After months on P.E.I., some Ukrainians struggling to find jobs despite qualifications

Tetiana Lysak arrived on P.E.I. in the fall of 2022 with her two-year-old daughter. She's been struggling to find work despite attending lots of information sessions and programs designed to help newcomers. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)
Tetiana Lysak arrived on P.E.I. in the fall of 2022 with her two-year-old daughter. She's been struggling to find work despite attending lots of information sessions and programs designed to help newcomers. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)

Tetiana Lysak and her two-year-old daughter arrived on Prince Edward Island in the fall.

At the time, she thought she would have no trouble finding a job. She has two master's degrees, one in linguistics and another in tourism and hospitality. She also had years of experience working as an interpreter in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital.

But after six months on P.E.I., Lysak still can't find work. She said she sent her resumé to a number of local employers, but didn't get any responses.

"Now I'm getting desperate," she said.

"I'm getting to a point that I will be happy to take any job, like anything, because I need to feed my daughter."

Lysak is not alone.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

Nikita Shupov came to the Island in June with his wife and their four children. They previously had to spend some time in Europe, after Russia's invasion forced the family to flee.

Shupov has about 15 years of experience in motion graphics design, having worked with many Ukrainian television stations.

Soon after arriving on P.E.I., he found contract work in his field with a local company, but that contract ended in October.

Shupov has been looking for work in Canada for the past five months. While he's applied for positions across the country, he said he hasn't heard back about any of them.

"I don't know why," he said.

Employment struggle 'across the board'

The issue is not unique to the Ukrainian community, said Yvette Doucette, information services co-ordinator with the Immigrant & Refugee Services Association (IRSA) P.E.I.

"There's a problem finding work across the board," she said.

IRSA clients who landed in P.E.I. in 2022 came from over 50 different countries.

Doucette said about 200 Ukrainian newcomers who arrived last year are still looking for work.

That's "a larger number than some other groups," she said.

Doucette said it's often difficult for newcomers to immediately find a job in their field, even if they had years of experience in their home country.

Newcomers are at a disadvantage, she said, because they often lack access to transportation and may face language barriers.

It's also a slow time of the year, Doucette said. The past six months may have been particularly challenging for job seekers, with the minimum wage going up and the Island still recovering from the pandemic and post-tropical storm Fiona.

In the case of Lysak, who has a background in hospitality and tourism, finding a job may become easier in April or May when the tourism industry ramps up, Doucette said.

Getting a foot in the door


She said newcomers first need to learn about the local workplace culture, attending networking events and volunteering in order to gain some experience in Canada.

"They may need to just get their foot in the door somewhere," Doucette said.

She also recommends newcomers to register with IRSA to get help with their job search.

When Lysak came to the Island, she signed up to be a client and get employment assistance.

She also joined a three-month program offered by SkillsPEI called Career Bridges. There, she learned how to revamp her resumé, write cover letters and identify potential career paths on P.E.I.

For the latter half of the program, she had a work placement at a kitchen in downtown Charlottetown. She wasn't offered a job after that ended, and has been unemployed since.

Sally Pitt/CBC
Sally Pitt/CBC

But many participants of the program have received job offers according to Mary Hunter, the province's director of workforce development and the person in charge of the program.

Hunter said for some participants, it just takes more time.

"It is a journey — one that sometimes takes longer than what we would all like — but it is a start in getting the exposure and the information out," she said.

Hunter said they follow up with participants to ensure they do find employment.

Anxious about the future

Shupov is working remotely on a few projects from Ukraine while continuing to search for jobs here. The money from those projects alone can't sustain him and his family, he said.

He said he's thought of setting up his own graphic design business if he can't get a job in motion graphics in P.E.I.

He said other provinces may have more job opportunities, but he doesn't want to move. The local natural environment is similar to Ukraine's, and his family enjoys living here.

"In P.E.I., all people [are] friendly, helpful," Shupov said.

Shupov wants the whole family to become permanent residents in Canada.

As for Lysak, she hopes to return to her homeland at some point.

For now, she just wants to get a job, and rent an apartment where she and her daughter can live.

But she said she's been feeling increasingly unsure about her future.

"This uncertainty now gives me some anxiety and scares me," she said.

Submitted by Tetiana Lysak
Submitted by Tetiana Lysak

Lysak said she wants to see employers consider foreign credentials and experience, and not value Canadian experience more highly by default.

"There are so many good professionals from Ukraine, from other countries, who can do their work here and help the local communities. They should be given the possibility to work in their field," she said.

Lysak said so far, she's glad to receive supports from local organizations. She's especially thankful to the host family she's been living with, who has also helped her on her job search.

"They're just amazing people," she said.

"If not for them, maybe I would be going back to Ukraine even though there is a war there, because I wouldn't survive here by myself."