by Gloria Welton
Reem Sicoe is the welcoming person you see when walking into the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) office in Charlottetown.
She recently talked about how she got into her present job at IRSA during a virtual conference meant to help those looking for work on PEI.
As an Office Administrator, she is responsible for administrative duties, coordinating language instructors, and settlement work.
“I come from Syria, and I have been in Canada for 10 years,” says Reem. “I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Damascus University in Syria. I worked as an esthetician before leaving my country, and I have been a receptionst/administrator for the last eight years.”
When she first came to Canada, she admits she was afraid. “Everything was so new – a new language, new country, and new culture. I was just scared and didn’t know where to begin.
“I started by putting myself in situations to learn the language better. I met people, and I went to events and gatherings to get to know the Canadian culture. I decide to take jobs that I could learn from, so I started as an esthetician. It gave me a chance to practice my English skills, which was difficult, even though I took language training in my country. I discovered I was a good communicator and listener.
“Then I worked as a cook at a restaurant, where I could interact with people, work in a fast-paced setting, and learn more about PEI culture. After that I was a sales representative, which gave me great experience with customer service.
“I got to the point where I felt confident with my English, personality, resumé, and experience in Canada and was ready to apply for jobs that would be more directed towards a longer-term career choice.
“When the job at IRSA was posted, I thought this was the opportunity I was working towards and I wanted to be on the team, so I applied.”
She says it is a great opportunity and honor to be on staff at IRSA. “In my role I have many responsibilities. I welcome people who come through our doors or contact our office.
“I am also a language instruction coordinator. Newcomers to Canada with permanent resident status are eligible to study English at Holland College or online for free. I help them register for LINC language training.
“I am also a junior settlement worker. I help and support newcomers with tasks such as filling out documentation and other supports.”
IRSA has been serving newcomers to Canada for over 28 years. Their mandate is to provide short-term settlement services and long-term community integration for newcomers to PEI.
“We are divided into four teams, including settlement, employment assistance, community engagement, and youth settlement.”
The settlement team assists with essential Canadian documents such as health card application, child benefits, and immigration related documents. Also, this team does orientation, translation, and guidance for newcomers to PEI.
The employment assistance services team helps immigrants build their resumé, cover letters, and application forms, and also helps determine how their present skills can transfer to jobs on PEI.
The community engagement team helps newcomers focus on the culture transition by fostering a welcoming community.
The youth settlement team works with secondary and post-secondary school aged newcomers on areas such as school registration, intervention, student employment, and student events. This team has two family counsellors who provide one-on-one sessions with adults and children. They help with mental health and wellbeing.
Skills employers look for when hiring an administrative assistant
Reem identified three areas that employers look for when hiring administrative staff which are important to list on a resumé and mention in an interview: technical, soft, and transferable skills.
“The technical skills are what you learned from a course or program or from experience from a previous job. These skills include MS Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Google Drive applications, and phone system skills such as forwarding and conference calls.
“Soft skills are a mix of interpersonal skills, common sense, personality, intelligence, and attitudes towards others, including how you react and communicate.
“Problem-solving, time management, organizations skills, teamwork and communication skills are all very important soft skills. Interpersonal skills include being able to work under pressure, showing initiative, self-motivation, critical thinking, willingness to learn, flexibility, and open-mindedness.
“Transferable skills are abilities that can be transferred from one job to another. You are likely to possess many skills without even knowing you have them. Transferrable skills could be technical or soft skills. Keep in mind that you have gained a lot of transferable skills throughout your education and employment journey. Skills such as great customer service and analytical skills such as problem solving are skillsets that many parents possess.”
For more information about the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association PEI or to connect with Reem Sicoe, call 902-628-6009.