A path to acceptance for immigrant professionals

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Wallace Immen
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
When Mohamad Sjamaun arrived in Toronto from Jakarta last year, he had high hopes of being able to use his skills and extensive managerial experience to land a professional job to be able to support his wife and four children.
He has a BA in engineering and added a masters degree in management, which led to 12 years of executive roles in technical sales and project co-ordinator for the Indonesian operations of Hewlett-Packard Co.
Since arriving in Canada, he has applied for managerial jobs at more than 100 companies without even getting a nibble. “I sent in resumes and cover letters about my experience and there was no follow up. “I was using up all my savings and couldn’t find any kind of work,” he says. To make ends meet he took a low-paying clerical job for a scrap metal company on two month contracts.
“Obviously I want to find something more permanent that uses my skills,” he says, such as a job as project co-ordinator or sales or technology manager. But to do that he’s realized he has to reinvent himself for the realities of the Canadian workplace.
It’s a reality the majority of skilled immigrants need to face, career experts say.
“Many immigrants face a job market that doesn’t know how to assess or use their skills, says Nora Priestly, project manager for a new Internationally Educated Professionals Bridging Program at York University. While similar programs have been in place to help immigrants in regulated professions such as engineering, medicine and nursing, this program aims to help immigrants with managerial experience use get into leadership roles.
With 67 students who got into the program by word of mouth and advertisements. They all have university degrees, and 57 per cent have masters or higher. The majority of the students have five or more years of experience in their professional fields, accounting marketing, public policy, finance and management.
All of them are underemployed or unemployed not working at all. all are actively looking for a job. Many are in “survival jobs” working in shops, security guards, driving cabs and working as volunteers in social programs that have only a modest pay attached to them, Ms. Priestly says.
Through York’s program Mr. Sjamaun has taken courses to upgrade his technical skills and even though he speaks fluent English, classes to improve business language skills. He also was teamed up with a volunteer mentor, who has helped him make industry contacts.
And it is bring results: “Networking landed my first interview with a potential employer last week,” he says. “I didn’t get the job, but it shows I am heading in the right direction.”
Why it’s important
“Canada will need more immigrants if the labour force is to grow and remain vibrant,” concludes a Conference Board of Canada study released this month (July). A low birth rate in Canada means that there will be fewer workers entering the job force to replace those retiring.

The Conference Board’s forecast assumes that immigration levels will rise to about 350,000 annually by 2030, up from about 252,000 in 2009. To put their skills to use, the study recommends revising federal immigration policies to:
1. Increase the weight given to immigrant’s skills that are needed in the Canadian market;
2. Improve recognition of foreign educational and professional credentials.
3. Increase involvement of employers in the process of getting immigrants into the labour force.
4. Streamline the immigration system.

Roadblocks immigrants face:
Lack of “Canadian experience.” Employers often want a track record to show that employees can perform up to expectations in the Canadian workplace.
Unfamiliar degrees or certification. Employers can’t be sure that foreign credentials have the same qualifications as those granted in Canada.
Language barriers. Even those who speak English or French will be unfamiliar with specific terms and phrases used in Canadian businesses
Lack of industry knowledge. Legal, financial and regulatory issues specific to Canada will require retraining.
Lack of connections. A majority of jobs are found through networking and knowledge of industries, which is where mentoring can help.

Source: York University, Bridging Internationally Educated Professionals program
Number of distinct ethnic groups represented in Canada’s population
Percentage of Canada’s population that are visible minorities
Percentage of all Canadian managers who are from visible minorities
Percentage of senior managers in large Canadian companies who are visible minorities
Percentage of foreign-educated immigrants in Canada who worked in occupations that match their qualifications; compared to 62 per cent of Canadian-born and educated professionals
Percentage of visible minority leaders and managers in the Greater Toronto Area
Percentage of Toronto’s population that is visible minorities
Percentage of Canadian employers who don’t have a diversity program

Sources: Statistics Canada.; the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants; Ryerson University's Diversity Institute for DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project; Globe and Mail web poll with 3,214 responses

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