Canadian Council for Human Resources in the Environment Industry (CCHREI)

Lack of Foreign Credentials Recognition hurts Immigrants and Canadian Economy

- By:

Courtesy of Canadian Council for Human Resources in the Environment Industry (CCHREI)

A well-known Canadian singer once reached the top of the charts with a song containing the lines, 'Don't assume everything on the surface is what you see…that taxi driver's got a PhD'. As many Canadians know, these lines are rooted in some truth. While the emphasis on Canadian immigration has shifted and we now see an increasing number of skilled workers entering the country each year, many newcomers to Canada are still unable to obtain work that matches their education and past experience. In fact, an estimated six out of ten immigrants take jobs outside their fields of specialization.

Eugene Yeung, an engineer from Hong Kong, struggled to stay out of that group of six. Emigrating in 2001, Eugene chose Canada based on the country's positive reputation. 'I wanted a change in life, something challenging. I knew people in Canada and I had been here before. I liked the country and I liked the people.'

After a lengthy and costly process, Eugene finally arrived in Canada and says he soon realized that it was very different from just visiting. Staying with friends, he spent most of his time searching the Internet for information on the job market and asking others what they knew of Canadian engineering. He also met a few people in the industry and approached APEGGBC (Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of British Columbia).

Reflecting on his first few months, he says, 'It was kind of scary. I knew the job market wasn't that good and it was hard for immigrants to get in.' However, he told himself 'I'll just try my best' and then started looking for a job. After weeks of effort, Eugene became disheartened. 'I couldn't find what I wanted and I never got any replies from employers…I got discouraged after the first month with no replies…At that time I wondered if I made the right choice to immigrate.'

Sunny Mangat, an environmental practitioner who immigrated to Canada ten years ago, had similar experiences and reflects, 'A better recognition of foreign credentials would be useful in settlement. When you arrive here, the biggest hurdle is to get your education recognized. You're not automatically accepted by academia or by industry in Canada. There should be better work done to approve outside institutions so that people don't have to go through an assessment of their degrees and experience. Many people are already in Canada that could fulfill certain positions, but they aren't working in their professions.'

As Mary Janigan of Maclean's wrote, 'The educational system somehow works for high school graduates; but it is ill-equipped to assess adults with degrees form foreign lands. Then there are the regulatory bodies; understandably cautious about maintaining quality, some have taken refuge in rigid formulas.'

This hesitancy to recognize outside qualifications tends to leave newcomers like Sunny and Eugene in difficult positions. To stay within their professions and become employed in fields similar to those that they once held, both these men had to obtain further education in Canada.

Having heard good things about BCIT and its graduates' success with employment, Eugene decided to complete a one-year Bachelor of environmental technology program at BCIT. For him, adding this education to his engineering degree from Hong Kong was the right choice. 'People like me have expertise in our mother countries but can't get experience here. That's where education comes in.' Specifically, Eugene noted that going to school in Canada allowed him to learn about the culture and build a network of fellow students and instructors.

Sunny agrees, saying, ' It is difficult to secure a job without obtaining credentials from the local school system.' Sunny chose to add a Master's in engineering (University of Manitoba) to his Master's in environmental technology (from India) and his Information Technology systems certificate (completed in England).

Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to upgrade his or her schooling. Sunny laments, 'Some people go back to school, but others have to give up their profession because they cannot afford to spend more money on education.' Not only is this situation detrimental to an immigrant's career interests, but a Conference Board of Canada study estimated that our failure to recognize professional qualifications can cost Canada up to 5.9 billion dollars (i.e. in tax revenue, lost income by companies who fail to obtain contracts due to staffing issues, and costs placed on the social security system).

Canada cannot afford to ignore professional qualifications, and not just because of financial considerations. The natural increase of Canada's population has been declining so drastically that the country will likely reach negative growth by 2016. With fewer of our own citizens to take on jobs, Canada cannot help but look at immigration as a solution. This is even more true for the environment sector, because the demand for skilled workers in this sector is growing at a faster rate than in other industries.

Realizing these concerns, governments, academic institutions, and regulatory bodies are attempting to improve the process for recognizing foreign credentials. These improvements will allow an increased number of immigrants to continue in their professional specialities and will increase Canada's workforce as employers become less hesitant when hiring immigrants.

According to recent telephone interviews conducted by the Canadian Council for Human Resources in the Environment Industry (CCHREI), eliminating this hesitancy is becoming more important to many environmental employers. Employers are becoming, and trying to become, more and more accepting of foreign qualifications. Two thirds of respondents stated that it has been difficult to recruit people with adequate environmental skills and experiences from within Canada; thus they would love to become better equipped in recognizing foreign qualifications. More than half of the respondents had already taken steps in this direction by beginning recruitment of environmental practitioners from outside Canada.

These employers have found foreign recruitment to work quite well. Many even believe that immigrants have increased their company's productivity. Of course, this recruitment success is not so surprising when one considers that 93% of foreign practitioners seeking environmental employment (through CCHREI's EnviroJob Board) already have post-secondary education and experience in a number of environment-related fields. Eugene, for example, came to Canada with a number of experiences under his belt, including substantial work on a two-year, six million dollar landfill and reclamation project.

Some Canadian companies admit that if they had not hired immigrants like Eugene and Sunny, they would likely have lost contracts and clients. To prevent such loss to Canada's economy and to the environment sector in particular, CCHREI has proposed a 'Strategic Immigration Electronic Screening Plan', which will see foreign experience translated into standards that are recognized by environmental practitioners and employers across Canada.

This tool would recognize foreign education through academic recognition services, which are already expanding throughout Canada. It would recognize foreign work experience by using the existing National Occupational Standards (NOS) for environmental employment to create a database of potential immigrants with documented environmental competencies. Environmental employers could then use this database to find potential employees from around the world. Immigrants would thus be able to find work more easily and become certified as Canadian environmental practitioners, while employers could more easily address any skills gaps or labour requirements that they may face.

Of course, there are obstacles to successfully implementing such an initiative (i.e. verifying and validating the database's information), but information gathered has shown that this project is feasible, as long as it receives the right amount of groundwork. If established, the screening tool would provide job opportunities for immigrants arriving in Canada. At the same time, it could put an end to Canadian employers who suffer a lack of qualified personnel.

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