A gathering of local business and community leaders along with newcomer job seekers learned more about employment programs, and about themselves along the way, at the Recruit, Retain and Create a Space of Belonging Conference. The meeting was held at the Humboldt Convention Centre in the Uniplex on Tuesday, March 26. The event was hosted by Connecting Grids Regional Immigration Partnership with support from the staff at the Humboldt Regional Newcomer Centre.  

Following a breakfast and introductory business, MC Eilish McAnally turned the forum over to Janine Hart with the Newcomer Centre. Hart invited the attendees to get up, join at the rear of the conference centre, and form a circle to participate in the March Activity. 

The March Activity gets its moniker from the month in which International Women’s Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination are held. The activity also connotes marching forward toward goals of eliminating prejudice. It was designed out of research conducted by the Newcomer Centre, particularly geared toward youth and engagement with students in the Horizon School Division.  

After having attendees identify examples of bias and stereotypes based on either experience or cultural observation, the activity deepened to explore how bias shifts into prejudice. Hart explained that bias is done without thinking, stemming from observations and experiences when an individual is very young.  

Hart explained that it’s the responsibility of the individual to unpack those thoughts lest they emerge as stereotypes and prejudices. She noted that such ideas are all rooted in ignorance, fear and cultural conditioning. Those thoughts are the basis of discrimination which manifests itself in many ways in the workplace and in life.  

The research done in areas around Humboldt pertaining to the newcomers’ experiences delivered some sobering results. 

“The research turned into finding out about lived experiences in communities surrounding Humboldt, and it was sad,” Hart relayed. “The amount of racism that youth experienced, and these youth had arrived between 2008 and 2015, so they’d been in the school system most of their educational lives.” 

Hart acknowledged that change is hard when it comes to attitudes, but the findings of their surveys demanded the Centre do something to offer an experience that would allow people to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings.  

“We developed a series of activities from kindergarten through to the corporate world that allows people to interact with us, ask questions, to challenge and to self-acknowledge and ask, ‘did I display that behaviour.”  

Participants were invited to listen to a series of questions or prompts and step into the circle if they recognized the behaviour, attitude or experience in themselves. By recognizing and acknowledging their own beliefs, those in the circle brought their own thoughts and feelings into more specific relief. 

With some employers in the world at large, those feelings and beliefs might be the partial basis for not hiring, refusing to interview, exhibiting wage disparities or other acts of workplace discrimination. Throughout the exercise, the group paused for conversations on language acquisition, skills-based assessment, overseas education or experience, and other barriers to entering the workplace.  

The balance of the day went into details on immigration employment programs such as the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program, Labour Market Impact Assessments and a Gender Bias Analysis presentation and activity.