Winnipeg Sun
February 3, 2009

Mindelle Jacobs

It was an easily overlooked line in last week’s federal budget — an extra $50 million to boost Canada’s foreign credential recognition program.

But it could eventually mean the difference between a skilled immigrant staying in Canada or leaving for better opportunities elsewhere.

“Everybody knows a cab driver who has a PhD in something and can’t find employment in their field,” says Paul Swinwood, president of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

If Canada doesn’t do a better job of integrating newcomers, they’ll just pack up and leave, he warns.

“What a tremendous waste. Somebody comes here and spends five or six years trying to get into their field, doesn’t get into it, and says, ‘My God, I can go back home and be a senior engineer again.’ “

While it’s true that we’re in a terrible economic downturn and people are losing their jobs, especially in the battered manufacturing sector, we have to look to the future. And immigrants are going to save our butts.

There wasn’t much thought about actually integrating immigrants into the workforce in the past. We just brought them in and more or less left them to their own devices.

But word got out that life for skilled immigrants in Canada wasn’t exactly as advertised — as any foreign-educated professional delivering pizza will tell you. We have been doing a dismal job of helping newcomers get their education and skills recognized.

But there are signs Ottawa is serious about using the skills of immigrants — not wasting them. The $50 million announced last week is a top-up to the $73 million allocated in 2003-04 for Ottawa’s foreign credential recognition program.

And, little by little, it will help more immigrants get jobs in their fields. In Vancouver, for instance, the ICTC has set up a mentoring program to provide new immigrants with IT backgrounds with the business and cultural language skills necessary to get a job.

Most newcomers know enough English or French to survive but don’t necessarily have job-specific communications skills, says Swinwood.

The goal is to help foreign-trained IT professionals out of the pizza-delivery business and into satisfying jobs as, say, software designers or programmers.

Expand the project

The ICTC wants to expand the pilot project across the country.

“We’re hoping there will be more opportunities for this sort of thing — and not only for our sector,” says Swinwood. “Most of the knowledge sectors need to do this sort of thing.”

The council has also developed online self-assessment tools to help prospective immigrants understand what kind of skills Canadian employers are looking for.

“Once they get through the immigration process, they get here with a set of expectations that is not always accurate,” says Swinwood.

The Canadian ICT sector needs to recruit up to 180,000 workers by 2015, according to the council.

There are also shortages of engineers in parts of the country, especially in the West, says Deborah Wolfe, of Engineers Canada.

Her organization just got federal funding to review its licensing process to see if there’s a more efficient way of licensing engineers without lowering standards.

In Ontario, Wolfe notes, there are now more foreign-trained than Canadian-trained engineers applying for licensure. Engineers Canada has also asked for funding to develop a language assessment tool specific to engineering technology.

“An employer is not going to hire you unless you can communicate,” she says. For immigrants, she adds, “it’s a tough situation.”

Reference: Winnipeg Sun