Now Toronto: The Livelihood Project job-hunting app for newcomers earns a Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award

Finding meaningful work in Toronto, let alone any job, can be difficult even with the right qualifications and connections. Strip all that away, remove the easy benefit of speaking English, and the job hunt becomes close to impossible.

Enter the Livelihood Project. Co-founded by Parin Kothari and Arash Samimi, the initiative began in 2015 with the influx of refugees into Canada and the ongoing crisis in Syria. What struck them both was that while it was crucial that newcomers to Canada find work, there were few channels to integrate economically through reliable, community driven work. In October of 2016, the partners opened the Livelihood Café, tucked in the heart of Kensington Market on Augusta. They hired a steady stream of new Canadians and refugees, offering a unique environment in which soft skills like communication mixed with food prep and barista work were equally emphasized. A recent hire told me she spent a year in English classes, but within a month of working at the café, finally felt the confidence she needed to use the language.

Kothari comes from a banking background and Samimi, up until now, worked in academia – but this informal approach seems to have lent to the business model and atmosphere of the café. Workers have an active role in their day-to-day tasks, and can take on different projects that might better suit their background. Samimi told me that the onus is on employees to figure out how to solve problems via experimentation within the environment. Think about all the times you’ve been forced to troubleshoot a problem – admittedly more difficult pre-Google. But once you’ve figured something out for yourself, that knowledge is more likely to stick with you.

The community-oriented approach is evident in their latest iteration of the Project: Samimi is developing an app with the help of Livelihood employees, like developer Mohamad Abdulkafi and Manik Chaudhery, a student at U of T, who said it was his first job. Though the app will be in development stages for the next two years, they’ve already earned a Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award.

The app improves upon traditional job-hunting methodology that’s based almost entirely on employment experience detailed in resumes matching job requirements. The Livelihood Project app walks the user through an initial psychological set of questions to place them within an area of interest. Questions revolve around what someone could see themselves doing via transferrable skills, versus a rigid, career experience-only background.

Once the aspirational employment is weighed against real employment experience, the app creates a career path with attainable steps to success. The role of chef, for example, starts with prep cook, line cook, eventually leading up to chef. At every level are salary ranges, necessary experience and more formal education pathways, if applicable. Currently, the app draws jobs from the Ministry of Ontario’s job bank and will expand as more people use it and rely on organic network building for a contact database of potential employers. Once a user identifies what they might like to do, the Livelihood Project will offer workshops out of their expanding café space, and the app will continue to provide career coaching, plus tailored next steps, “like a Fitbit for securing and sustaining long-term career opportunities,” Samimi says.

By: Katie Heindel