Education: Learn to Think Like a Canadian

by Claudio Muñoz

Since 2000, more than one hundred thousand skilled workers have arrived in Canada each year. According to several employment agencies and government organizations, it could take more than a year for an internationally trained professional to get a job in their field and, in some cases, newcomers may never secure a position that matches their credentials.

Nava Israel is a dietician who immigrated to Canada almost six years ago. After struggling with the language, the certification process, and pretty much reinventing her career, she ended up as Bridging Program Manager for other dieticians at Ryerson
University.

“I met people from other bridging programs like nurses and social workers. We all learned about each other and realized that most internationally educated professionals struggle with more or less the same things, regardless of their profession: the lack of
Canadian context,” she explains.

What does she mean by Canadian context?

  • What are the rules of the game in Canada?
  • How does professional practice in Canada differ from the same profession in your homeland?
  • What do your employers and teammates expect of your work?
  • What are some of the tacit or unstated Canadian “rules” about how you should behave and communicate?”
  • Do Canadians understand you? Do you understand them?

The answers to all these questions have nothing to do with your professional skills; it is just cultural. If you are an engineer from India, you may know how to build a bridge. The thing that you may not know is how to develop or manage a project like this in Canada.

This observation is the basis of a brand new program at Ryerson University’s Chang School. Funded by the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, it is called Professional Communication for Employment (PCE) and has been designed exclusively for internationally educated professionals. Don’t get it wrong – it is not just about
English as a Second Language for the office – it is all about soft skills.

Israel, now the PCE Manager, gives us more details. “When we talk of soft skills we are looking for skills such us critical thinking, interpersonal communications skills, effective language in the Canadian workplace and public speaking.”

A Tailored Program

The program starts with a unique one-day pre-assessment called “Professional Readiness for Employment.” During these sessions, you will interact with other foreign professionals and with some actors to create an environment that is just like a real
Canadian workplace. You will be expected to read some materials, understand the workplace, meet with the team, have discussions, make presentations and behave as if you were at a real job.

Since February, the PCE team has been working with numerous employers, creating up-to-date job profiles, which are not about professional skills but more a measure of soft skills that applicants need to be employable in a particular position in Canada. All the contents used in the simulations, events and reading materials – were developed with employers like Compuwear and TD Bank. So, for example, if you want to pursue a career as “Branch Manager”, you would need a specific group of soft skills according to employers from that sector.

“Once the interaction is over, we build a candidate’s profile that measure strengths according to that range of soft skills,” Israel explains. “Based on what position you would like to get, and the employer’s description of the job, we will show you where you should be and what gaps you need to fill before you get the job you want,” she says. “It’s up to you to decide what to do next.”

The PCE program is tailored for you. After the evaluation, you create your own planning process. Phil Schalm, Program Director of The Gateway for International Professionals at the Chang School explains, “Maybe you can dedicate time to improve one particular soft skill. A month later you can work in other skills or increase your level. Or you can attend just the courses you need to take you to the next level. After working for a while at an intermediate level job, you can come back to improve your skills in order to get a raise or a better job. The program is not only for unemployed newcomers, but also for immigrants who want an improvement, no matter how many years you have lived in Canada.”

The Bonus Track

In the future, the pre-assessment will become a part of a course. “You will not come just for a day, you will come for a series of workshops – called Professional Development Planning – where we will help you to understand what these soft skills are and how you can use them to achieve what you want. These workshops will help us to match you with a mentor because the PCE also includes a mentorship program. The mentor will help you to network within the profession or to practice socialization, among other specific tasks,” explains Israel.

“The goal is to help immigrants get into the economy. This is not an academic program for credits or for a degree. It’s designed to be practical. There is no theory or philosophy; it’s all about what can get you the job. That’s why it wasn’t shaped by academics but by employers,” explains Schalm.

There’s a reason why employers have been so deeply involved in the development of this program. The executives haven’t come to Ryerson only to help construct the “simulated workplace” or the material for the pre-assessment day. They too, are assessing candidates, bringing a taste of true workplace evaluation. They also benefit from this program. At the end of your courses or after your assessment, if the school determines that you don’t need further training, you will get a document certifying that you have actually demonstrated the soft skills needed to be successful in your field. “It’s like a certificate of Canadian experience,” says Schalm. It’s intended for the individual to present their skills more clearly but it also helps employers to understand better what are they getting.

You can get into some PCE courses without the one-day pre-assessment. In “Speech and Pronunciation”, the teacher personally assesses the candidate in order to assign a unique workflow. “Numeracy in the Workplace” is all about math skills and statistics for foreign professional who need that sort of upgrading. For all the other courses – thinking skills, communication skills, and Canadian context – you will need to take the pre-assessment.

For more information, costs and dates contact Janice Mah, Program Assistant at 416-979-5000 ext. 2772. You can find their website through the main Ryerson site at www.ryerson.ca/ce/gateway.

CNM