Edmonton Social Planning Council - Research Reviews & Updates

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Valorizing Immigrant’s Non-Canadian Work Experience.

Report from Canadian Council on Learning, 2009.

As a result of Canada’s low birth rate, and the retirement of an aging population, immigrant workers are becoming increasingly important in Canada’s labour force. This report explores foreign work experience and its role in the assessment and recognition of immigrants’ qualifications for Canadian jobs.

The identified barriers that immigrants face when searching for work in Canada include (1) lack of recognition for foreign credentials, (2) language barrier, and (3) the lack of valorization of foreign work experience. Unfortunately, most programs and initiatives today are only designed to address the first two.

This becomes a major problem, placing immigrants in a Catch 22 situation where they are unable to get a job without Canadian experience, and are unable to get Canadian experience without a job.

This report further examines foreign work experience through innovative practices, challenges, and government support

Innovative Practices to Valorizing Foreign Work Experience

One innovative practice includes the preparation, organization, and conduct of interviews. Organizations such as RBC, Assiniboine Credit Union, and Manulife train or coach immigrant applicants in cross cultural communication techniques to explain and understand how foreign experience relates to the Canadian labour market. This approach requires thatimmigrants learn about the cultural context of the Canadian workplace, the Canadian labour market, and the operations and informal culture of the industry sector; and recruiters and managers learn about the different effects of cultural differences on communication.

Innovative practices also include bridging programs that integrate immigrants’ foreign experience into the assessment of their knowledge and skills, the demonstration of competencies, resume preparation and job searches, and customized internships and placements. These bridging programs are evident in a few organizations including The Immigrant Skilled Trades Employment Program (ISTEP), Workplace Integration of Newcomers (WIN), and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Challenges

One of the prevailing challenges is the lack of recognition by employers of the value of work experience acquired outside Canada. This is often due to the inability of employers to understand how foreign work experience may relate to the Canadian workplace and contribute to it. This causes many employers to simply refuse foreign work experience as valid experience for employment.This report also argues that the “diversity advantage” that immigrants with foreign experience can bring to our economy to enhance our international competitiveness is utilized by few employers; some who may even argue that it does not exist.Addressing this problem will require investments of time, effort, and money to provide effective communication and well-designed education and training.

Government Support
Many innovative practices for valorizing foreign work experience have been exercised by the Immigrant Settlement Agencies (ISAs), with support from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Immigrant Settlement and Adaption Program and some provincial governments. As well the federal government’s Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) program in late 2003 with a budget of $68 million stimulated a variety of initiatives.

These initiatives have resulted in an increased openness among employers to understand the experience and needs of immigrants, and to take unaccustomed risks in recruitment, hiring, and workplace integration practices.

Promising Developments
Although there are many promising developments surrounding the issue of valorizing foreign work experience, it is evident that Canada's employers and governments still face many challenges in creating a smooth transition for immigrants looking for work in Canada. Organizations must begin to recognize and value immigrant experience to not only address the trending worker shortage in Canada, but to also identify the opportunity of hiring immigrants as a ‘diversity advantage’ where they are gaining new skills and experience that will further drive organizations to new strengths and economic competitiveness.

Read this report if you are an organization interested in valorizing foreign work experience, or are an individual interested in immigration work related issues.

Read the report online.

Review by Darlene Paranaque