aware of the unique needs and challenges of newcomers seeking entrepreneurship and employment by being guest speakers during online class sessions and networking events. Some have expressed interest in further mentoring the participants and/or providing job-shadowing opportunities, but some of the participants were not wanting immediate employment or to start their own business due to the stresses and anxieties of working in a pandemic. Unfortunately, many workplaces and local entrepreneurs had to close indefinitely as the fluctuating provincial health restrictions devastated their businesses. This in turn, affected the hiring of new employees.
A challenge as an English language service provider is that learners require significant, long-term training and support to reach their English and business/employment goals. However, they are often financially barriered, so they pursue free or low-cost classes with many wanting full-time studies. Being able to provide extensive, specific skill-training programs is a challenge as a non-profit organization, which is why grants and funding are so vital in meeting the learning and employment needs of our newcomers.
One of the biggest lessons learned was there is a higher probability that learners will be able to reach their business plans/goals and integrate successfully into their communities because of English training organizations developing and offering skilled development training programs that have an employment or entrepreneurial piece. Leaning solely on language acquisition skills alone, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking, does not provide many opportunities to successfully prepare learners for writing a business plan or finding employment or advancement at their current place of work. This specific type of training like Ready to Launch, increased participants’ confidence and skills in meeting their business plans/employment goals, which would allow them to integrate within their communities with ease.
Developing more connections within the business community and having them present in-class and during networking events provided more business planning supports and employment access/opportunities for newcomers, which are essential when offering a language training course with an entrepreneurial/employment component. Having a solid, specific skill-training curriculum developed in partnership with Business Link and an ESL Instructor, then delivering the training together, brought increased knowledge and awareness of the labour market, and an integration of resources, services, and community connections for participants. By matching guest speakers/mentors based on their fields of interests or employment goals, newcomers gained increased confidence and motivation to follow their career aspirations. Consequently, newcomers would integrate more smoothly due to these connections and opportunities.
Final versions of the PowerPoint materials, lesson plans, and all other curriculum content developed and used for the Ready for Launch course will be posted and accessible on Tutela (tutela.ca/PublicHomePage), ATESL (www.atesl.ca), and the Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning website (www.gpcll.com) by the end of May 2022.
|Alberta Initiatives Gallery:||No|
|Instructional Level:||CLB Stage II (5-8) CLB Stage III (9-12)|
|Language Focus:||Integrated Skills Vocabulary Workplace Skills|
|Produced by:||Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning|
|Funded by:||Alberta Labour and Immigration, Settlement, Integration & Language Projects|
|Author:||Janna Doerksen, Jean-Jacques Mitakaro, Laura Caseley|
|Keywords:||Entrepreneurship, Intermediate English, Networking, Business|
|Added:||July 22, 2022, 10:27 a.m.|
|Updated:||Aug. 15, 2022, 11:24 a.m.|