Who hires engineers? It’s almost easier to say who doesn’t. Engineers are the cogs who keep the wheels of industry turning. Getting natural resources out of the ground requires water resources engineers, forest engineers, metallurgical, petroleum and mine engineers. Process and materials engineers make those raw materials market-ready, and mechanical engineers design the machines that use the raw materials to manufacture goods. It could be said that engineers build and maintain the infrastructure that permits and supports our entire quality of life. Construction, power generation and telecommunications all employ thousands upon thousands of engineers.
But those are far from the only places that hire engineers. Candy maker Mars Canada hires engineers, as does seafood processor and marketer High Liner. From toymakers to weapons makers, from construction to demolition, you’ll find engineers behind the scenes almost everywhere you look. Even the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – employs engineers and engineering technologists.
All of this speaks to the fact that there are more and different employment possibilities out there than you’ve ever dreamed – and that if you gain as much knowledge and experience as you can, work hard and keep an open mind – you should eventually become well-employed in your field.
So Why Are You Having Trouble Finding a Job in Your Field?
Immigrant advocacy groups have long protested that regulated professions unfairly create and maintain barriers that keep immigrants from succeeding. If there wasn’t some truth to this, the province of Ontario would never have needed to establish the Office of the Fairness Commissioner in order to ensure transparency, objectivity and impartiality. During their assessments of practices and procedures,Fairness Commissioner Hon. Jean Augustine says “We have found more commendable practices than inadequate ones.”
2006 Stats Can data showed that 52% of immigrants “from a field of study that typically leads to a regulated occupation” had engineering degrees. Among nonimmigrants, engineering was the second after teaching, at 17%. So the competition for engineering jobs is fierce among internationally-trained engineers. Foreign educated immigrants living in Ontario have a 24% chance of finding a career match in their field of study. While these are better than the match rates in Quebec and BC, the match rates for immigrants across the country was less than one-half the match rates of the Canadian-born engineers.
Despite these discouraging numbers, it is a fact that the regulators for Engineers and Engineering Technologists and Technicians across Canada have been working hard and making progress toward the goal of increasing accessibility for Internationally-Trained Professionals.
The engineering associations and regulatory bodies including PEO, Engineers Canada, OSPE and OACETT, all recognize the need to improve access to suitable employment for Internationally-Trained Engineers.
CAPE – The Council for Access to the Profession of Engineering – an advocacy, employment and support group for Internationally-Trained Engineers – works tirelessly to improve the prospects for foreign-trained engineers. In its mission statement, CAPE states that it will not promote the under-employment or underutilization of the skills of its members. CAPE also states that it focuses on employment rather than licensing of its members.
The Canadian and international regulatory bodies have all done their best to make the process of transferring your skills fairer, faster and easier. As an individual, it’s good to know that regulatory changes are being made on your behalf – that somebody is working to make the process easier. But that in itself is unlikely to get you the job you are looking for. What else can you do?
Assessing and Making the Most of Your Skills
When the system doesn’t work in your favour, you must learn to adapt.
Perhaps you set your short-term expectations too high. You may feel that your education and experience speaks for itself. But the more you think about it, the more you will likely appreciate that you need to understand the intricacies of your profession in a Canadian context, including weights and measures, materials, minimum quality and safety standards and regulations. Consider how guidelines that work well in one climate may not be suitable in a completely different climate. Building materials, mechanical parts, viscosities, acceptable stresses and tolerances – you name it – they are simply not the same from country to country. Neither are educational standards. The more international experience you have, the more likely it is that you have dealt with and learned to understand these issues in the past.
It is vitally important for you to figure out where you stand as quickly and realistically as possible. If you can start applying for licensure to PEO or OACETT before you even arrive in Canada, do it! It is one thing to discover you’re not qualified to work as a professional engineer in Canada a month or two after you arrive, and another thing altogether to make the same discovery after you’ve been here for 18 months and your savings are running out. The sooner you can determine how far you are from your goals, the more easily you can make plans that work within your budget and your timeframe.
Your actual education may become less important in the short term than having a positive attitude and an open mind, if your education and skills won’t immediately get you where you want to be. Rather than thinking about what you can’t do, you have to think about what you can do. So if you can’t get license to work as a professional engineer, it makes sense for you to identify how to use the skills you do have to get the best job available to you. Sometimes it makes sense to take a job that is below your skill level in order to get the income and Canadian experience you need to reach your long term goals.
Find out as much as you can about bridging programs to help you get a job in your field. There may be related courses that you can take from a community or career college that will take advantage of your skills and give you a launching point. If you hold out too long for the perfect job, you could find yourself empty handed – having to take a survival job just to get from one day to the next. That can be a very hard cycle to get out of. So instead of the perfect job, look for “a good job” that pays a decent wage, that has room for advancement and will give you an opportunity to improve yourself, that will give you the time and money to take other programs or courses. It may take a hundred baby steps to get where you wanted to be, but if you’re determined and have a positive outlook you can get where you want to go.
Read the Partner Profiles in this issue to learn about the bridging programs for Internationally-Trained Engineers available at ACCES Employment, Humber College, OSPE, Ryerson University and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – plus related opportunities at George Brown College and Laurentian University (Professions North/Nord).
Who are the largest employers of engineers in Ontario?
As far as individual employers go, the list of Ontario’s largest employers of engineers would have to include Bombardier Aerospace and TELUS, both of whom have tens of thousands of employees in Canada. Hatch Limited expanded their staff by 3000 people over the last two years. Ledcor Group of Companies hired over 1200 people last year.
Many Canadian employers have Engineer-in-Training programs, including agricultural products supplier, Agrium; uranium mining company, Cameco; Golder Associates Ltd; and Bombardier Aerospace.
TELUS is one of Canada’s largest employers, with over 20,000 full time employers and an impressive percentage of staff and management who are visible minorities. Other big Ontario employers who hire a large number of engineers include construction giant Ellis-Don, Enbridge, Hydro One, Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation.
There are some real advantages in looking for engineering careers at the major international engineering firms. Being global, most of these companies need staff who can communicate in other languages and adapt to the cultures of the countries where they set up operations. Examples of companies like these are SNC-Lavalin, Intergraph, CDI Corporation, Holcim and CH2M Hill. Hatch Ltd. – an employee-owned consulting engineering firm, providing services to the mining, metallurgical, energy, manufacturing and infrastructure industries – had over 600 jobs listed on Eluta.ca last year – which would certainly make them a major Canadian employer of engineers.
The editors of Canada's Top 100 Employers in partnership with ALLIES, a joint initiative of The Maytree Foundation and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, had a Best Employers for New Canadians competition And the winners included a number of firms that employ significant numbers of engineers, including CH2M Hill, Bombardier, TELUS, City of Mississauga and Xerox.
Historically, Internationally-Trained Engineers in Canada have not had an easy path, and while the prospects won’t improve miraculously anytime soon, steady progress is being made as governments, industry associations, settlement sector agencies and employers work together to bring about systemic change. As an engineer looking for work in this system, the best you can do is follow and take advantage of developments, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities, and move forward with a positive attitude, an open mind and a solid work ethic.
So that when your opportunity comes, you’ll be able to recognize it and give it everything you’ve got. Every engineer who succeeds in Canada makes it easier for others following in his or her footsteps. Because every time a company has a good result from hiring an Internationally-Trained Engineer, it’s more likely that they will hire the next ITE who walks in the door. Let’s hope one of them is you.