According to the Government of Ontario about 70 percent of the Province’s adult newcomers have post-secondary education or training obtained in their countries. However as Canada gradually recovers from the global recession, the job market has become more competitive and demanding of Canadian academic credentials.
New and established immigrants are trying to figure out what to do next to find that first job that meets their qualifications, or make a career change that secures their future. In this scenario, a growing number of internationally trained immigrants, who in many cases have valuable work experience, consider continuing their education to improve their skills or learn new ones that will give them advantage. They turn to institutions that offer continuing studies, including universities, career colleges, trade schools and school boards, where knowledge is imparted through workshops, seminars, online courses, conferences, or hands-on training.
While almost anybody can take non-credit courses for personal improvement, professional continuing education is aimed at adult learners who already have post-secondary degrees. Most issue certificates or Continuing Education Units (CEU) as proof of attendance and progress. Marilynn Booth, Director of the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto explains that continuing education is, “About being responsive to what adults need and want to learn, so our courses are a response to the changing landscape in our businesses and communities.” She adds, “We offer courses that can make a difference for individuals who come here to learn about the Canadian business landscape, and gain skills and education based on what they really need.”
Certificate programs are flexible, allowing students to complete their studies in one to two years of intensive study, or part-time for a longer period, but they can be as demanding as degree programs, so before deciding where to put your money and effort, you must know what to expect from a certificate. “Any continuing learner needs to be a good consumer; they need to know what it is they are buying. I believe that there is no one solution that fits all,” Booth says. “Many international professionals have Masters or PhDs, and they are so well educated. Some of them may want another degree, but in my conversations with them it seems to me that what they want is what they need in order to bridge to meaningful work in Canada and that’s how we’ve established our certificates, focusing on the knowledge necessary to bridge to work,” she remarks.
Many internationally trained professionals who do not necessarily require new credentials often decide to undertake continuing studies as a way to boost their resume, but some critics point to the easy gaining of credits by attending workshops but not really learning from them. Booth’s response to these comments is emphatic: “Our certificates are rigorous and they give the students the applicable knowledge that they can really use immediately.”
Since international professionals are a large group of the students who enrol in continuing studies programs, many institutions develop their courses based on what their demands are. Phil Schalm, Director of Gateway for International Professionals, a bridging program at Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education, says that the reasons that newcomers have for taking a continuing education course or program fall into two categories: Those professionals seeking to qualify for certification in a regulated profession, and those seeking access to employment.
Gaining coursework from a Canadian institution in order to reduce employers’ unfamiliarity with international academic credentials is a common reason for those looking for work, but Schalm warns them, “this is probably the least defensible reason, in that there are credential assessment agencies that can attest to the relationship of international academic credentials to those earned in Canada.”
Obtaining professional knowledge that is unique to or required in the Canadian workplace is another reason to go after these programs. “An accountant in Canada must know Canadian taxation law; a social worker must know the legal scope of practice,” explains Schalm. “Also (they are useful to) gaining a career specialization. For example, a human resources practitioner might come from a jurisdiction where HR professionals are generalists, and might seek to specialize in an area like occupational health and safety, or diversity and equity.”
Many international professionals when they first arrive in Canada have limited ways to meet new people who also work in their fields, so attending classes on their topic of interest gives them a chance to build interpersonal and career support networks as well. “This is not exclusive to work in non-regulated professions, but probably is most common there, such as marketing and sales or information technology,” says Schalm.
Continuing education is also considered an effective way for building soft skills and workplace communications skills. Schalm observes, “employers have confirmed that they hire for hard skills and let go for lack of soft skills,” and adds, “by taking a continuing education course that guides them through a reflective process of identifying their competencies and documenting them in ways that make sense to Canadian employers newcomers gain knowledge and confidence that shapes subsequent résumés, interview responses and even occupational choices”.