Getting Ahead in the Finance Sector

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by Claudio Muñoz

While living in Manila, Philippines, Marietta Gique used to leave her house early in the morning. She had her own accounting company – which she founded after working as an accountant in a bank for several years – and a second job as a university accounting teacher. “In the Philippines I also had a bakery,” she says smiling, with a soft, but perfectly clear voice. “I baked cookies, cakes…I used to bring them to Manulife Philippines. My schedule was teaching part time up to noon, then I went home and I would have my ingredients ready. I baked cookies and banana cake.”

Even with three jobs, the salary wasn’t sufficient. Marietta’s brother – Francisco, an accountant himself – was already in Toronto, so she decided to join him. She arrived in 2005 and, like many other newcomers, she soon found how hard it can be to get a job. “I didn’t have Canadian experience. But I didn’t give up. I didn’t apply for survival jobs. I searched and searched. I printed my résumé, went downtown, and gave it to different banks. I used the agencies also, but nobody called me.”

A friend from back home, who was working at one of the biggest banks in Canada, asked her for a résumé. Soon after, they called her for an interview and, two months later, she was hired as a settlement worker on contract for nine months.

When her contract ended, she moved to Calgary with her brother. But they couldn’t find a home, the city was expensive and, as in Toronto, they lacked the necessary network to get a job. She didn’t have any experience in the oil and gas industry, so a job as an accountant there was even harder to find. “After that I decided to go back to Philippines.”

She stayed there for four months, jobless and missing Toronto. So she decided to give it another shot, returning to Canada in 2007.

A program that focuses on you

In July 2007, she was at Skills for Change, improving her computer skills, when a friend told her about The International Accounting and Finance Professionals (IAFP) program at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.

“I told her I didn’t need it. I didn’t want to upgrade my designation already and I didn’t have the money,” she explains.

But she was already an officer for the Association of Filipino-Canadian Accountants. And one of her tasks was to coordinate an information session on Ryerson’s program. “Since I’m an officer, I had to attend, couldn’t say no,” she remembers now laughing. “The presentation was good. They showed us how they could help us. And later I started attending.”

When she started, she was already working at another bank, just not at the level she wanted. Salman Kureishy, Program Manager for the IAFP program, explains that most students are newcomers.

But a large number of them are like Marietta, people who have been in Canada longer, who may even be working in their field, but they are still making little progress. “Sometimes people need to improve their communication skills, some people lack cultural competencies, some people have outdated professional qualifications,” he explains.

The IAFP program was designed to accelerate learning and professional development. Funded by both, the Federal and Provincial government, the IAFP consist of two streams, the Bridge to Accounting Credentials, for professionals looking for certification and licensing with one of the accounting licensing bodies, and Bridge to Employment in Financial Services for professionals whose immediate goal is to obtain employment in their areas of expertise.

There are also “common components” for everybody. They include an orientation workshop, designed to provide information, guidance and counselling; Professional Readiness for Employment (PRE) assessment to evaluate and document soft skills; Professional Communication for Employment (PCE) program, training in profession-specific language, communication, soft skills, and cultural competence; and Prior Learning and Competency Portfolio, a course to assess prior learning, work experience and competencies.

“We assess people and then we develop an action plan, considering what their goals are,” Kureishy says.  “I think the program’s value is on these supporting elements. IAFP is not just about courses. The solution to their problems (of highly trained immigrants) includes the assessment of what they are bringing to Canada and the Canadian market, what employers are looking for and how they can fill this gap.”

Finding your own personal coach Among those supporting elements are work placement and mentoring. There are some restrictions for the work placement though. Because the program is flexible, and students take classes when they can, only students that have completed the courses and assessments can apply for it.

Mentoring is different. Everybody enrolled in the program can work with a mentor. The mentoring program is a highly successful component of the IAFP that matches Canadians (or immigrants who have lived in the country long enough) with a student. The mentor provides guidance, counselling, and an insight into Canada’s labour market.

“Your mentor can tell you ‘Do this, don’t do this’, but they also have experience of organizations. Mentors can give advice about employment, tips, practical suggestions, work on résumés, or how to network and even create networks. They increase students’ confidence,” Kureishy explains.

Last April, Marietta met her mentor, Naomi Fromm during a workshop. “We were given materials (paper, crayons, scissors, glue, and tape) to construct a house… we were the architects, the construction workers, we did everything. It was a really good team effort; it helps us to get us to know each other a little,” Naomi says.

She, now retired, worked for more than 30 years in recruitment and even founded her own recruiting company in Canada. After the workshop, they agreed on a particular methodology, the way they would work together, a pact to be respectful and honest to each other. Marietta decided what she wanted and they both would work on that subject. “I wanted her to achieve whatever she wanted to achieve; it’s about her, not about me,” Naomi explained.

One of their first goals was to get Marietta a new job – her contract was due to end some months later. “We worked on her résumé and her cover letter. And she started applying for jobs.” At the same time, they worked on Marietta’s soft skills and even did some practice interviews.

Flexibility was the key word for them. Marietta would e-mail or phone Naomi whenever she needed. During these conversations, they would discuss whatever was going on and Marietta’s improvements. “During my job finding she told me things like, ‘don’t do this, do that’,” Marietta says. “I am from a different culture and we talk a lot. Naomi recommended that I simply answer the question in an interview.” That’s just an example.

“We were on the same team; I was just the coach. I’m not working for her and she is not working for me,” Naomi says. Every time she got an interview they would look at Marietta’s strengths and weaknesses and come up with the best answers. “It was intensive to a certain point,” Naomi explains. “When she was being interviewed regularly we were on the phone every day. We did follow ups. ‘What should I do because I haven’t heard from this person?’ she would ask. We worked on details, specifics things we need to take care of immediately, like how to answer particular questions.”

Four years for “MG Accounting Canada

Marietta got a new job, one that fits her expertise in banking and finance better, and even with a better salary. It is still on contract, but somehow the expectation to get a permanent position – for the first time since she arrived in 2005 – is much better now.

She is still working on her Canadian designation – she is currently taking Canadian taxation classes at IAFP – because she wants to open her own accounting company in Canada someday.

A lot has changed since she joined the program. “I can say that I feel confident even though I’m still on contract. I think that even if I don’t make it to full time I can find another job. I have learned that I can adapt, with different situations and people. I have also improved myself in terms of communications skills, and dealing with people. Now I can talk with anybody.”

Marietta says that she wants to stay “at least” ten years in Canada and open her own accounting firm in less than four years. “I don’t want to be an employee forever.” Naomi, her mentor, says that she is going to be available to help her, even if she starts working with a new mentee. She can come back to classes whenever she needs it.

Marietta is still baking. Every birthday, she brings a carrot cake to share with the people at the office. For Christmas she prepares her fruit cake. If you give her time, she might start teaching. Maybe not at a university but to a future mentee.

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