ICTC tool helps immigrants find IT jobs

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) recently launched a new online self-assessment tool that helps technology professionals from foreign countries determine whether or not they have what it takes to secure employment in Canada.

Unveiled at ICTC’s 2010 Immigration Initiatives Partnership Celebration in Ottawa, the Canada Readiness Tool includes three modules to evaluate culture, communications and competencies for those considering the move to Canada as well as those already in the country seeking work.

Internationally educated professionals (IEPs) are very strong in their technical abilities, but very weak when it comes to cultural differences, communication skills and understanding what their competencies are, said Paul Swinwood, president of ICTC.

ICTC has identified competencies for 36 different occupations in the IT sector in Canada and the tool checks against these competencies to give IEPs an idea of what occupations they would more likely fit into and where their strengths and weaknesses are, he said.

The tool also intends to fill some gaps indicated by IEPs, such as the lack of information about the labour market, how and where to find employment and what it actually takes to work at a Canadian company, Swinwood added.

It also includes guides on how to build a resume, how to interview for a position, and labour market intelligence to help job seekers determine not only where jobs are located, but which companies hire for positions that match their skill set.

Roughly 80 per cent of immigrants end up in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, but that’s not necessarily where the work might be for their skill sets, Swinwood pointed out.

In partnership with the Government of Canada and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, ICTC validated the effectiveness of the tool in India, China and the Philippines prior to its launch. Pilots were also conducted in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

The feedback provided a few “fantastic examples of people getting involved with this at the beginning of their quest to come to Canada right through to employment here in Canada,” he said.

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Foreign Credential Recognition Program, the tool is available free of charge in English and French to anyone interested in taking it.

The Canada Readiness Tool is one part of the larger Internationally Educated Professionals Integration Initiative, an ICTC-led project involving numerous programs, resources and tools created in partnership with government, industry and immigrant settlement agencies.

“We would not be successful without our partners,” said Swinwood.

The tool is “another step in our approach to integrating internationally educated professionals,” he said. “We see a lot more to be done across Canada … we want to make sure that as part of Canada’s competitiveness, we do everything we can to keep this valuable resource here and make sure that our companies have these people.”

ICTC forecasts roughly 170,000 people will be needed in the ICT sector by 2015 and up to 30 per cent of that demand will come from IEPs. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a decline in the number of people actually applying to immigrate to Canada as an ICT professional,” said Swinwood.

Jennifer Cowland, director of technology services for Robert Half Technology Vancouver, provided a few tips to help immigrants find work in the IT field as quickly as possible.

“The job market is the toughest it’s been in decades and that’s especially true for immigrants who are now competing with an even larger pool of candidates than they would in a stronger economy,” said Cowland.

It’s “imperative to stay in a very positive mindset,” she said. This includes remaining flexible on relocating within Canada, exploring new ways to apply your expertise, highlighting your transferable skills and being willing to compromise on contracts.

One big challenge immigrant IT workers face, according to Cowland, is a lack of Canadian work experience. “I strongly suggest that any individual hearing that looks into temporary contract roles and/or volunteering for a not-for-profit organization,” she said.

It’s also very important to have a strong command of local customs, soft skills and the English language, she noted. She also suggested networking, reaching out to a specialized IT recruiter such as Robert Half and finding one or two mentors.

There are two types of mentors you can tap into, said Cowland. The first is a professional mentor who has already been through the same situation as you and can help you learn local business customs and broaden your network; the second is a mentor working specifically in your field within a company you’d like to work for, she said.

Certifications are also “incredibly valuable and incredibly important,” said Cowland. The value of certifications greatly depends on the needs of each IT department and they often have to be coupled with relevant experience, but there are a few that are in very strong demand, she said.

These include the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and the Project Management Professional (PMP), she said.

The good news is that the unemployment rate for IT pros is “significantly lower than the national average,” said Cowland.

According to Statistics Canada, the unadjusted unemployment rate for the Computer and Telecommunication industries was 5.4 per cent in December 2009. The national unemployment rate was 7.8 per cent that same month.

Montreal-based recruitment agency Kovasys Inc. recently reported “a large influx of foreign IT specialists working in the U.S. on H-1B visas relocating and settling in Canada.”

“We have found almost a threefold increase of U.S. applicants wanting to come and work in Canada,” said Alex Kovalenko, director of operations for Kovasys.

In 2008, Kovasys found 0.6 per cent of screened applicants from the U.S. applying to work in Canada. The percentage increased to 1.6 per cent in 2009, reflecting an increase of 260 per cent in one year, reports the firm.

“The number could also be higher,” Kovalenko noted. Some applicants indicate Toronto and/or Montreal as their main residence even if they are still residing and working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, he said.

Motivating factors for moving north, according to Kovasys, include Canada’s high standard of living, free health care, less stringent visa restrictions and even exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa granting specialists temporary work in the U.S. under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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