A Newcomer’s Guide to Settling in Alberta

Mayra Castro arrived in Calgary 24 years ago. She is a career development co-ordinator at a settlement agency, and has picked up enough wisdom to share with new immigrants, but she confesses she doesn’t use her own experience as an example of what to do. “We were a young family with small children, so it was relatively easy for us to move, but I didn’t do any of the research I now urge my clients to do before deciding where and how to settle,” she admits.

Castro had a psychology degree from El Salvador, and her husband had a background in business administration, but with little knowledge of the local labour market and basic English skills – in a province offering few services in other languages – it was hard for them to land any type of job during their first year in Alberta, let alone a position in their field of study.

“Eventually we were able to go back to school, while juggling several part-time jobs. I would stay home with the kids in the evenings and my husband would go out at night to flip burgers at a Wendy’s,” she recalls.

Castro – who worked her way up to a supervisory role at the Centre for Newcomers, where she has worked for the past 20 years – believes that new immigrants should take advantage of online resources to do thorough research, and think hard about what they really want to accomplish in Canada, ideally before they arrive.

“Everyone is different, so first of all you need to know what kind of lifestyle you want and what kind of town you’d like to live in; secondly you must find out what areas of employment are in high demand in Alberta, see if your skills and training fit the demand, and decide if you are willing to relocate to the areas where the demand is,” Castro advises.

Alberta is known for its breathtaking landscapes, abundant natural resources, harsh weather – average temperatures in January range from −8 °C in the south to −24 °C in the north – and a growing energy sector that is absorbing all the skilled labour in the province.

“People are experiencing very strong economic activity, and to truly capitalize in the opportunity right now we need to make sure we have the labour that can fill the job vacancies,” says Ben Brunnen, Director of Policy and Govt. Affairs and Chief Economist at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

“With Canadian demographics being what they are, finding long term solutions to our labour challenges is going to be critical to ensure economic prosperity. We need to retain quality workers in all areas of the oil and gas sector, from experienced exploitation engineers to production miners to skilled tradespeople to heavy equipment operators […] The Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the immigration programs will often be a useful way for companies to get employees,” Brunnen notes.

The province faces shortages in other sectors as well. For example, as the Athabasca oil sands region of northeast Alberta generates jobs and attracts skilled workers to boomtown Fort McMurray – which has a growing population of 61,000 – the need for supporting roles rises. “One of the biggest complaints we hear from the industry is that once they manage to bring in skilled trades workers, they struggle to find people for support areas such as hospitality and retail, which rely heavily on immigrants to fill their job openings,” Brunnen says.

Workers who immigrate through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program or the Temporary Foreign Worker Program [See sidebar] have better chances to find well paid jobs quickly, but newcomers who immigrate under other categories and don’t possess the skills in demand may face more challenges. Just like in any other province, Alberta companies are not always familiar with foreign educational systems, and may not know how to assess somebody and understand exactly what they are capable of.

George Preger, President & CEO of People Talent Inc., says many foreign workers are given false hope that they will be able to work right away in their field, when in fact there are systemic barriers that prevent them from practicing their professions and limit their ability to have their qualifications formally recognized. He advises professionals to get to know the conditions in their particular field before their arrival in Canada.

“Find out what the possibilities are for you to be able to work in your field; you need to understand what the barriers are and what credentials recognition process you need to go through in Canada. Keep in mind that you may have to choose an alternative field where you can work in the meantime; ideally it will be something related to your own area of expertise, but that may not always be the case,” Preger says.

The Government of Alberta administers the International Qualifications Assessment Service (IQAS), which assesses international educational credentials and compares them to educational credentials in Canada. IQAS assessments are designed to increase access and entry to the job market, educational institutions, and professional regulatory organizations. For more information visit www.employment.alberta.ca.

Some people may be interested in a career change or may want to upgrade their skills to fit in Alberta’s labour market. There are plenty of training programs and funding available. A good source to look for these types of opportunities is the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS), a provincial web portal that provides information for career planning, post-secondary education and training, educational funding, job search, labour market trends, and workplace issues. For more information visit www.alis.alberta.ca.


Immigrating to Alberta

You can apply directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) under their different categories for permanent immigration:

o Skilled Workers and professionals [http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/index.asp]
o Canadian Experience Class [http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/cec/index.asp]
o Investors, Entrepreneurs, and self-employed people [http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/business/index.asp]
o Sponsored Family

The Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) offers a number of immigration options for people who possess the skills needed by the province:

o Employer Driven Stream [http://www.albertacanada.com/immigration/immigrating/ainp-srs-strategic-recruitment-stream.aspx]
o Strategic Recruitment Stream, currently accepting applications for two sub-categories: Compulsory and optional trades criteria and Engineering occupations criteria. [http://www.albertacanada.com/immigration/immigrating/ainp-srs-strategic-recruitment-stream.aspx]
o The Self-Employed Farmer Stream [http://www.albertacanada.com/immigration/immigrating/ainp-farmer-stream.aspx]

You can also come to Alberta as a Temporary Foreign Worker.[http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/index.shtml]

This story is from the "Alberta - Land of Opportunity" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.