Earlier this year our team had the opportunity to meet several internationally trained professionals (ITPs), from a wide range of countries and representing a number of different professional occupations. All of these individuals had made the decision to immigrate to Canada and were committed to staying here, putting down roots, and raising their families. All, however, were frustrated by the many challenges in establishing their pre-immigration careers. These included challenges with regulatory bodies and professional associations, lack of recognition of previous experience and education, language barriers, and adjusting to Canadian workplace practices.
Many of the ITPs find themselves working in “survival jobs” and feeling quite underutilized . . . doctors washing dishes, engineers working as janitors, bankers/accountants driving cabs. Reitz (2011)called this the “taxi driver syndrome,” estimating that this underutilization of immigrants is costing the Canadian economy $3 billion every year. We attract the world’s best and brightest, then leave them to navigate our complex system with little to no assistance – Lamontage (2003)called this seduction and abandonment.
Despite the numerous challenges, all of these professionals had good things to say about the services they received from various community-based agencies. They’d had settlement assistance, been referred to language classes, taken workshops in Canadian workplace culture, and had support in developing their resumes, cover letters, and interview skills. They were very thankful for the assistance offered, most stating that the Career Development Practitioners (CDPs) who assisted them were very nice and helpful. However, these professionals also raised some issues that were somewhat concerning to us, especially given our role as educators.
These issues focused on two key elements. First, it was felt that CDPs did not truly understand the complexities of the foreign credential recognition process, resulting in an inability to help ITPs navigate these systems or connect them with professionals who could offer assistance. Secondly, CDPs seemed to make rather bizarre recommendations around what work these highly skilled professionals should or could do – an economist, with a PhD, told to apply as a customer service rep in a bank; a structural engineer was told she should take a course in MS-Office, despite her having superior skills using the entire MS-Office suite.
ITPs face unique challenges and consequently need specialized solutions. We recommend CDPs develop their understanding of the foreign credential recognition process, foster strategic relationships with professional associations and certifying bodies, and learn from the successes of ITPs who’ve navigated to successful employment in their pre-landing sector. Further, CDPs should pause to explore the unique skills and qualifications ITPs bring; rather than assuming an engineer would need MS-Office training, discuss the advantages of participating in a Canadian education program and explore, with your client, what might “fit” best.