Conference: Putting Language to Work


On November 16 & 17, the Provincial Employment Roundtable brought together leaders from various sectors of the labour market to host its third annual conference entitled “Putting Language to Work”. These leaders provided insights into how language and work intersect for English-speaking Quebecers and discussed solutions to address existing challenges.

The event provided a platform for many professionals working to improve labour market integration for English-speaking Quebecers to share their stories of empathy and resilience. 

Keynote speaker Dona Lewis, Deputy Chief Executive for the National Centre for Learning Welsh, opened the conference by sharing examples of the advances the Welsh have made in language training, particularly for the workplace.

The conference’s first panel, “Employment issues and needs among Quebec’s English speakers,” assembled a range of employment service practitioners who help English speakers find employment. Inspired by PERT’s research: Employment Profile of English Speakers in Québec, and 2021 Employment Survey of English-Speaking Quebecers & Organizations, invited speakers Allen Richards, Kassandra Kernisan, and Trina Belanger provided glimpses into the challenges English-speaking communities face in the labour market. 

These challenges include barriers to access to employment services, unemployment, and language barriers. Additionally, the consensus among panelists was that organizations that support English speakers in Québec often struggle with funding, making it difficult to provide consistent support to the community. These organizations often have to focus on funding specific programs rather than their overall mission and may lack access to sustainable funding. As a result, they must frequently look for new funding sources and partner with other organizations to support one another.

The second day of panels kicked off with a panel on the topic of “Learning French for the Workforce,” inspired by PERT’s report French-Language Training for the Workforce. Speakers included: Andréanne Gendron-Landry, Adam Hall, Aki Tchitacov, and Billy Walsh. The session explored the various methods of learning French to participate in Quebec’s labour market, including French-language training, French in the workplace and the role of schools, employers, and community organizations. 

The consensus among panelists was that even though there is a strong interest in learning French among the English-speaking community, there are several barriers to access, such as affordability, course availability, and flexibility. In addition, there are concerns about the traditional teaching methods and the need for more empathetic and supportive teachers. 

Some possible solutions to these challenges include increasing accessibility, creating more flexible and modular courses, and focusing on approaching language learning with empathy. 

The day continued with a panel discussing French-Language Support for Québec’s English-speaking Professionals, and featured; Heather Halman, Waleed Al-Ahmad, and Morgan Gagnon. Using our “French-Language Support for Québec’s English-speaking Professionals” report as a basis, this panel provided insight into how French-language policies impact regulated professions and how English speakers looking to improve their French can navigate this system. Panelists highlighted the need for more resources to help English speakers overcome the challenges of learning French in a professional setting. Additionally, the panel shared the conclusion of the report that in the context of Québe’s labour shortage, there is a need for current policies and programs to move away from an approach heavy in punitive measures and towards an approach based in empathy and understanding of the technical and language skills required to participate in Quebec’s labour market. 

Lastly, speakers Christine Grenier, Angela Stevens, John Davids, Adrienne Winrow, and moderator Lorraine O’Donnell closed the second day with a panel called “Education to Employment in Québec’s English-speaking communities.” This panel looked into our report  English-Language Vocational Training in Quebec by exploring the pipeline between education and employment for Québec’s English speakers and discussed the solutions that can be deployed to address the existing challenges and barriers. Panelists emphasized the need for employers to adapt their hiring practices and recognize their responsibility in helping recently graduated English-speaking students improve their French-language skills. Most importantly, this panel recognized the importance of vocational and technical training as an effective solution to enhance English speakers’ access to the labour market.

Key takeaways from the conference: 

  • There is a consensus from employment service providers that a lack of awareness and accessibility to employment services constitutes a barrier to English speakers in the labour market. Bridging this gap can be done with increased resources towards disseminating these services.
  • Many English speakers or linguistic minorities have a strong interest in learning the French language. Approaching this desire with understanding, empathy, and positive reinforcement is the best way to drive language learning.
  • Many employers recognize the advantage of employees improving their French skills and, under the right conditions, are willing to have their employees learn the language on the job.
  • Flexibility for program delivery adapted to the learner’s and the employer’s specific needs is essential. In terms of French language learning, programs should adapt vocabulary and training to particular industries.
  • It is vital to create a variety of language-learning approaches to fit the different learning needs of professionals, whether it’s on-the-job language training or a bridging program to help them integrate into French-language work environments. 
  • Quebec’s English-speaking youth face the challenge as they graduate to decide whether they decide to stay or decide to go and leave the province.
  • Employers are starting to shift and recognize their responsibility in accommodating recently graduated English-speaking students, have adapted their hiring practices, and understand the need to help these new workers improve their French-language training. 
  • Vocational and technical training is a (relatively) quick way for English speakers to improve their employability – and is vital for lifelong learning a
    nd professional development. 

The full recording of the event can be found below: