New Canadian Media

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

New online programs are looking at how work is done in other parts of the world in order to more easily transfer newcomers’ skills to the Canadian job market. 

Abigail Fulton presented the British Columbia Construction Association's (BCCA) Integrating Newcomers program on Mar. 4 at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto. 

The program was one of two B.C.-based collaborative business plans showcased in the panel discussion “Facilitating Labour Market Integration to Skilled Trades”. The programs cater specifically to the construction market and offer an innovative way to reach immigrants who practise labour work in their home countries. 

“Many construction companies tend to look within their circles for hiring,” explained Fulton. “They employ their friends and family. Because of this, those who don’t fit into that category have a harder time finding work.” 

She explained that the integration program helps fill a gap, as 85 per cent of construction companies in B.C. have less than 10 employees.

... [U]nderstanding how construction is done in other countries [is] research Fulton calls “invaluable.”

An important aspect of the program is understanding how construction is done in other countries – research Fulton calls “invaluable.” 

Addressing competency gaps 

The BCCA Integrating Newcomers program focuses on assessing the skills of potential immigrants overseas as well as providing information about working and living in B.C., and later, employment leads. 

It is an example of several pre-arrival tactics that use online programs to properly survey, assess, mentor and inform newcomers about Canada’s workforce and labour market. 

Alongside this research is preparation for newcomers who want to settle in Canada and partake in the labour workforce. This is where the second business module called Facilitating Access to Skill Trades (FAST) comes into play. 

“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know.”

Sangeeta Subramanian of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC of BC) and Lawrence Parisotto of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) presented FAST as a competency assessment and gap training tool for skill trades individuals. 

Parisotto says the program is “explicit and direct.” 

“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know,” said Parisotto. “The way to do that is being contextual and dependent between our content so that it provides and addresses outcomes.”  

Getting credentials recognized in advance 

FAST’s online application is collaborated with Shift IQ, a cloud-based learning management company. 

Shift IQ provides detailed diagnostics, validation, gap identification, post assessments and contributes to the e-mentoring program that guides and coaches a person through understanding the trades and services. 

The research BCCA Integrating Newcomers and FAST partake in both concluded that one of the main things immigrants should complete pre-arrival is getting their credentials recognized. 

Similar advice was mentioned in the “Seamless Service from Pre- to Post-Arrival in Canada” workshop.  

Maha Surani, a senior program officer and stakeholder at the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) said that research done by Planning for Canada to align newcomers with sector specific jobs showed that 63 per cent of employers encouraged pre-arrival immigrants to have their credentials assessed. 

Surani spoke on Planning for Canada’s collaboration with Acces Employment, a company connecting employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds. 

“There’s nothing generic about our work, which enhances the program altogether,” said Sue Sadler, a senior director of services and program development at Acces. 

“We have sector-specific training, and then follow through with a job search,” explained Sadler. “We then have business communications with our clients, the employers. All of this is done to connect our pre-arrival candidates to employers.” 

[I]t is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity.

Connecting with employers 

Acces Employment’s continuum module is enabled by online technology to enhance the job search of immigrants early on. The eight-week program caters to six sector-specific markets – engineering, human resources, finance, sales and marketing, supply chain and information technology. 

Markus Van Aardt, the business communications consultant behind the program, said that “folks are hungry for this information.” 

He explained the learning principle of the program: Immigrants usually start off being non-conscious and non-competent of the skills required for each of their desired job sectors. 

“I’ve walked in these folks’ shoes, it’s important to make sure they are in good hands,” said Van Aardt adamantly. 

“Newcomers want this information. They will drive you, and you don’t have to drive them. They will move quickly in the learning process, from being non-conscious, non-competence to conscious, [competence],” he said, using a diagram outlining the process of adult learning to illustrate his point. 

Enid Pico, senior vice-president and head of operations and share services at Scotiabank, spoke from an employer’s perspective. 

As the first female president of Scotiabank Puerto Rico and once a newcomer to Canada, she shared her encounters as a newcomer to the country and stated that while a pre-arrival program that prepares immigrants for job specific sectors is important, it is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity. 

“These cross-competency relationships are important. [Scotiabank] believes in diversity. It’s the right and smart thing to do,” said Pico. “Because of this, it’s important for us to find units and partners [like Planning for Canada and Acces] so that we can work with them to give us what we need.” 

Acces Employment and FAST’s pre-arrival modules will launch later on this year and the BCCA’s Integrating Newcomers program is now accepting applications.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy
Monday, 16 December 2013 14:49

Why immigrants play down their woes

by Lisa Deacon

The English conversation group that I facilitate here in Ottawa is busy with chatter.  With this week’s theme of My Life in Canada, I raise one more point for discussion: “What advice would you give to a friend or family member who is considering coming to Canada?”

The room erupts with storytelling and debate.  Deeply familiar with the challenges and opportunities that have shaped their own immigration experience, each of the 20 participants has an opinion and speaks freely: “Bring a lot of money!” “Know how to look for a job in Canada!” and “Buy a very warm winter coat!” are just a few of the many practical suggestions that emerge.      

In addition to practising their English, participants keenly identify with each other's anecdotes of culture shock and adaptation.  A sense of camaraderie takes hold within the group, and lasting bonds are formed. I am of course, delighted.

But before we finish for the day, the group concedes that it is nearly impossible to fully prepare someone for the experience of immigrating to Canada. Considering that the number of permanent immigrants to Canada each year hovers around a quarter-million (and is expected to remain at this level 2014), the weight of such a concession from those with first-hand experience should not be ignored.    

Immigrants to Canada arrive with more qualifications than the average Canadian; yet to the chagrin of economists and community builders, this group also experiences distressing rates of unemployment and low wages.

Keeping up appearances

While this trend is widely recognized in Canada, a team of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan recently discovered that many prospective immigrants lack realistic expectations when it comes to finding skills-commensurate work in Canada.  In their study, Kara Somerville and Scott Walsworth found that not only are immigrants playing a primary role in providing pre-arrival information for their friends and relatives abroad, but this same group is often under considerable social pressure to minimize their struggles and depict Canada as a land of ease and opportunity. 

From my perspective, helping immigrants to settle and integrate in Canada, the labour market outcomes of those who arrive with unrealistic expectations are predictable: these job-seekers are surprised and frustrated by the challenges they encounter; they feel isolated in their struggle; and worst of all, they lack the proper tools to overcome their barriers to meaningful employment.     

While participants within the English conversation group are open with one another about their challenges, they are just as up-front about painting a rosy picture of their experience in Canada for friends and relatives abroad. Their first-hand accounts reveal complex reasons for choosing to highlight the positive and downplay their sometimes less-than-ideal circumstance. Here are just three scenarios that participants have shared with me (pseudonyms used to protect privacy):

The breadwinner: Mariana, a live-in caregiver and single mother from Eastern Europe hopes to one day sponsor her son and mother to come to Canada. For now, she supports her family from afar by sending remittances as often as she can. To protect her mother from worry and apprehension, Mariana chooses to describe the beauty of Canada and the friendliness of its people rather than dwell on her sacrifice and feeling of isolation. Indeed, Mariana admits to the group that her more favourable depiction of life in Canada also keeps her own attitude positive and shields her from the depression that many immigrants experience. 

The homesickRaul from South America decided to follow his brother to Canada after hearing stories of the economic opportunities within his field of accounting.  Soon after arrival, Raul discovered that he would need to invest years of education in pursuit of an accounting designation to find commensurate work in his field. In hindsight, Raul shares with the group that the pre-arrival information he received was likely heavily influenced by his brother’s homesickness and desire to have relatives close by. 

Family influenceFinally, there was Bedisa from Central Asia who had worked extensively for prestigious international development agencies before choosing Canada. Coming from a close-knit family environment, Bedisa is the only member of her family who has left her hometown. Before departing, she worked hard to convince her loved ones that the opportunity in Canada was worth putting such a long distance between them. Some of her relatives now refuse to speak to Bedisa because of their sense of betrayal. Despite her need for support, Bedisa refuses to speak of her challenges with family back home, fearing additional scorn and pressure to return.

These anecdotes only scratch the surface of the dynamic interplay between experience, family roles, cultural norms, and social expectations that shape the pre-arrival information shared across diaspora networks and familial ties.  What remains clear is that immigrants to Canada are primary resources for friends and family abroad: they are accessible, have a stake in their friend or relative’s success in Canada, and can provide first-hand perspective.

Reaching out

But immigrants to Canada should not have to shoulder this responsibility on their own. Pre-arrival service providers are now emerging, providing objective and often customized information that will help prepare future immigrants for Canada. Three publicly-funded pre-arrival programs were recently featured at a national settlement conference:

·The Nova Scotia Start Program;

·The  Canadian Orientation Abroad program, administered by the International Organization for Migration; and

·The Canadian Immigrant Integration Program

While publicly-funded programs remain limited in scope and have eligibility criteria, private-sector organizations are also emerging in the form of relocation firms and settlement and integration consultants. If you are an immigrant to Canada who is approached for pre-arrival information, referring your family and friends to these services ensures that they will receive accurate information to help them succeed. 

Research continues to show us that the immigrant experience in Canada is complex, yet I see a bright future for the group of participants who come to the English conversation group. In addition to their first-hand experience as immigrants to Canada, they all have three things in common – a commitment to their own success here, a positive attitude which will go far in making it a reality, and a clear understanding of the challenges they face and the services available to help them succeed.

Lisa Deacon is an independent consultant who has supported the settlement and integration of hundreds of immigrants to Canada through My Canada Plan

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Katrina Murray

Anyone who has experienced immigration knows what a roller-coaster the journey can be.  The reality of arriving in a new country – usually without employment, often without friends and family, and always without familiarity – can rock even the most confident newcomer to their core. Add to that unexpected hurdles with respect to licensure, credential assessment, skill gaps, communication issues and the need for “Canadian” work experience, and the unfortunate result can be wasted human capital. 

A decade ago, the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada highlighted the extent of this wasted capital. It showed that only 44 per cent of newcomers were employed after six months in Canada, and that of those working, 60 per cent were not in the same or a related field. Even after two years in Canada, almost 30 per cent remained unemployed and most had not regained the level of responsibility they had enjoyed in their country of origin. 

Ironically, while newcomers were trying to find appropriate positions, employers were struggling to find the skilled employees needed to help their businesses prosper and grow.

Being positioned at a pivotal point between immigrants and employers, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) has designed a program to address this disconnect.

A team of newcomers at ACCC designed the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) to ensure that future immigrants would know what to expect and receive practical help even before they landed in Canada. The CIIP recipe is a simple one: begin with overseas delivery of relevant, accurate information about opportunities and challenges; add a customized My Action Plan (MAP) for each client focused on key actions to be taken before departure and upon arrival; and, combine this with online assistance from a network of partners across Canada.

“CIIP has provided me with very useful information both generic and specific to my field.  Now I am in a position to identify what to do next. I am not confused anymore. I know there is a big challenge ahead and I know how to prepare myself for that.” says Arsalan, who participated in the program last December.

Reality check

CIIP provides a reality check for immigrants, allowing them to prepare while still overseas for economic and social success in Canada. Canadian-trained orientation officers ask their clients the tough questions: what factors should influence your choice of destination; how can your transferable skills broaden your job search; what do you need to do to improve your job-readiness; how should you adapt your job-search and workplace norms to meet Canadian standards? But they also provide guidance on finding the answers and they offer access to critical resources that were once available only after landing.

CIIP works with credential assessment agencies and regulatory bodies to offer webinars and even conduct exams overseas. Through partnerships with colleges, CIIP participants have access to online competency-assessment tools and bridging programs to fill skill gaps. They are referred directly to appropriate immigrant-serving organizations to ease the settlement process.

Some CIIP participants receive pre-arrival job-search assistance, while others qualify for accelerated access to paid internships. Through a partnership the Information and Communications Technology Council, some participants even secure firm job offers while still overseas. An unexpected outcome of the program is that it has helped to strengthen links among Canadian agencies that support newcomers.

Delivering results

CIIP has produced startling results since its launch in 2007. More than 20,000 newcomers have taken advantage of the program offered in over 25 countries via offices in China, India, the Philippines, and the UK, which also serves northern Europe and the Gulf. A 2010 evaluation revealed that 62 per cent of CIIP participants found employment within six months of landing (three quarters of whom within only three months), and 60 per cent were working in their field or a closely-related one.

More recent data collected by CIIP’s funder, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, indicates that 72 per cent of program participants were employed at the 12-month point. Immigrant-serving organizations, colleges and even employers confirm that CIIP participants stand out from the crowd in being better prepared, more confident, and ultimately more competitive. 

Successes include Abhiji, a social worker from India, who conscientiously followed all the steps in his MAP. While still overseas, he contacted the Canadian partners, initiated credential assessment, worked with Skills International to improve his job-search, and even set up a website to share his experience with others. Once in Canada, he volunteered, completed a healthcare-focused workplace communication course at a college, achieved licensure and, after seven months, obtained a job in his field. “I truly believe that CIIP has played a very critical role in our humble achievements till date. CIIP's job search strategies were very practical and I did everything they asked me to do. Probably, these were the reasons for getting into my field in a noticeable time,” says Abhiji.

Ronke Majekodumni, a U.K.-based CIIP participant also took advantage of the MAP to guide her pre-arrival preparation. She contacted Canadian partners, had her credentials assessed, achieved licensure as an accountant, secured the support of an online mentor and also worked on improving her job-search skills. “As a result of this, I had more insight on what to expect and how to upgrade my skills in order to give me that competitive edge,” says Majekodumni. These efforts contributed to her success in securing a Senior Financial Analyst position within 20 days of landing.   

“It’s hard to describe all things that I learned from CIIP. To make it short, CIIP gave me hope, helped me to have a better image of what I was going to face, and helped me to determine priorities,” says Farshid, who landed in Alberta in October 2011 and found a cost specialist position within three months.

Katrina Murray is the Regional Director for the CIIP U.K./Gulf office based in London, U.K. She immigrated to Canada from the U.K. almost 20 years ago and since then set up and managed her own small business before joining the Association of Canadian Community Colleges.

CIIP is a free, pre-departure program offered in person and online to Federal Skilled Workers and Provincial Nominees in the latter stages of the immigration process in over 25 countries. Those eligible can register at: www.newcomersuccess.ca 

 

Published in Commentary

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