Bridging Programs to Success

by Claudio Munoz

The “Canadian experience” requirement is probably the hardest barrier for a newcomer to overcome. To work in Canada, you need Canadian experience. But if you have never worked here, you don’t have it. It’s like the old question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Educational institutions, federal and provincial governments and an array of organizations responded with a series of programs specially created for immigrants: bridge training programs.
Bridge training programs help newcomers who are highly skilled fill education gaps or professional requirements (like preparing for an accreditation test), provide cultural or workplace orientation and, most importantly, help newcomers find a job where their skills and experience are valued.

There are different kinds of bridge training programs all over Ontario, basically divided between those created to help immigrants get Canadian licenses to work in regulated occupations in Ontario, and those for the rest of the occupations. “They provide immigrants with training and orientation, but just what they need,” explains Suzanne Gordon, manager of the Labour Market Integration Unit in the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. “They don’t need to go back to school to obtain a new degree; they just get what they need to start working. So some of our programs are six weeks long, others are 18 months long. It depends on the profession, the needs of the individual, and if it is a regulated profession or not.”

Programs include an assessment of your qualifications; they present you with a plan (what technical courses you need, language classes, and soft skills you need to develop); they offer counseling, and, most of them, job placements. “It is really about what Canadian business is all about,” says Denyce Diakun, Manager Algonquin College Access Program (ACAP). “You’ll be prepared to go into a Canadian business and be successful; not just get in the door, but to retain work.” By coordinating efforts with employers, government and college staff, ACAP supports individuals in achieving their aspirations for growth, education and career.

Getting the job done

To develop the programs, colleges and universities analyzed data from newcomers (who they are, what skills are they bringing, what they need), and the labour market (if there are positions available in the field, if employers are hiring, what skills are in demand). “The college is able to support them (newcomers) and we can say confidently to the companies that they meet the standards of the Canadian workplace. That gives employers confidence,” explains Denyce.

This training has become a sort of “Canadian job ready certificate” – graduates are well aware of how things are done in Canada. That helps explain the high rates of success, usually over 80 percent. Algonquin College’s Civil Engineer Program achieved a 100 percent rate; every single person who finished the program got a job by the end of it.

“On the licensing programs, the ones that help people get licensed and jobs in regulated occupations, we tend to find the success rates on the exams very high,” Gordon says. “Some programs have 80 percent success rate, others 90 percent. In terms of employment, the outcome is going to be stronger in those areas where there is a stronger labour market need.” In the case of non-regulated occupations, fluctuations are more common, depending on the labour market, the profession and the economic situation.

There is no free meal.

Depending on the program, admission may be very competitive and, according to your assessment, they could take longer to complete. They are usually full time programs, so managing a job, a family and the classes could be a challenge.

Also, not all programs are available everywhere in the province and sometimes there is only one institution providing this service in all of Ontario. “We don’t have universities in every city,” Gordon says. “We might have only one veterinary bridging program, because we only have one veterinary university in Ontario. So if you want to go that program, you are living in Toronto you are commuting to Guelph – like everyone else who wants to work in the field.”

Some bridge training programs are not free, and tuition and materials can add up to a large sum, affecting your budget. The good news is that there is help. For some programs, offered through educational institutions, you can apply to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), other schools offer scholarship and bursaries, or even awards. Currently the Ontario government is piloting the Ontario Bridging Participant Assistance Program (OBPAP) which provides bursaries of up to $5,000 to cover direct education costs (tuition, books and equipment) for participants attending non-OSAP eligible institutions or programs. Funding is available until March 2011, when the program will be evaluated.

Other options

“The point of these programs is not to get a degree,” Gordon explains. “The point is just to get what you need to get a license or start working in your field. It is not about giving you the opportunity to become a lawyer here in Canada if you’re a journalist. It’s about giving foreign trained professionals who were lawyers elsewhere the opportunity to be lawyers in Ontario. It is not in the spirit of second education, or second degree or advanced degree.”

They were designed for people who want to stay in their field, but they also consider the reality of the market place. In some cases, the possibilities of resuming your career in Canada are more complex and further education, or even a career change, might be worth exploring. How can you know if bridge training programs are the right option for you? “I think it all depends on the individual (career path),” Diakun explains. “A postgraduate (program) might be the best option for you if you are in a profession where there is not much demand.” There are one-on-one sessions for candidates who want to explore other options.

Nonetheless, that’s a different story. Bridge training programs are tailored for highly skilled immigrants, developed after an assessment of Canada’s marketplace and what newcomers’ skills are. They are fast (the average is one year) and job oriented. They can make all the difference between a dead end job and a new career in Canada

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