Struggles & Successes: Landing a Green Job as a newcomer to Canada

July 22, 2021

By Shuya Huang

Canada plans to welcome over 300,000 new immigrants every year.

But in 2020, about 13.5% of Canadian newcomers (people who have been in Canada for less than five years) were unemployed. And this number doesn’t capture the many newcomers who are underemployed (not working enough hours or doing work that maximizes their skills). Moving to Canada comes with many potential challenges: credentials not being recognized, lack of Canadian work experience, lack of a network and support system, and lack of financial resources.

My name is Shuya Huang, and I know firsthand the struggles and obstacles newcomer youth encounter while trying to land a job, especially a job in their dream field. I moved to Canada in June 2020 with the hope of finding a job as an environmental professional, but my Canadian journey started even earlier.

Studying in Canada

In 2013, I first stepped on to Canadian soil as a 20-year-old transfer student. My university at the time, China Agricultural University, had posted a notice about transferring abroad, and I immediately recognized that it would be valuable to pursue an education in a part of the world I had never experienced before.

After passing all the English language exams and university entrance interviews, I received a scholarship to the University of Waterloo for a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. Then after graduation, I pursued my master’s degree in Environmental Sciences, specializing in conservation and biodiversity, at the University of Toronto. It was non-thesis-based, so I completed an internship instead of a research project. I chose this program because I didn’t think I wanted to pursue an academic career. And luckily, it gave me the chance to get my foot in the door of Canada’s green sector.

I worked as a biologist for Blazing Star Environmental, an ecological consulting firm, during my five-month internship. My job was to conduct bio-surveys for endangered amphibians and reptiles all over southern Ontario. It was an amazing experience; I had so many cool encounters with wildlife, and I gained so much applied knowledge through fieldwork that I never would have learned if I were in a classroom or an office.

However, even though my supervisor gave me high praise, I wasn’t eligible to receive funding to extend my contract because I was an international student. After my experience was cut short, I went through a tough six-month job application period. I got several interviews, only to receive rejections because of the lack of funding opportunities for international students.

Returning to China (with plans to come back)

I had already fallen in love with Canada and was determined to stay here and finish my immigration process. My score for the Express Entry pool was high enough, but I needed to get one year of related work experience. I applied for over 50 jobs, and I was so disappointed when I got rejected time and time again, especially when I had devoted six years of study to my field. I thought that my dream of becoming an immigrant to Canada was going to be crushed, and I felt nothing but frustration. But eventually, I learned about a work experience that could take place outside of Canada, and that gave me hope to continue my immigration journey.

I headed back to China and successfully found a job in the environmental field. At the same time, I worked on building up my network both in China and Canada. I knew I was going to go back to Canada, so I did my research on LinkedIn and reached out to several professionals in the same field to conduct informational interviews.

I also took every opportunity I could to join webinars and workshops on the job application process in Canada. Most importantly, I signed up for a mentorship program. This made a huge difference—I could say that it was arguably the most significant decision I made in my career transition.

Building my network through mentorship

In CoalitionWILD’s global mentorship program, I was the only person who had Canadian education and wanted to work in Canada, so I was paired with the only Canadian senior professional they had.

My mentor was Dawn Carr, former Executive Director of the Canadian Parks Council and Vice Chair of PLT Canada’s board of directors. Ever since we met the first time on Skype in the winter of 2018, we have been in close contact. During our monthly hour-long conversations, I would ask questions about the job market in Canada, improve my LinkedIn profile, do mock interviews, and ask her how I should proactively expand my network.

Dawn was always there to listen and gave me valuable professional recommendations. But that wasn’t all. She would also ask about my family, my life, my ambition, and my passions, and got to know me as a person. I would share with her the struggle of preparing and transitioning to a different country by myself, and later on, the mental health issues that came from living during a global pandemic. She helped ease my anxiety and was my support system in Canada.

Back in Canada, but underemployed

After I gained one year of work experience, I officially applied for immigration. But since it took place outside of Canada, the immigration verification and approval process was longer than expected—about a year.

Finally, I got my Confirmation for Permanent Residence, or landing paper, with an expiry date of June 2020. Originally, I planned to move in February 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything. I had to postpone my flight multiple times, but I was eventually able to get on a plane, and I landed in Toronto two weeks before it expired.

Two weeks of quarantine was tough, but what awaited me was even tougher. I knew that I wanted to continue working in the green sector, but at the same time, I needed to keep myself financially afloat. So, for over six months, I worked in a restaurant. Still, I kept applying for all the jobs I could. I was underemployed, but I was happy because I was financially independent and keeping myself busy to not dwell too much on my homesickness.

I also started to volunteer and apply for other programs. I volunteered (and still do) for the Canadian Committee for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (CCIUCN) and got accepted to the Newcomer Youth Green Economy Project (NYGEP) at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). Both experiences were extremely valuable.

Through NYGEP, I was able to connect with one of the guest lecturers, Maria Chiarella, Sr. Coordinator of Youth Network and Mentorship at PLT Canada. My mentor, Dawn, had introduced me to Maria a few months before, and we were able to strengthen our relationship through NYGEP. Canada’s green sector is small—there’s a big chance that you’ll run into people again! Maria and I share similar immigrant backgrounds, and I was also impressed by PLT Canada’s success in placing youth into over 3,700 paid work experiences in the forest and conservation sector. Naturally, I kept in close contact with her and shared my thoughts as a newcomer youth in Canada’s current green job market.

Over my first eight months in Canada, I applied for almost 100 jobs and got several interviews. I did my research, wrote down all my past experiences, and practiced interviews with my friends, but always got rejected. “You are overqualified.” “You don’t have enough local experience.” “You are an excellent candidate, but unfortunately we have to choose the other person.” “The short contract position may not be what you are looking for.” Every follow-up email gave me good feedback, but I just couldn’t get to the finish line. It was frustrating because I didn’t know how to improve or match myself to what employers were looking for.

Getting my chance: Green Jobs are for everyone

All of a sudden, things began to look up for me. Maria asked if I could help out with PLT Canada’s “Green Jobs Are for Everyone” Workshop Series.

I gladly took the offer and had the chance to use my personal experience and knowledge to help out youth in similar situations, which was very fulfilling. And PLT Canada ended up keeping me on as a consultant after the workshop series to help with other projects.

Then a couple of months later, I officially transitioned into a new, full-time position. I am currently PLT Canada’s internship coordinator, and my job is to help place more diverse youth in Canada into paid work experiences and help them advance in their green career pathways.

Together, we can build a diverse and resilient Green Jobs workforce

My story ends here, but my journey as a newcomer youth and young environmental professional in Canada is far from over.

Canada’s forest and conservation sector needs to recruit the next generation of leaders, and we know that diverse perspectives make workplaces stronger. About 47,500 forestry workers are predicted to retire between 2020–2028. That’s almost a quarter of the current workforce! And in 2018, the International Labour Organization reported that the green economy could create around 24 million jobs by 2030.

I hope that by sharing my story, newcomer youth, or youth looking to immigrate to Canada, can gain some insights and strategies on how to join Canada’s green sector, and employers can see the value of giving these young people a chance.

How can you join and help build Canada’s Green Jobs workforce?


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