Language courses give immigrants career edge

by Sharon Aschaiek

An innovative language training program is giving skilled immigrants to Ontario an edge when it comes to rebuilding their careers in the local workforce.

Occupation-Specific Language Training (OSLT) is a unique set of workplace language training courses that teach newcomers how to clearly and effectively communicate with others at work and to understand workplace culture in their field. Led by Colleges Ontario and funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the free 180-hour courses ( are tailored to more than two dozen occupations in six employment sectors: automotive, business, construction, health sciences, human services and technology. The courses are offered at Ontario colleges under the name “Workplace Communication Skills For (sector name)”.

“Many employers say they feel the lack of education in the “language of the shop floor” keeps internationally trained workers from advancing in the workplace,” says Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario. “By providing training in workplace-specific language skills, OSLT courses ensure employers can optimize the skills of immigrants, and those workers can find fulfilling work that fully uses their abilities.”

Uzbekistan native Bella Kravtzov, who became a registered nurse in Israel before moving to Ottawa in the fall of 2009, experienced the career-promoting benefits of OSLT first hand in Workplace Communication Skills for Health Care, which she took at Algonquin College last fall. Kravtzov says she learned about practical language used in her occupation in Canada, and appropriate ways to communicate with others at work.

“This course helped me so much to understand the health system in Canada and to improve my medical language. I also learned to communicate better with supervisors, coworkers and, especially, patients,” Kravtzov says.

During the course, Kravtzov also learned about the steps to become a licensed nurse in Ontario; she got her own licence last January, and now works in neuroscience at The Ottawa Hospital.

“I felt confident and prepared for the interview, because in the course, we talked about typical job interview questions and the best way to respond,” Kravtzov says.

Internationally educated professionals like Kravtzov who can effectively communicate in the workplace are exactly the kind of workers many of Ontario’s employers are seeking. In the face of the looming shortage forecasted by  the Conference Board of Canada of more than 360,000 skilled employees by 2025, many organizations are sustaining their workforces by turning to immigrants—the source of all labour growth by 2012, according to the Conference Board.

Among GTA employers leveraging the talent of trained immigrants is St. Michael’s Hospital, which runs multiple initiatives to source, recruit and support internationally educated professionals.

“Practical communication training for immigrants targeted to their field or area of expertise is really important—it allows them to function well in the workplace and can really give them a career advantage,” says Sarah Grant Alvarado, specialist, internationally educated professionals at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Newcomers trained in information technology who want a career boost can also pursue training through OSLT. Fabio Frappa, an IT project manager from Brazil who moved to Toronto with his wife and two children last November, recently took Workplace Communication Skills for Technology at Seneca College. He says the course helped him land his current job as an IT project manager with Hydro One.

“The training is very practical—we wrote letters and practised conversations that would happen on the job. We also talked a lot about resumés and cover letters, and about the nature of the IT work environment here,” Frappa says. “I always recommend the training to other immigrants—it’s a good fit for people who are skilled in certain areas and want to get ahead, and it’s free. It’s the kind of training you can use to find and keep a job.”


—Sharon Aschaiek ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) writes about education and employment trends and issues


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