English a ‘challenge’ for many Ukrainians seeking work

A lack of English proficiency is one of the obstacles standing between many Ukrainian refugees and their desire to work in Ireland, according to data released by the Central Statistics Office Monday. 

Two-thirds of the Ukrainians who have attended events sponsored by Intreo Public Employment Services reported that their English ability was “a challenge in securing employment,” according to the sixth batch of data released on the arriving refugees. The language barrier has affected Ukrainians with various backgrounds from teachers to individuals in business. 

English has even been hard for people who teach it like Olga Zhyhilii, who taught English to children after school in Ukraine. She struggles with spoken word English. 

“And unfortunately I have a lack of experience speaking, so it’s a big and huge part to communicate,”  she said. 

Zhyhilii arrived about six months ago, and mostly remained at home early on. When she did speak with native speakers their speed and slang made communicating very hard, she said. Her bachelor’s degree in English and literature was not sufficient for the teaching jobs she applied for in Ireland, she told Babylon. 

“I want to be sure in my speaking skills (that) my communicat(ion) with others (is) in (a) good level to hold this important role in teaching children,” she told Babylon.  

Sergey Pokyma also arrived about six months ago. Pokyma, who utilizes his phone to translate, described his English as “very poor.” His previous work includes time as a sales manager as well as a coffee and water supplier. 

It has been hard to find work in Ireland, “because of the language problem it is difficult to find a good job,” he said via email. 

Pokyma, who resides outside Galway, remains unemployed while he gets a driver’s licence so he has transportation to potential jobs, which are up to 40 kilometres away, he wrote. He’s also working to refine his English “to find a good prestigious job,” Pokyma told Babylon. 

Zhyhilii’s English is improving daily, she said, as she’s attending the Drogheda Institute of Further Education to raise her level of qualification in childcare and education. She’s found that Ukrainian refugees as well as local people are struggling to find a solid job in Ireland. 

“Even these native speakers, even these citizens, they can’t find (an) appropriate job for them,” she told Babylon. “Because I’m in the different group, Irish group and this question is on the top (of mind), ‘Where we can find job?’ ‘Where we can find good salary?’” 

More than 19,500 Ukrainians have attended an employment event sponsored by Intreo, according to Monday’s data. The majority of attendees reported working previously, with “professionals” being the largest contingent of individuals. 

Ukrainian town devastated by the war
Knitted hat lying among debris in a Ukrainian City (Pexels.com)
Ukrainians determined to ‘dream’

Zhyhilii acknowledged that she may be able to find work cleaning or in sales, but after receiving two different diplomas in Ukraine, she wants to pursue her “dream” of teaching.

Pokyma has his own aspirations of opening a business at some point, and he already has several ideas. “I have plans to build my own business as there are not some goods that people need here,” he wrote.

There are times of happiness for Zhyhilii, who’s accompanied by her daughter, but there are also the sad realities of the invasion, as much of her family remains in Ukraine. Zhyhilii, like Pokyma, is thankful to be in Ireland. 

“So I’m grate(ful) to be here, I’m glad all these people, who helped us. I can see that these people try to give us as much as they can,” she said. 

The State’s “Supports for Ukrainians in Ireland” web page includes a section for those “Looking for work.” 

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Jacob Owens

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