The majority of Canadian newcomers are highly skilled, educated, and come with years of experience as working professionals. But as indicated in our “State of Immigrant Inclusion in the Greater Toronto Area Labour Market” report, unemployment and underemployment is a persistent challenge. Newcomers are forced to often take on survival jobs that are well below their skills, experience, and expertise, just to make ends meet. One of them was a man named Miguel Abascal who immigrated to Canada from Mexico. Below is his story.
It’s the year 2010 and I’m the CEO of a very successful coffee company in Mexico. As CEO, I was traveling the world and showcasing the company’s excellent coffee. I was in my early 20s and was living the dream – working at a profitable company, and living in a house by the ocean surrounded by coconut trees that had a large pool in the backyard. It was at this point in my life that I received a call about an application I had filed to immigrate to Canada two years earlier. I was given six months to decide if I wanted to move there.
Should I continue to be CEO of this growing company, or move to Canada and restart my life? It was not an easy decision, but in the end, I wanted to pursue my dream of coming to this great country. I sold my house. I sold my car. I sold all my possessions and purchased a one-way ticket to Toronto. All my friends thought I was crazy, giving up my life in Mexico to move to Canada – and live in its cold and long winters! But I knew what I wanted.
I still remember it vividly: my flight to Toronto was delayed and when I arrived at Pearson Airport at 3:00 a.m., the airport seemed very empty. Nobody was there to greet me and the TTC wasn’t even running. I felt a deep loneliness inside me and that’s when I first realized that I did not have a network. I did not have friends in my new home and I didn’t even speak the language well. Nobody knew me, the successful CEO of a coffee company from Mexico. I ended up staying at the house of a friend of a friend of a friend.
I got a job as a server at Tim Horton’s. In Mexico, I was a very confident individual – some would say I was even cocky! But now I was cleaning toilets and mopping up spills. Doing such manual labour was a big change for me. My confidence crashed and I hit rock bottom. In 2011, I found my first corporate job as a bankruptcy processor. It was a position that did not require any of my skills, experience, or education. It was another survival job. Working as a bankruptcy processor is like working in an assembly line – mindless, repetitive work of opening files, adding paper, and closing files. It was just not for me. It killed me inside and my confidence remained at an all-time low.
In 2011, I decided to change course and work as an independent salesperson selling insurance door-to-door. Although I was not making much money and the job was not glamourous, I did begin to improve my English and communications skills. My confidence continued to remain low, but I was undeterred. I often thought about my life back home in Mexico. Many would ask, “Miguel, why don’t you just go back to your life in Mexico?” I did not want to go back home to family and friends with my head down. Perhaps it was pride talking, but I decided that when I return to Mexico, it was going to be with my head held high. At this time, many of my friends back home were becoming very successful professionals – lawyers and business executives. I was happy for them, but it also made me sad about my own situation.
I went back to work at Tim Horton’s. I took on night shifts so I could complete online courses and certifications during the day that would allow me to find commensurate work in my field of project management, finance, and stakeholder engagement. I was also spending a large amount of time networking, accessing resources at employment organizations like JVS, Culture Link, and ACCES Employment, and I enrolled in TRIEC’s Mentoring Partnership program. Although my confidence was still low, I remained diligent and determined to find success. Over time, I developed a professional network and many friendships.
My luck changed in 2013. I met a TD branch manager at a networking event and when I told him my story, he referred me to another branch manager who hired me on the spot. I first started working as a bank teller but within three months, I was promoted to financial representative. Within a year, I became a project analyst. I was finally employed with a job in my field and my confidence began to grow.
It was in 2015 that I went from survival jobs and just making rent to finally being able to save some money and have more time for myself. It was now my turn to give back. I started to volunteer more in my community and founded my volunteer-based professional association, UnstoppableMe.rocks, with the objective of helping people transform their potential into fulfillment. I chose the name UnstoppableMe after listening to countless stories of newcomers who were facing similar challenges after arriving in Canada and never giving up. As of today, we have helped over 500 newcomers.
By 2017, I was promoted again to senior product analyst and received the TD Vision in Action award – a yearly award that only 80 employees out of 85,000 receive for their outstanding contributions to the bank and to society.
In 2018, I was promoted to product manager and now I feel like I am again the CEO of my career. Eight years after immigrating to Canada, I finally feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and am very happy because of it. I can now go back home now with my head high – proud of myself for never giving up no matter how dark life sometimes was and how low my confidence was in those moments. I tell people all the time that I am now living my Canadian dream.
It took me almost four and a half years to find employment that matched my skills, experience, and expertise. That’s four and a half years of paying less taxes and not being able to contribute to society to my fullest potential. Underemployment is a real issue that not only impacts Canadian newcomers, but also our community and economy as a whole. In truth, I could have been doing my current job right when I landed in Canada in 2010. I had the same skills, education, work ethic, and dreams. But it took me four and a half years to get where I am today. It is my mission to eliminate underemployment and help everyone achieve their fullest potential in whatever path they choose to pursue.