ICTC program teaches soft skills to foreign IT workers

The Information Communications and Technology Council is hoping to bring a program it started in B.C. that helps assimilate internationally educated professionals into the workforce to employers across the country.

Funded by the federal government, the Integrated Work Experience Strategy (IWES) involves six weeks in the classroom as well as three months of on-the-job coaching and development. The idea is to better prepare IT workers who immigrate to Canada for the kind of culture and dynamics of a career here.

ICTC vice-president Norman McDevitt said the course content is based on research that looked at the most common barriers to employment for those who try to enter the Canadian IT industry from abroad. These include Canada’s workplace communication styles and interpersonal behaviours, he said. 

“It was as basic as making eye contact, putting out your hand. We talk more proud and we want to speak loudly about our accomplishments,” he said. Those from an Asian culture or other background, however, might be more quiet and reserved about what they’ve achieved.

The program emphasizes learning by doing, McDevitt said. Business networking, for example, is a key part of the program. Participants are encouraged to set a target number of hours spent attending workshops, luncheons by industry associations such as CIPS and also using social media such as LinkedIn and Google Groups to make new contacts.

“Volunteering came up as an important aspect, an important part of the social fabric of being Canadian,” he said. “So one of the goals of participants is now to volunteer.”

ICTC partnered with B.C. immigration and social services agency S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and drew 29 participants in the Greater Vancouver Area in the program’s kick-off phase. McDevitt said the two organizations set up an industry advisory board who consulted on the course content and the various modules that were used. Approximately 90 per cent of those who enrolled in IWES are now either employed or taking part in workplace practicum.

Vancouver-based Atimi Software is one of the employers who took part in the program, hiring three participants for full-time jobs and deploying a fourth as an intern. Scott Michaels, Atimi’s vice-president of client services, said the firm has sourced international talent in the past but that the ICTC program addresses soft skills areas like shyness.

“Their English may be a bit weak, and even if they know they’re stuff they’ll be a bit timid in the workplace,” he said. “There’s a lot more self-direction here in Canada. Many of them would sit and in a sense spin, not wanting to question and need to save face.”

For Atimi, which focuses on Mac software for devices such as the iPhone, internationally educated professionals are an important part of the workplace mix because the skills the company needs are more difficult to find.

ICTC is marketing the program to immigrants with an IT background through overseas offices of organizations like S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and through partnerships with the Association of Community Colleges of Canada. The organization hopes to bring IWES to Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba next, or anywhere it sees a skills requirement or, more importantly, an appropriate partner.

“We are not going to be a program-running operation,” McDevitt said.

On Wednesday ICTC will be unveiling a self-assessment tool in Ottawa that will allow users to evaluate their IT expertise against is competency framework.

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