by Katrina Murray
Anyone who has experienced immigration knows what a roller-coaster the journey can be. The reality of arriving in a new country – usually without employment, often without friends and family, and always without familiarity – can rock even the most confident newcomer to their core. Add to that unexpected hurdles with respect to licensure, credential assessment, skill gaps, communication issues and the need for “Canadian” work experience, and the unfortunate result can be wasted human capital.
A decade ago, the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada highlighted the extent of this wasted capital. It showed that only 44 per cent of newcomers were employed after six months in Canada, and that of those working, 60 per cent were not in the same or a related field. Even after two years in Canada, almost 30 per cent remained unemployed and most had not regained the level of responsibility they had enjoyed in their country of origin.
Ironically, while newcomers were trying to find appropriate positions, employers were struggling to find the skilled employees needed to help their businesses prosper and grow.
Being positioned at a pivotal point between immigrants and employers, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) has designed a program to address this disconnect.
A team of newcomers at ACCC designed the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) to ensure that future immigrants would know what to expect and receive practical help even before they landed in Canada. The CIIP recipe is a simple one: begin with overseas delivery of relevant, accurate information about opportunities and challenges; add a customized My Action Plan (MAP) for each client focused on key actions to be taken before departure and upon arrival; and, combine this with online assistance from a network of partners across Canada.
“CIIP has provided me with very useful information both generic and specific to my field. Now I am in a position to identify what to do next. I am not confused anymore. I know there is a big challenge ahead and I know how to prepare myself for that.” says Arsalan, who participated in the program last December.
CIIP provides a reality check for immigrants, allowing them to prepare while still overseas for economic and social success in Canada. Canadian-trained orientation officers ask their clients the tough questions: what factors should influence your choice of destination; how can your transferable skills broaden your job search; what do you need to do to improve your job-readiness; how should you adapt your job-search and workplace norms to meet Canadian standards? But they also provide guidance on finding the answers and they offer access to critical resources that were once available only after landing.
CIIP works with credential assessment agencies and regulatory bodies to offer webinars and even conduct exams overseas. Through partnerships with colleges, CIIP participants have access to online competency-assessment tools and bridging programs to fill skill gaps. They are referred directly to appropriate immigrant-serving organizations to ease the settlement process.
Some CIIP participants receive pre-arrival job-search assistance, while others qualify for accelerated access to paid internships. Through a partnership the Information and Communications Technology Council, some participants even secure firm job offers while still overseas. An unexpected outcome of the program is that it has helped to strengthen links among Canadian agencies that support newcomers.
CIIP has produced startling results since its launch in 2007. More than 20,000 newcomers have taken advantage of the program offered in over 25 countries via offices in China, India, the Philippines, and the UK, which also serves northern Europe and the Gulf. A 2010 evaluation revealed that 62 per cent of CIIP participants found employment within six months of landing (three quarters of whom within only three months), and 60 per cent were working in their field or a closely-related one.
More recent data collected by CIIP’s funder, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, indicates that 72 per cent of program participants were employed at the 12-month point. Immigrant-serving organizations, colleges and even employers confirm that CIIP participants stand out from the crowd in being better prepared, more confident, and ultimately more competitive.
Successes include Abhiji, a social worker from India, who conscientiously followed all the steps in his MAP. While still overseas, he contacted the Canadian partners, initiated credential assessment, worked with Skills International to improve his job-search, and even set up a website to share his experience with others. Once in Canada, he volunteered, completed a healthcare-focused workplace communication course at a college, achieved licensure and, after seven months, obtained a job in his field. “I truly believe that CIIP has played a very critical role in our humble achievements till date. CIIP’s job search strategies were very practical and I did everything they asked me to do. Probably, these were the reasons for getting into my field in a noticeable time,” says Abhiji.
Ronke Majekodumni, a U.K.-based CIIP participant also took advantage of the MAP to guide her pre-arrival preparation. She contacted Canadian partners, had her credentials assessed, achieved licensure as an accountant, secured the support of an online mentor and also worked on improving her job-search skills. “As a result of this, I had more insight on what to expect and how to upgrade my skills in order to give me that competitive edge,” says Majekodumni. These efforts contributed to her success in securing a Senior Financial Analyst position within 20 days of landing.
“It’s hard to describe all things that I learned from CIIP. To make it short, CIIP gave me hope, helped me to have a better image of what I was going to face, and helped me to determine priorities,” says Farshid, who landed in Alberta in October 2011 and found a cost specialist position within three months.
Katrina Murray is the Regional Director for the CIIP U.K./Gulf office based in London, U.K. She immigrated to Canada from the U.K. almost 20 years ago and since then set up and managed her own small business before joining the Association of Canadian Community Colleges.
CIIP is a free, pre-departure program offered in person and online to Federal Skilled Workers and Provincial Nominees in the latter stages of the immigration process in over 25 countries. Those eligible can register at: www.newcomersuccess.ca