Building bridges to a career in Canada

The first cohort of students for the new Bridging Program for Internationally Educated Professionals attended an orientation session on April 24. Classes started May 1 with 68 internationally educated professionals (IEPs) – from 34 countries, including Armenia, China, Guatemala and Romania – ready to get what they need to qualify for jobs that match their credentials and experience.

Above: The first cohort of internationally educated professionals pose for a photo with York staff and faculty prior to beginning their classes on May 1

The new bridging program, which is housed in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, focuses on business and information technology and targets IEPs in the areas of accounting; auditing; emergency/disaster management; finance; logistics and supply chain management; management; marketing; public administration; application development; systems analysis; and IT auditing and assurance.

Although there are many bridging programs offered at universities and colleges across the country that provide training and skills development to IEPs looking to tap into the Ontario job market, York’s program for internationally trained professionals is different in key ways. The program offers a comprehensive, individualized assessment and action plan tailored to each student. Courses are designed in direct partnership with the business and IT sectors. Funding from the Government of Ontario means that the cost for students enrolling in the program is minimal. IEPs get experience solving real challenges with local organizations through experiential education and benefit from mentorship with industry professionals.

Right: The IEP Office staff. From left, Briana Sim, Nora Priestly, Kelly Thomson, David Narine and Himanshi Joshi

“Our program offers a one-stop shop for training, mentoring, specialized skills and networking opportunities,” says Nora Priestly, project manager in York’s IEP office. “We know that it can take up to 15 years for immigrants to fully integrate into Canadian society both on a personal and on a professional level. Our goal is to cut down this integration period significantly and to get foreign-trained professionals working at an appropriate level that matches their education and experience.”

York has already established itself as a leader in helping skilled internationally trained professionals integrate successfully into the Canadian labour market. The new bridging program draws on the strengths of the University’s nursing bridge program, which launched in 2005. In August 2009, as part of a provincial strategy to help newcomers to Canada get the training they need to find a job in their field, the Government of Ontario committed to investing more than $5.2 million towards these two York programs (see YFile, Aug. 21, 2009). 

Left: Members of the first class of internationally educated professionals take part in an orientation workshop

“York recognizes the strengths that immigrants bring to Canada, and we are committed to developing programs that help to serve the needs of these new Canadians while addressing the demands of employers right here in Ontario,” says Martin Singer, dean of LA&PS. "Our program helps broaden career options for employers and potential employees alike. Internationally educated professionals bring global experience that will contribute significantly to the international competitiveness of local companies.

The new bridge training program is timely. According to projections released in March by Statistics Canada, by 2031 almost 26 per cent of Canada’s population will be foreign-born – and, between now and then, the foreign-born population of Canada could increase approximately four times faster than the rest of the population. This shifting Canadian demographic is due, in part, to real and projected labour shortages. As the economy grows and baby boomers retire, it is estimated that there will not be enough Canadian-born workers to meet the demand for skilled labour.

“Immigrant professionals bring with them a wealth of knowledge, international networks, experience and languages that can benefit organizations and increase their global competitive advantage,” says Professor Kelly Thomson, Faculty lead for the program. “Recent immigrants have accounted for 70 per cent of Canada’s net growth in the labour force during the past decade and it is expected that within the next few years that most, if not all, net labour growth will come from immigration.”

Some Canadian employers already value the skills immigrant professionals bring to the workplace and aren’t waiting for this shift in demographics to tap into their experience. Forty-five employers – including Research in Motion (RIM), Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers – have brought their expertise to the table and currently sit as partners on professional advisory groups that overlook York’s new program to ensure that IEPs get the most up-to-date, leading-edge training.

Right: Students learn more about each other during an orientation session

“This program has very much been developed, and continues to evolve, thanks to our community and industry partners,” says Thomson. “We are very grateful for their contributions and acknowledge the important role they play in the success of our program and in the success of our IEPs. Our partners are leaders in tackling the issues that IEPs face and in challenging some of the beliefs employers have about what IEPs can bring to the table.”

One of the largest misconceptions about IEPs is that they are not qualified or that they lack experience and skills. York’s incoming cohort proves that this simply isn’t the case – out of 57 IEPs who responded to a survey the IEP office developed, 58 per cent hold master’s degrees and more than 70 per cent have more than six years of experience in their fields. What they do require is a more comprehensive understanding of the Canadian labour market and skills and knowledge specific to Canadian employers. As one IEP notes, what they really need is not another degree, it is a nuanced understanding of the “unwritten rules” that are essential to success in Canadian workplace culture.

Mohamad Sjamaun worked for 12 years in the field of information and communication technology before coming to Canada. Since his arrival in Ontario in April 2009, he has had no luck finding work in his field. His main hopes are to brush up on his communication skills, to let future employers know what he’s capable of and to hone his IT skills so they match what’s required in the Canadian workplace.

“Most of us have knowledge, skills and degrees,” he says. “We just need a helping hand to guide us in finding work in our field and in obtaining a meaningful professional life here in Canada.”

Applications for the IEP program are currently being accepted for September 2010. For more information, click here