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Gaining Work Experience As A Newcomer To Toronto

Posted By Samantha Glave, Volunteer Guest Blogger, November-18-15
Updated: November-17-15
 Photo from New To Canada Website

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes 

Are you new to Toronto? Interested in finding ways to gain employment, improve your English skills and connect with your community? Volunteering could be your ticket to achieving all of those things!

Finding work in Toronto is a struggle for many people, but for newcomers, the barrier is even greater. It might be because some employers and regulatory bodies require Canadian experience as a legitimate job requirement. Other employers may simply want to ensure that you are aware of Canadian employment standards or may not have practices in place to evaluate your language and communication skills.  

When you volunteer, you have the opportunity to get work experience, make connections for work references, make new friends and learn more about the city where you live. 

So, how do you get started volunteering? Below, Karen Raittinen-DeSario, an Outreach Volunteer with Volunteer Toronto, answers some common questions to help you get started:


What is volunteering?  

The act of volunteering is the giving of time and service, usually at non-profits (organizations that don’t exist to make a profit but instead serve a certain cause ) and community organizations.

What is the time commitment?

Volunteer opportunities can vary in length of time and depend on the type of activity and your availability. You can volunteer for an event held on a specified day, this is called a "special event." When you commit to an organization for less than three months, it is called a "short-term" opportunity. Lastly, a "long-term" opportunity is one that will last for more than three months.


Can I volunteer if I don’t have Canadian references?  Do I need a work permit? 

"References can come from your country of origin, do not need to be from employers and can come from other sources such as friends, landlords or workers.  A work permit is not needed, and you can volunteer on a visitor or student visa."


I want to practice my English, what type of volunteer opportunities should I look for?

Looking for opportunities that are predominantly task based will allow you to meet new people and practice your English-speaking skills.  When using the Volunteer Toronto website, look for special events, working with animals, helping with donations and working with newcomers and farmers markets, as these opportunities are better suited for people who are learning English. 


How do I start? 

To get started you must Reflect, Research, Reach Out. Ask yourself, what are my interests? What are my skills? How much time can I offer? What do I want to gain? Go to "Volunteer Opportunities" on the Volunteer Toronto website to explore all the available positions.  Apply by following the instructions in the position description. Contact the person listed if you have any questions. Volunteer Toronto’s How To Start Volunteering page is another great resource to help you start your volunteering journey.


Karishma Mohammed moved to Canada in 2014 from Trinidad and Tobago, when asked what surprised her about volunteering, she responded: 

“My initial intention was to be involved in a charity that would 'look good' on my resume but, when I actually became more involved in volunteer work, it took a life of its own. … I got so much in return, I met people from all walks of life, I learned to appreciate that good ideas can come from anywhere and that no one is too old or young to volunteer.”



Jaime Yumiseva from Ecuador, also moved to Canada in 2014. When reflecting on his volunteer contributions he said:

“My most rewarding experience has been being able to contribute to committed organizations, committed administrators and committed attendees. Volunteering allows me to see how my time influences the life of somebody else, even if it is for a short while … and has made me realize that there is so much more to give. Volunteering is my way to share my happiness and knowledge with others.”


If you have a hyper specialized skill it is likely you won't find a volunteer opportunity that allows you to gain that specific experience here in Toronto. Try breaking down the components of that skill and research the volunteer opportunities that might fit the experience you need.

Join Karen this Thursday, November 19, at 6 pm at Volunteer Toronto’sVolunteering As A Newcomer to Canada session.  You will have the opportunity to get additional information, ask her more questions and also hear stories from newcomers who volunteered shortly after arriving in Canada. This event is free of charge and there are only a few spots left!

Can’t attend on Thursday? Book a free, 30-minute, one-on-one appointment with a referral counsellor. They can help you find the volunteer opportunity that is right for you. Visit the Contact Us page for other ways to reach us.

Also, feel free to post any questions in the comment section below.




Samantha Glave is a writer and editor whose work is regularly published on the Ontario Public Service’s intranet.
When she’s not writing, you can find her watching science-fiction, doing kettle bell workouts or reading the
latest research on raising the ‘strong-willed’ child. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their six-year old son. 
You can find her on LinkedIn


Tags:  Canadian work experience  finding work experience  finding work in Toronto  How to get work experience  How to start volunteering  job experience  new immigrant  newcomers to Toronto  on work experience  unemployment  Volunteering as a newcomer 

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