Employment: A Bridge To Meaningful Green Jobs

By Consuelo Solar

Sustainability is at the core of the Toronto and Region Conservation's mandate , which includes a commitment to enhance social equity, and promote inclusiveness in the workplace. Aware of the barriers that restrict internationally trained newcomers from continuing their careers in Canada, TRCA took action in 2006 to help environmental professionals obtain work opportunities by developing the Professional Access and Integration Enhancement (PAIE) Program, which will be delivered for the third year, focusing on engineers and geoscientists in environmental sub-disciplines. Furthermore, in 2009 the TRCA launched a second initiative, the Mentoring to Placement for Environmental Professionals (M2P) Program, to help internationally trained professionals from four other environmental areas achieve their goals.

The idea for these bridging programs came to be after TRCA realized that a large percentage of the people who were signing up for their Environmental Volunteer Network were highly skilled and experienced internationally trained professionals. "They were newcomers who had a lot to offer to the economy, but our Environmental Volunteer Network really wasn't providing the level of opportunities that they were looking for, so that's when we decided to create the PAIE Program," explains Nicole Pereira, Outreach Coordinator, who oversees PAIE's operations, and provides one-on-one training and support to participants.

PAIE delivers 250 hours of technical and soft skills training in sector-specific job search, Canadian workplace culture and communication, project management, technical software, professional presentations, technical writing, and local legislation, among others. PAIE also works with participants to secure opportunities for them to gain Canadian experience through 12-month paid work placements with a host employer. In the past four years, 80 engineers and geoscientists have participated, and 40 more will this year. "PAIE is an intensive and high-quality Ontario bridge training program. It takes over a year and a half to complete all the training as well as the work placement component. This level of time investment allows us to really give people the support that they need to have career success in Canada," observes Pereira.

PAIE's main objective is to match participants with employers and job opportunities that are in line with their professional skills and experience. Host employers compensate the participant with an honorarium of $2,500 a month, with the goal of eventually achieving long-term, salaried employment. "Employers have been very impressed with the calibre and professionalism of our program participants and in almost every case, employers have offered our participants a full-time job at salary upon completion of the work placement," says Pereira.

In collaboration with Professional Engineers Ontario and the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario, the program also supports the licensing process by ensuring that the employment opportunities they help to provide meet the Canadian experience requirements to obtain a license.

Roughly 60 percent of PAIE participants have a Master's degree or higher, and approximately 80 percent have completed professional upgrading and training in Canada. They bring an average of 15 years of professional experience and all are eligible for their professional license upon completion of 12 months of Canadian experience. To date, 80 percent of PAIE graduates have obtained employment opportunities in their field, earning an average of over $45,000 a year.

"We know we have a model that works for both newcomers and employers. In the future we really want to see the PAIE Program expand, we'd like to see other employers implementing this strategy or something like it," stresses Pereira.

Mentoring To Placement (M2P) For Environmental Professionals

Yves Danteu is from Cameroon, and came to Canada from Geneva, Switzerland in 2005. Even though he had a solid background in environmental science and international development, he had a hard time landing a job interview or internship, until he participated in a mentorship program. With the help of his mentor he learned the local practices, legislation, work culture and context of the environmental industry in Canada. He became an active volunteer in the field of conservation and even initiated and developed a main environmental education program for the French community. With the advice and guidance of his mentor, Yves finally secured a job with the TRCA, where he is now the program coordinator of Volunteerism and the M2P program, a bridge training program that helps 40 new Canadians find meaningful work in one of four areas: Environmental Planning, Terrestrial or Aquatic Biology, Ecology, and Green Building Technologies.

The program offers three main components throughout 26 months: up to six months of mentorship with a professional in their field; occupation-specific workshops and coaching; and a three to twelve month paid work placement.

"Internationally trained newcomers have experience and skills that can contribute to the environmental and conservation sector, and all they need is to learn and get used to the local standards," Danteu notes.

The M2P program selected their participants last October, and so far 27 mentors and seven work placements have been secured. "The doors are not always easily opened, but through mentorships, and networking, we’ll be able to find more placements," says Danteu, and adds, "Our participants come from 19 different countries, some of them are experts in solar energy, wind energy; we have architects, and approximately 90 percent have master degrees or higher."

Both programs are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, and TRCA hopes to continue running these program every couple of years.

For more information visit www.trca.on.ca/paie and www.trca.on.ca/m2p.

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Consuelo Solar Consuelo is a journalist, screenwriter and story editor. She has worked as field producer for CNN, and reporter for The Miami Herald and other international media outlets. She currently works as a correspondent for Terra Networks and is involved in independent film projects.