IEPs get bridge-to-work program for Ontario jobs

A new skills training program from the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) provides an alternative means for internationally educated professionals (IEPs) to find work in Ontario.

The Integrated Work Experience Strategy (IWES) is a bridge-to-work program designed to enhance cultural and communication workplace skills, as well as provide real networking and work experience within Ontario through placements and mentoring.

IWES is one of several immigration initiatives led by ICTC, a not-for-profit organization based in Ottawa that works with government, educators and industry. ICTC partnered with the Jewish Vocational Service of Metropolitan Toronto (JVC Toronto) to deliver IWES in Ontario.

ICTC initially launched IWES in 2009 as a pilot in B.C., which resulted in 90 per cent of the participants finding employment within their field.

IWES will run as a three-year program in Ontario, with three sessions each year based out of Markham, Ont. The program consists of a six-week training session followed by a three-month work experience practicum. 

Minimum requirements include a background in the ICT sector and a Canadian Language Benchmark score of eight. Participants must be legally entitled to work in Canada and have immigrated within the last three years.

IEPs interested in participating in the second session (scheduled to begin in June) are encouraged to visit ICTC’s Web site and apply before the May 14 deadline. There is no cost to participate in the program, which is funded by the Government of Ontario.

IWES is one of nearly 200 bridge training programs funded by the province over the last six years, said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, at the IWES launch event at Livewire Communications Inc. in Toronto.

The Ontario government commits $25 million each year specifically for bridge training and has invested more than $145 million since 2003, said Hoskins. The programs have given more than 35,000 newcomers the foundation they need to find jobs, he said. 

“The fantastic thing about bridge training is it works. It actually takes very talented professionals and gives them whatever additional skills they require to enter the workplace … they are tremendously successful,” said Hoskins.

The difference between IWES and other ICTC programs is its focus on work competency skills, said Paul Swinwood, president of ICTC. “This is all about increasing their soft skills to the highest level possible,” he said.

To ensure that participants have a good chance at success, IWES looks for applicants with basic communication skills, understanding of the English language, technical background and work experience from their home country that is in demand in Ontario, he said. 

Soft skills are often the key differentiator for hiring managers that post a job opportunity and get a response from a lot of qualified candidates, according to Scott MacDonald, vice-president of channels and technology at Livewire Communications.

“Often what you hear from managers is they like the candidate because they get it … it’s all around the soft skills, and that’s what this program is designed specifically to address,” he said.

The first IWES session in Ontario started five weeks ago.

Sonny Leman, an IEP participant who came to Canada from Indonesia in late 2008 with roughly 10 years experience in project management, system analysis and application development, said networking is one clear benefit of the program.

The biggest challenge to finding work in Canada, according to Leman, is networking. “For years, all of my jobs came to me because I knew people that knew someone … I never applied to a place that I knew no one,” he said.

Leman said he doesn’t know anyone in Canada who is in the position to hire him. “This program, I hope, will help me increase my network and help me find a way to get a position,” he said.

Learning how to promote oneself is another beneficial aspect of the program, said Leman. “It is important because usually technical people aren’t good at selling. That helps, I believe,” he said.

According to ICTC statistics, ICT makes up 4.7 per cent of Ontario’s total employment and Ontario holds 47.6 per cent of the total share of ICT employment in Canada.

“The province has Canada’s highest number of ICT workers and is home to almost half of all ICT employment in the country. Ontario’s ICT sector is heavily focused on research and development and has a larger share of head office employment than any other region,” states ICTC.

IEPs account for 19.3 per cent of the ICT workforce in Ontario and 18.7 per cent in B.C. “More than half of those who plan to work in ICT settle in Ontario, most often in Toronto,” states ICTC.

The ICT sector is a $150 billion-per-year industry in Canada with roughly 32,000 ICT companies and 600,000 ICT workers. “This adds up to roughly 3.8 per cent of total Canadian employment,” states ICTC.

Industry Canada statistics show 98 per cent of companies registered as businesses in Canada have less than 100 employees, said MacDonald. This presents unique challenges for job seekers, he said.

Small companies typically operate with limited resources, need to work hard and fast to compete and staff tend to wear a lot of different hats and have a high degree of interaction with their colleagues, he said.

“When small businesses go to hire, they end up in a situation where they have to do so very, very carefully. It’s not easy to work in a small company … they tend to put a microscope on performance,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.

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