Event brings internationally educated professionals and employers together

An all-day networking event held recently in the Underground restaurant on York’s Keele campus connected 60 students from York University’s Bridging Program for Internationally Educated Professionals (IEP) with employers and professionals from 20 local companies and associations.

“Linking students with large and small businesses and associations is just one of the ways York’s bridge training program sets itself apart,” said Nora Priestly, project manager in York’s IEP office. “We’re committed to providing skilled immigrant professionals with insight into Ontario business and culture through professional mentorship, internships, real-life case studies, guest speakers and up-to-date course content. The event is the first of many we are organizing that will enable our IEPs to connect directly with decision-makers in their industry.”

Above: Small round-table discussions following each panel presentation gave the IEPs an opportunity to get feedback from employers and professionals

Students received career advice from executives and hiring managers of some of the leading businesses and associations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including IBM, Ernst & Young, Siemens Canada Limited, Kraft Foods – Cadbury, Certified General Accountants of Ontario, The Logistics Institute and TD Canada Trust.

The event, which took place on Sept. 28, featured a series of panel sessions and provided IEPs with the inside scoop from employers on hiring trends, expectations for the Canadian workplace and advice on how to overcome some of the challenges they may face in their job hunt. They had the chance to ask some of their most pressing questions, such as: How can I get Canadian experience without having a job? What are the types of soft skills that employers are looking for? How do I tap into the hidden job market? What are the benefits of earning my designation?

During small round-table discussions that followed each panel, employers provided students with individual feedback on their resumés. Some went beyond that, giving tips on how to succeed in a job interview, inviting students to apply for positions within their organization and offering to become professional mentors.

“It was an opportunity to be exposed to people we never would have imagined meeting and talking to,” said Angella Idiat (left), who is originally from Uganda. Idiat is hoping to get a job in the area of logistics/supply chain management. “Most people there understood exactly what we’re going through – they were either immigrants themselves or knew of someone who faced the same challenges. It was a big step towards networking with the right people and getting out of our comfort zones.”

Employers at the event quickly learned that York’s IEPs don’t lack any qualifications or credentials. Currently, 58 per cent of them hold graduate degrees, 70 per cent have six or more years of professional work experience and most speak two or more languages. They come from countries such as China, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia, bringing with them international connections and fresh global perspectives from emerging markets and economies.

So why are they struggling to find jobs in the GTA?

“Many of York’s IEPs are in what they call ‘survival jobs’ – jobs that they are overqualified for, but that help them to put food on the table,” said Priestly. “Though they have the qualifications and experience, they’re lacking knowledge that’s specific to the Ontario workplace. Our foundation courses cover these topics and contact with employers further enlightens them on how to position their strengths at an interview.”

Right: Media were interested in the event

Fiona Macfarlane learned when she immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1987 that getting a job was going to be a lot harder than she thought – and not because she wasn’t qualified. Though she’s moved quite quickly up the ranks at Ernst & Young, currently managing partner, people, Macfarlane has made it a priority to advocate on behalf of other immigrant professionals.

During a special ceremony at the event, the bridging program office presented her with the inaugural makeMORE Ontario Connections Award, recognizing her efforts in championing initiatives that promote the successful integration of IEPs in Ontario business communities. Macfarlane has provided mentorship to many newcomers, led several diversity initiatives in her own company and tirelessly encouraged businesses to hire foreign-trained professionals by debunking some of the stereotypes and uncertainties – Are their qualifications equivalent to Canada? Will language be a barrier? – that employers often have about IEPs.

Above: Martin Singer (left), dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York Professor Younes Benslimane,  award-winner Fiona Macfarlane and Patrick Monahan, York vice-president academic & provost

“Ms. Macfarlane exemplifies the key role our partners play,” said Martin Singer, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “The award recognizes her commitment and advocacy work, helping match organizations and businesses that want to strengthen their global competitive edge with experienced and qualified immigrant professionals.”

Left: Martin Singer

Singer and Patrick Monahan, York vice-president academic & provost, spoke directly to students and employers at the event about the value of York’s partnerships and the University’s continued commitment to extending its reach into global communities.

Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of citizenship & immigration, could not be present for the event but passed along a central message: “The Ontario government understands that helping newcomers find work in their profession or trade is an economic imperative for our province. Our bridge training programs are making a difference – helping thousands of newcomers get the training and local experience they need to get licensed and certified to work. With community partners such as York University, and with the support of Ontario employers, we are continuing to improve the lives of newcomers so that we can build a stronger province.”

Visit the IEP Bridging Program website for more information on the networking event and what the program offers for new Canadians.