Immigrants competing on level field.
More and more companies interested in newcomers’ skills and abilities.

Montreal Gazette
Saturday, April 18, 2009

Derek Sankey
Canwest News Service

Some Canadian companies are recognizing the foreign credentials of new immigrants at face value, levelling the playing field so they can compete with other Canadians in the workforce at the same level.

The year’s list of Canada’s Best Employers for New Canadians, as ranked by Mediacorp, includes companies more interested in the skills and abilities of newcomers than where they gained their degrees.

Kashmira Desai found herself on the other side of the coin when she arrived in Canada almost four years ago with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s of business administration in finance from India.

Despite strong foreign qualifications and two years experience with a bank in India, the financial institutions she applied to would not recognize her credentials and insisted she take up to 35 small courses – courses typically required of Canadians with only a high school education.

“I had been applying for jobs like crazy, but had not been getting a break,” Desai said. “One of the most frustrating things for me has been that I have good academic qualifications from India and experience with a bank with good references, but I was required to take all these small courses.”

She persevered and when she moved to Winnipeg from Toronto because of her husband’s job relocation, she applied to the Business Development Bank of Canada.

“To my surprise, they never asked for any kind of course from me,” Desai said. “They just measure the skills of people who are entering the organization.”

BDC and companies like western Canadian consulting firm Focus Corp., aviation technology leader CAE Inc. and SaskEnergy Inc. are among those firms on the best employers list with programs in place to recognize foreign credentials and support employees in gaining Canadian certification where applicable.

“When the education is not in Canada, well, it’s just not in Canada,” said Cecile Cournoyer, director of talent management at BDC’s head office in Montreal. “To us, it’s not an obstacle, it’s just normal business practice. To me, it seems normal, but . . . it appears it’s not as common practice as I thought it was.”

BDC has recruitment specialists who use various tools, including a one-hour exam, to determine the skills of new immigrants trained abroad. They have specific criteria for each job that determine skill levels, check references for education and experience, then select the best candidates based on that information.

Pascale Alpha, a spokeswoman for Montreal-based CAE Inc., which manufactures and sells flight simulators and trains pilots around the world, says her company’s global nature – they have customers in 100 countries, employees in 60 and a workforce that speaks 90 languages – means that foreign credentials are often an asset.

“It is of great value for CAE to have employees that speak the same language as our customers,” she said. “We feel that employees with diverse backgrounds make a unique contribution to CAE.”

CAE recognizes international undergraduate degrees on par with Canadian colleges and universities, provides educational subsidies for new Canadian employees taking courses to improve their skills or obtain Canadian equivalency, and offers free in-house English and French language courses on weeknights.

“We help new Canadians build their careers by recognizing their education they got elsewhere,” said Alpha. “We look for the best people around the world. One of the key values of CAE is innovation.”

For Desai, a customer service officer for BDC, it meant the opportunity to demonstrate her abilities in a supportive environment without barriers.

“I really felt respected when I was offered this position because they didn’t ask for other things (and) they trusted me for whatever skills I would bring with me to contribute to their current projects,” she said.

“The kind of welcome they have given me is just awesome,” she said. “They have made me feel like I belong to this team and I no longer feel like I’m a new immigrant. I feel like I’m a Canadian working with BDC.”

Reference: Montreal Gazette