New options available to foreign-trained immigrants

We’ve all heard stories about foreign-trained doctors and engineers who can only find work as taxi drivers or janitors in Canada, despite the fact these fields are in need of skilled professionals.

Two Canadian organizations have recently joined forces to help close the skills gap for the scores of IT professionals who are in the same boat as these doctors and engineers.

World Education Service and Vitesse (Re-Skilling) Canada Inc. have teamed up to assist immigrants in finding their niche in the job market by conducting a training evaluation to determine if their education meets Canadian standards. The organizations then provide courses to supplement any education gaps, particularly in the area of biotechnology.

Timothy Owen, director of World Education Services in Toronto, said this type of service is important given the numbers of unemployed and underemployed professionals living in Canada.

“People are coming here with bachelor and masters and doctorate degrees, and if they don’t have exactly what’s required, a number of them go back to scratch. What we’ve developed with Vitesse is a way to recognize what people have and get around that,” he said.

World Education Services is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to equating foreign-based credentials with Canadian degrees and diplomas. This service is designed to help employers understand the value of a degree from an institution that they may not have heard of before, and give job hunters the confidence to apply to positions without having to over-explain their educational background.

Vitesse is an Ottawa-based not-for-profit organization created by the National Research Council, Ottawa University and Carleton University to re-skill graduates to fill gaps in the job market. Open since 1996, Vitesse originally focused on re-skilling science graduates so that they could work in IT professions such as software engineering and photonics, but has since broadened its offerings.

According to Taras Hollyer, program manager for the biotechnology and life sciences programs at Vitesse, the partnership with World Education Services ensures that credentials are established and skill sets are up to Canadian standards.

“People don’t know what to make of credentials from abroad,” Hollyer said. “This kind of service helps immigrants over the hurdle.”

Once an applicant’s credentials are evaluated by World Education Services, Vitesse pinpoints gaps in the education that are required to attain an appropriate job in Canada and provides training in these areas. Companies sponsor foreign-trained professionals to participate, work with the student over the program’s duration and ensure employment once the training is complete.

While the demand for IT professionals has relaxed in some areas, it has increased in others, Hollyer said. He explained that employers are more likely to puzzle over foreign credentials for an area such as biotechnology than question whether an immigrant with overseas training can work in a Windows NT environment.

“In IT it really depends how critical the skill gap is. In some areas it’s not as important that the training is exactly the same as it is here, but in an area like chromatography, instruments in Canada might not be the same as somewhere else in the world, and that’s where people get bumped off in the consideration process,” he said.

Hollyer noted that there are currently an estimated 2,000 unfilled Canadian jobs in the area of bioinformatics alone, and he feels that it is the skilled immigrant population that could fill in this gap.

Victoria-based Marilyn Harris, associate with KLR Consulting in Vancouver, said there are other options for skilled immigrants looking for training recognition. She suggested that academic institutions such as Alberta’s Athabasca University can also provide this level of service and said that having a recognized college or university accept a credential is more critical than having an employer accept it.

“An employer will accept a credential if it is something accepted by an academic institution first,” she said. “It’s a tricky area.”