Education: Putting International Minds to Work for Canada’s Future

by Consuelo Solar

“Innovation: The process through which new economic and social benefits are extracted from knowledge” (Definition from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

For most highly trained newcomers, who face the Canadian job market for the first time, having only international credentials is a major drawback. And it is usually the main reason they end up in a position that doesn’t measure up to their experience and educational background.

At George Brown College, however, international training is a must-have for applicants to their new Research Commercialization and Innovation program (RCI).

This one-year graduate certificate program, set to start in March 2009, is designed to help immigrants with international post graduate degrees to achieve their career goals in their area of interest and to effectively integrate into the Canadian workforce.

Robert Luke (Ph.D), director of Research and Innovation at George Brown, explains that the college created the program to have a hand in Canada’s innovation agenda (Canada is one of the poorest performers in the G-7 when it comes to research and development and we are trying to rise to 5th place). “We have a gap in productivity in Canada; our goal is to train people who are highly qualified and are experiencing difficulties finding a job in their area of expertise or integrating within the business environment. We want to give them the opportunity to contribute more productively to the economy,” he says.

The educational institution’s first step is to put the students’ existing skills to a practical use while developing new ones. Graduate students will become proficient in “innovation literacy”, which Luke defines as the ability to think creatively and apply problem solving skills to challenging issues. “For us, innovation literacy is a transferable skill that enables our students to be flexible innovators in the workforce. Our students will get the skills they need not just to get a job, but also to be future innovators, to become people who in any kind of industrial, community, clinical or economic context are going to be better able to apply their skills and to think outside the box,” he says.

Students will work on actual research projects with some of George Brown’s industry partners. This doesn’t necessarily mean that graduates will leave the program with a secure job, but it guarantees them the Canadian work experience that most employers want from internationally trained professionals.

“They are going to be exposed to a lot of interesting ideas and concepts. They are going to be taught specifics about some of these concepts they will be developing and we are going to encourage them to learn a little bit more according to what the needs of their projects are and the needs of their own professional development plans,” observes Luke.

The RCI program will admit 20 students to the first group. They will be assigned project work based on the results of an initial interview with the program coordinator in an effort to customize contents for (every one’s) needs. Insights obtained from these interviews and a one week orientation period will help the coordinator to find suitable mentors for each student.

The curriculum attempts to give a practical use to specific grad school knowledge. Courses include assessment of market potential for new products, networking in a business environment, development of effective proposals, entrepreneurship and small business skills, project management during the product development cycle, leadership skills and business communications skills. On top of that, current students and future alumni will have access to employment counseling and assistance.

According to Luke, helping integrate newcomers into the Canadian workforce is a core factor of George Brown College’s educational mission. “Our goal, of course, is to help immigrants to find jobs, and jobs that are in-line with their qualifications. We help people who are under-employed or are having difficulties entering the job market in their area or want to do something different, but also we want to provide industry with the kind of graduates that they need,” he adds.

Although for now, qualified applicants must be internationally trained individuals holding masters or doctorate degrees (or equivalent), George Brown hopes to open this program to Canadian applicants in the near future. Preference may be given to candidates with prior research or entrepreneurship experience, or a science and technology background.

Applicants will be required to pass the Canadian Language Benchmark test with a score of at least 7 for reading, writing and speaking and 8 for understanding, to be eligible for an interview.

It is a 12-month, full time program with a mix of class time, project time and group work time. For more information go online to www.georgebrown.ca/rci or call (416)415-5000 ext. 6714 or 1-800-265-2002 ext. 6714.

The RCI program has been funded by the Government of Ontario and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada

CNM