Innovative projects help new immigrants find IT jobs in Canada

Recent immigrants to Canada, who’ve been educated overseas, often find it very tough to land a job in Canada.

And when they do, various obstacles frequently conspire to prevent them from advancing in their career, and using their talents to the full.

Overseas-trained IT professionals aren’t exempt from this problem.  

Now these folk — who’ve recently immigrated to Canada and are looking for work — can turn to the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) for help. The Ottawa-based non-profit organization spearheads several initiatives to integrate them into the Canadian workforce.

The Canadian Readiness Tool is one such resource.  

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Launched in late January, the online self-assessment tool helps internationally educated professionals evaluate their communications skills and competencies.  

It includes guides on how to build a résumé and interview for a position.

It also offers labour market intelligence information to help them determine where the jobs are, and which postings match their specific skill sets.

Recently ICTC set about developing a French version of Workshops Online: Immigration to Integration.

This tool, currently available in English, teaches overseas-trained professionals about the Canadian information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

“We’re working on a whole other set of internationally educated professionals — French speaking people, who might want to settle anywhere in Canada,” said ICTC president Paul Swinwood.  

The Francophone edition will include new material based on consultations with francophone communities overseas and across Canada in the ICT sector. 

There are plans to add a new module, which will be available in English and French, to specifically address business language skills.

“Employers have told us they need a total package of technical, business, language and workplace communications’ competencies,” Swinwood said. They would also want the potential hire to be a guru in a particular product or package area.

The tool, he said, isn’t about assessing basic English reading, writing, speaking and comprehension skills.

It will focus on business English. “That’s where our industry people have been telling us the big failure is.”   

The Workshops Online project, funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, involves a three-year contract to be rolled out in phases.

Swinwood said his organization’s immigration initiatives have proven successful. More than 500 people have used different offerings, such as Workshops Online and the Canada Readiness Tool.

And this has helped in very tangible ways.

Swinwood said there are several success stories of overseas-trained professionals doing the online workshops, using the self-assessment tool, going through the immigration training provided — and then successfully finding jobs in a relatively short time frame.

He urged those interested in taking part in the pilot testing for Francophone version of Workshops Online to get in touch through ICTC’s Web site.

Apart from strategies for job-seekers, another industry insider also has suggestions for Canadian employers as well.

The first is a mind-set change on their part, said Max Haroon, president of the Society of Internet Professionals.

Haroon, who was educated overseas himself, is a frequent speaker at career conferences predominantly attended by professionals with foreign credentials.   

“Canadian employers,” he noted, “are not willing to take risks with foreign-qualified people – and that’s the number one challenge.”   

He said many employers don’t understand that these immigrants are more motivated than locally qualified people — and often have greater potential.

Likewise, foreign-trained professionals also need to change their mindsets, Haroon said. “The first message I try to give them is go out and promote yourself.”   

North American culture, he noted, strongly supports individual self-promotion – much like businesses sell through advertising and promotion.

He said self promotion is especially difficult for immigrants from Asia –(for example).

With the availability of social media tools, online forums and a variety of other Internet sources, foreign-qualified people have no excuse, according to Haroon.

“The Internet has given you that platform and you are on the same playing field as the big boys.”   

Setting up an online presence, also helps Haroon noted.

It allows employers to find out information that may not emerge in a résumé, or during an interview, he noted, such as online activities that establish one as a team player.

He also urged foreign-qualified professionals to change their attitude and adapt to Canadian culture.

Cultural factors often prevent potential employers from taking these people on due to a perception that they may not be able to fit well into a team, he noted.

Lack of Canadian work experience is another oft-cited reason why Canadian employers may shy away from hiring foreign-qualified professionals.

Haroon suggested the latter gain local work experience by volunteering with a professional association, non-profit organization, political party or community project.

He said his own organization, the Society of Internet Professionals, provides several opportunities for volunteering.

“When people work with us, not only do we provide work experience, we also offer excellent references if the quality of the work has been good and it’s been [performed with] commitment.”

These references have helped in landing them jobs, he said.

In addition to volunteer work, involvement in mentorships is yet another strategy, he said.

Newcomers to Canada may also want to read Haroon’s free online feature “Seven Step Strategy for Professional and Career Success”.

But actually landing a job is the first step.

Once part of the Canadian workforce, foreign-educated professionals also need to assimilate, fully use their talents, and advance in their careers.

The Leveraging Immigrant Talent project, hosted at the University of Ottawa is designed to help them accomplish that.

The project is funded by the Workplace Skills Initiative Division of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC).

It takes immigrant workers to the next level, helping them move up the ladder through a tool called TalentNet.

Targeted at managers in small and mid-sized firms in Ontario and Quebec (companies with less than 500 employees), TalentNet helps them develop their own talent-management competencies.
The idea is to help employers retain and promote immigrant talent within the organization.

“It’s not about hiring,” said Gabriela Lopez, stakeholder relations specialist for the Leveraging Immigrant Talent project. “It’s about promotion and retention. The idea is that talent can be recognized.”

TalentNet takes the form of a game divided into three missions.

The goal is to improve the manager’s “ability to engage employees, appraise performance, and identify high-potential employees,” Lopez said.

She said the most important activity for managers wanting to engage employees is to build trust, so the first mission focuses on building trust within a team that includes five people born outside of Canada.   

The project’s funding ended in December 2009, but TalentNet is still available free of charge in English on the Leveraging Immigrant Talent Web site.

A French version of TalentNet is currently in the works and scheduled to launch on May 18 at Hotel Ville Marie in Montreal, Quebec.

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