Vera N. Held, B.A. Eng., Cert. PR., Tesl Cert., M.Ed.
Coach, facilitator, speaker, writer and PR consultant.
Author of international best-seller "How Not to Take it Personally".
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Features

THE IMMIGRANT WORKPLACE

by Vera N. Held

Each year more than 100,000 new Canadians settle in Ontario. And just how do they survive?

Survival in Canada is based on sheer perseverance, the ability to adapt, transfer and brush up on skills plus communication. “Not only is English a major work tool but it gives immigrants the pride of self-sufficiency”, says psychologist Dr. Laurie McNelles.

Prior to coming to Canada in 1998 from her native Bosnia Herzegovina, Ranka Savic, 46, was a bookkeeper, a social worker at an orphanage in Switzerland and she taught German. But to parlay her administrative and people skills in Canada, she first had to learn English.

 School boards, private language schools, colleges and universities all provide English as a second language (ESL) training. For 2003/2004, the Toronto District School Board will run 672 affordable ESL day, evening and weekend classes at 137 sites across the GTA. Enrolment figures for 2002/2003 exceeded 90,000 students.

Hands-on language training via the newspaper, radio and television complemented Savic’s English classes and helped her gain confidence. “Once I had the language, I could put together a resume and go on interviews.” But she did not know how to get a job.

“Back home we answered job ads. But we never interviewed so I had no idea how to sell myself.” Savic never doubted she could make a valuable contribution to Canada and two months after arriving, she told the property manager who hired her as a superintendent “you will not be sorry”.

An administrator now with Medallion Properties Inc., Savic recommends immigrants ask for help. “Don’t pretend you understand if you don’t. Speak up and ask for training. In my first job, a co-worker taught me the terminology of the property management industry.”

Terminology is field specific and to acquaint new immigrants with the province’s accounting practices, get them trained up and working, theGeneral Accountants (CGA) of Ontario does aggressive community outreach to organizations such as Skills for Change, Microskills and the Peel Region District School Board Centers . There are currently 15,000 CGAs and 7,000 CGA students in Ontario.

Since 1997 CGA has welcomed 360 foreign trained professionals to its ranks; all received additional training to meet professional accountants’ standards in Ontario. In 2002 alone, an increase of 200% from 2001, 78 new CGAs who received much of their training in a foreign country were certified.

But provincial standardization mechanisms to evaluate and validate previous experience are yet to be put in place. “There must be a way minus the tangible piece of paper to have prior learning and competence recognized and accepted”, director of Mothercraft’s institute for early development Dr. Laurie McNelles says.

Ninety-two percent of her all female clientele born outside of Canada are retraining in early childhood education. Although 46% completed post secondary education in a foreign country, they have either fled their country of origin, don’t have their certificates and diplomas, and as a result earn under $15,000 annually. “Our study suggests the credentials of immigrant women are under-used in Canada; this contributes to their economic instability.”

Sometimes you can be certified and still have to hunt for a job in your field. In 1986 Transport Canada recognized Daniel Littman’s aircraft mechanic licence from Israel but it took him two and a half years to land work in this niche industry. “To get Canadian work experience you need Canadian work experience but no one will hire you because you have no Canadian work experience.”

To complicate matters, Littman had done 12 years with the Israeli Air Force so for security reasons his resume could not detail specifics. At his interview with Pratt Whitney Corp., he told his perspective employer that it would be quickly evident whether or not he knew his stuff.

So in 1989, on a gentleman’s handshake, he received his break as a quality assurance inspector, and has been with Pratt ever since. “Immigrants deserve a chance to prove they can do the job. Pratt gave me a chance to share what I know.”

Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) aims to reduce the “Canadian working experience” barrier for foreign-trained engineers. Of the 65,000 engineers licenced by PEO, one third are foreign trained; 256 foreign trained engineers were granted licences in 2002, representing a 40% increase from 2001.

A prospective immigrant can apply from outside Canada before immigration plans are finalized to become licensed as a professional engineer in Ontario. Further, in 2003 The Professional Engineers Act was amended to grant provisional licences. After completing 12 months of Canadian engineering experience, supervised by a Canadian professional engineer, engineers can apply for the professional engineering (P.Eng.) licence.

And sometimes it just takes years to re-qualify. Romanian immigrant to Canada in 1975, psychiatrist Dr. Aneta Veisman first studied English, passed that test, then wrote two more qualifying exams for medical internship. She then secured an internship placement, did two years of rotating internships, that is she worked in all areas of medicine, and went on to a residency in psychiatry. “The medical community has always was kind and helpful to me.”

She opened her practice in 1984. “You have to keep focused on your goal. Do everything and do it well”, she advises. In 2004, Veisman hits her 20 th year in practice in Canada and still loves what she does daily.

 
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