Welcoming a new community one hand at a time

Petites-Mains offers women from around the world the opportunity to gain work and language skills. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Petites-Mains offers women from around the world the opportunity to gain work and language skills. Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Petites-Mains provides female immigrants in Montreal with job opportunities and language courses

“Petites-Mains is much more than a training centre; it is a family that welcomes people as they are with open arms,” said Suzanne Tremblay, the president of Petites-Mains. Located on St-Laurent Boulevard, Petites-Mains has changed the lives of thousands of newly arrived women in Montreal ever since it opened its doors in 1995. From work experience programs to interviewing skills, the organization offers all the necessary tools to help immigrant and marginalized women succeed in Quebec.

“We offer training programs in sewing, cooking and office help, as well as social integration programs, work experience programs and French classes,” said Katy Howick, the organization’s intervention specialist. Using funding from Emploi-Québec, the federal government and donations, Petites-Mains offers its students training in a program of their choice along with workshops that help diminish cultural and language barriers—all while paying the women a minimum wage salary.

The organization has 50 spots to offer each year, but with 910 hours of free job training and subsequent employment opportunities, the organization reported a waiting list of 420 people for 2016-17. “Once they’re done here, they find a job immediately,” Howick said. “They finish here on a Friday, and they’re set to go to their jobs on Monday.”

The sewing atelier currently has a waiting list of 53 local businesses looking to hire students from Petites-Mains. “It’s crazy how much Montreal lacks qualified sewing machine operators,” Howick said. “It’s ridiculous.”

A glimpse at the Petites-Mains sewing atelier. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Due to its reputation, the organization has numerous contracts with clients such as Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal. As part of their training, Petites-Mains participants make all the polos and T-shirts for the city’s firefighters. The cloth kit bags handed out to Concordia students during frosh week are also sewn by Petites-Mains women. As a social economy enterprise, Petites-Mains supports local designers and startup businesses by offering cheaper market prices for their sewn products, including clothes, bags, uniforms and baby apparel.

A good reputation in the local sewing industry is not all Petites-Mains has achieved. The organization also includes Inter-Mission, a catering service founded in 2007 that proudly attained a 98 per cent client satisfaction rate last year, reported the organization’s website. According to Howick, many women come to Petites-Mains with no work experience, but one of their main skills is cooking for their families. With the training Petites-Mains offers, Howick said the women’s cooking skills are transformed into refined culinary expertise that opens up job opportunities with local catering services, restaurants or even hotels.

“A lot of women say they don’t have any skills, yet they’re capable of making a meal plan for a family of four under $60. This is a skill I don’t have,” Howick said. In order for each participant to find a job they’re well-suited for, interventionists such as Howick help the women develop their self-esteem by recognizing their skills and putting them on paper. Job interview simulations and workshops on how to put together an impressive CV are also an integral part of the learning process.

A portrait of Katy Howick, the intervention specialist at Petites-Mains. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Not only do newly immigrated women and mothers have special needs when it comes to integration, but their children do as well. Therefore, Petites-Mains is in the process of building  a daycare to prepare participants’ children for a successful integration at school. This will also allow participants to drop off their children and focus on their training. “We try to have as many open doors as possible to help answer the needs of as many profiles as we can,” Howick said. “We believe the daycare is essential.”

Howick described her job as exciting and rewarding, but also challenging. “One of the challenges is that it is not stable; the workforce is based on what is happening in the world,” she said. Depending on influxes of refugees and immigrants from different regions, Petites-Mains must adapt to the varying skill sets and values of participants arriving from those countries. “Participants from Congo and Haiti have very different values and life experiences than the ones we had last year from Syria,” Howick explained. “So we have to constantly update and adapt to this new workforce.”


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