Program builds soft skills, helps IEPs network

Access to mentoring, internships especially important for career
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/19/2010

As a global company with operations in 190 countries, Siemens sees internationally educated professionals (IEPs) as part of the family and essential to business success, said Michael Haynes, director of procurement in the industry sector at Siemens Canada.

IEPs not only bring their skills and capabilities to the workforce, but cultural diversity opens the doors to business opportunities in Canada, the United States and around the world, said Haynes, who is based in Burlington, Ont.

However, with only 24 per cent of foreign-educated professionals finding an equivalent position in their industry when they come to Canada, according to Statistics Canada, many employers aren’t recognizing their value.

Business and information technology IEPs have the experience and skills to drive a business forward and increase shareholder value, said Haynes, who attended an event organized by York University’s Bridging Program for Internationally Educated Professionals in Toronto last month. The program, which launched earlier this year with support from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, focuses on helping internationally trained business and IT professionals attain professional licences in Ontario and find suitable jobs in their field.

IEPs need to work on their networking, sales and marketing skills to help them find jobs in Canada and grow their careers, said Haynes.

“Successful business people, you’ll find that most of them... moved up the line because of their ability to communicate and sell themselves,” he said.

This kind of advice is exactly why York University organized the event that brought together about 120 bridging program students, government partners, professional associations and employers, including CIBC, IBM and Siemens, said Nora Priestly, program manager of the bridging program.

The participating employers offered IEPs advice on how to find jobs in Canada, how to position their resumés and how to succeed in interviews, she said. They suggested the professionals highlight all their relevant Canadian experience, including volunteer work, tailor resumés to the job at hand and speak confidently about themselves and their skills during interviews, said Priestly.

York University’s program takes eight to 16 months to complete, depending on whether students are full time or part time. All students have to take the program’s foundation courses, which include communications, management skills, and business ethics and law.

These courses were created in consultation with employers and associations to fill the typical gaps IEPs have in their soft skills when they come to Canada, said Priestly.

After the foundation courses, each student’s work and educational background is evaluated by a faculty member who designs a program of specialized-skills courses that meets the student’s needs and career aspirations.

“The program ends up being individualized and tailored,” said Priestly.

Students also have access to mentoring and internships, she said.

This is especially important in helping IEPs develop networks, something most of them don’t have when they come to Canada and which are key to helping IEPs find jobs, said Priestly.

But networks don’t have to be made up of only professional contacts, said Chandra Williams, a senior manager of corporate diversity at TD Bank Financial Group who was also part of the bridging program event at York University.

Networks can be built through volunteer experience, parent groups and other interest groups, she said.

“Every opportunity should be viewed as an opportunity to network,” said Williams. “You’re widening the amount of people you know who can get to know you better and who can then help you in terms of your search.”

HR can do more for IEPs

While human resources professionals are doing a better job of understanding IEPs and what they have to offer an organization, they can still do more, said Priestly.

“We would encourage and welcome more HR professionals becoming involved in and knowing more about these bridging programs and knowing more about who these people are,” she said.

“(IEPs) have a lot to offer and I think they are going to make tremendous contributions to our job market.”

TD Bank Financial Group has several initiatives to recruit and support IEPs, including working with ACCES Employment Services in the Toronto area, said Williams. The agency has a financial services connection program through which the bank has hired 28 people this year, she said.

“We really are trying to build an inclusive environment overall,” said Williams. “(IEPs) bring a global perspective, a different perspective to the workforce. We want to make sure we’re tapping into that talent pool.”

Biggest barriers facing IEPs

The York bridging program is a good way to help IEPs build both their local human capital (Canadian training and experience) as well as their local social capital (Canadian networks), said Jelena Zikic, a professor at York’s School of Human Resource Management.

Lack of local human capital and local social capital are the two main barriers immigrants face when trying to find jobs, said Zikic, lead author of Crossing National Boundaries: A Typology of Qualified Immigrants.

The study looked at the experiences of 45 immigrants in Canada, France and Spain and found immigrants tend to respond to these barriers and challenges in one of three ways: embracing, adaptive or resistant.

About 24 per cent of immigrants were very positive about their career success and embraced the chance to reinvent themselves and their careers, found the study.

“These are individuals that did not mind the challenges. They actually thrived on these things,” said Zikic.

The majority of immigrants (about 49 per cent) were classified as adaptive, willing to do whatever it takes to survive in their new country, whether that means adapting their career, crafting a new one or taking a “survival” job, she said.

“Not everybody needs to be in the embracing category. The adaptive group also did well in their own way of working through the system and, if needed, having some survival jobs in the beginning so they can achieve other goals as time passes,” said Zikic.

The remaining 27 per cent fell into the resistant category, finding the obstacles too difficult to overcome. Some of these immigrants felt they were too old to start over or take new courses to qualify for professional exams, said Zikic.

To help immigrants be successful when they land in Canada, there should be more work done to educate them about exactly what kind of barriers and challenges they may face when they come to Canada, said Zikic. This will help them be more proactive and embracing of the challenges, she said.

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