Adapting foreign degrees to local requirements

Photo courtesy of ISSofBC

Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘an investment in knowledge pays the best interest,’ and many studies show that higher education levels generally lead to higher incomes.

But how much must be spent, in both time and money, before skills and training pay dividends? For new Canadians, the investment could be costly.

Investing in knowledge

Recertification is a bewildering, lengthy and expensive project,” says Riva Rhythm, a recently landed Canadian retraining to become a teacher.

Before arriving in Canada, Rhythm taught college-level English for several years in India. Yet, to teach in BC’s kindergarten to grade 12 public education sector, a BC Ministry of Education teaching certificate is required. One prerequisite for applying for the certificate is the completion of a teacher training program.

To recertify, Rhythm applied to the Professional Development Program at Simon Fraser University. It is an intensive, full-time program running over three semesters. Although she is eager to return to teaching, she faces significant costs in tuition and in lost income from the interruption in her career.

“Once the initial hurdles [of figuring out recertification requirements] are overcome, the economics come to the forefront,” says Rhythm. “If one enrols in a one-year, full-time program, arranging the tuition fees and making ends meet isn’t an easy task.”

Rhythm is not alone in her struggles. Freda Fernandes, manager of the Career Paths for Immigrants Program at ISSofBC, has worked with many high skilled immigrants during her 15+ years at ISSofBC.

“Under our employment programs for high-skilled immigrants, we see clients who have been teachers, dentists or doctors,” she says. “When they come to Canada, they need to recertify and the process may be long and expensive.”

Fernandes and her team work on action plans with individual newcomers. One reason why a plan is useful is that it identifies gaps in skills and training that prevent successful employment in an immigrant’s chosen profession.

“Some programs have training dollars to support immigrants with upgrading their skills, for short-term training and for re-credentialing,” says Fernandes.

If training is recognized as part of the action plan, and if funding is available within the program, money spent on courses could be refunded. Eligibility criteria vary greatly depending on individual circumstances, and Fernandes urges newcomers to contact an organization like ISSofBC for advice and placement.

Rhythm’s assessment of recertification is grim.

“An immigrant starts with a load of debt and then works to repay it all through the prime years of life,” she says. It is a daunting prospect that tests the firmest of resolutions.

Investing beyond classroom learning

Employment data released by Stats Canada in January show that the higher the educational attainment, the more persistent the employment gap between immigrants and those born in Canada. There are several explanations. Higher skilled and specialized jobs require lengthier retraining periods where the employment gaps may take long to close.

Cultural and interpersonal skills also take time for new immigrants to acquire, and these skills are more valued in some professions than other. Networking could also play a larger role in highly skilled professions. Both building a professional network and cultivating good networking skills are lifelong pursuits where non-immigrant Canadians may have a significant head start.

Fernandes does not appear surprised by the Stats Canada data. She quotes the 2016 TechTalentBC report published by the BC Tech Association.

“While immigrants receive high ratings for their technical skills and overall job performance from BC tech employers, feedback revealed considerable room for improvement with respect to interpersonal skills, ramp up time, and cultural fit,” she says.

The report is sponsored by the Province of British Columbia’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism & Skills Training, the Information and Communications Technology Council and the Vancouver Economic Commission. The Career Paths program attempts to address this skills gap.

“We include cultural competencies and soft skills training,” says Fernandes.

The program matches newcomers with mentors as needed, a potentially critical step in building professional networks. Program participants also have opportunities to connect with employers through networking and hiring events. Soft skills education goes beyond seeking knowledge in a classroom. For newcomers, attending a networking event could be considered an investment in education.

“Networking and tapping into the hidden market can be a new concept for many newcomers,” says Fernandes. “It does take time to get comfortable with networking. We can help them get mentors in the industry and practice a little bit.”

ISSofBC holds frequent networking events. The Career Paths program is just one part of a range of career services within ISSofBC, but the program alone arranges up to two events per month. The format of the networking event varies. For example, some events are arranged around a panel of employers. Other events invite ISSofBC program graduates to share their success stories.

“There are a lot of events that we post on our Facebook and our website,” says Fernandes. “Some of them are open to the public to participate.”

Education for the long run

For those who choose to invest in education, staying motivated may be the true challenge. Retraining for a profession could be a lonely process. Fernandes’ advice is to seek help, establish a support structure and talk to others who have upgraded their skills and found career success. Rhythm’s advice is to be mentally prepared for the commitment.

“Be ready to invest physically, financially and emotionally in your new home country and keep in mind that it will take more than time, energy and patience to get back to your profession,” she says.

For more information on career services,