Training: How do you bridge the Canadian skills gap

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by Gilda Spitz

The city of Toronto is known world-wide for its large multicultural community. People come here from around the globe to find a new life and new opportunities.

Along with those new opportunities come new challenges. The greatest challenge faced by many newcomers – even those who arrive with impressive degrees and diplomas from their home country – is the problem of finding suitable work, often because of English language issues and lack of Canadian education and experience.

Recognizing that many newcomers need this kind of help, George Brown College runs the Centre for International and Immigrant Education. According to its website, the Centre offers “programs and services for newcomers to make their transition in Canada as quick and easy as possible.”

George Brown College

In addition to 11 training facilities in various locations in the GTA, George Brown College has two main Toronto campuses – one downtown and one near Casa Loma. They are also planning a new campus on Toronto’s waterfront in the near future.

In total, George Brown provides education for 16,700 domestic students, 1,600 international students from more than 100 countries, 1,900 apprentice students, and 65,000 continuing education students, including 7,000 distance education learners. Almost half of its full-time students were not born in Canada.

“It’s inspiring to see the positive attitudes and determination of the immigrants who study here at
George Brown College,” says Lorraine Trotter, Dean of International & Immigrant Education. “New Canadians bring wonderful and diverse experiences and learning to our classrooms and to the workplace.”

English as a Second Language Programs

George Brown College has been a provincial leader in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) for many years. The Intensive English Program (IEP) offers nine levels of ESL training. Depending on your needs, you can attend classes either full-time or part-time. The college will also provide innovative programs for Occupation-Specific Language Training (OSLT). This initiative is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) through Colleges Ontario, and is being piloted at colleges around the province.

Many newcomers who received their training in their home country may already speak English well enough for general conversation – but they also need to know English equivalents for specific terms and concepts. The OSLT program at George Brown will offer this specific type of communications training for people in the fields of nursing, construction/skilled trades, health sciences and business, with classes starting in early October 2009.

For nursing, George Brown piloted the program this past year, called “Workplace Communication Skills for Internationally Educated Nurses.” The program consists of 150 hours of classroom instruction in the phrases and skills a nurse would need to use in a Canadian workplace.
Ella, a nurse who received her nursing degree in Israel and who has been in Canada for six months, is very happy with the program. Although she already speaks English quite well, she says the experience has definitely been worthwhile. She has learned valuable skills such as how to do reports and documentation in a Canadian hospital setting. In addition, the atmosphere among the students is very reassuring, because “we are all in the same boat and we encourage each other.”

Rosalie Rival, who arrived from the Philippines two years ago, agrees. Despite the fact that she learned conversational English in school, she explains that workplace English is different. She appreciates the opportunity to learn how to “communicate with fellow nurses” and to record medical reports appropriately “to make them concise and clear.”

Bridging Programs

As a newcomer to Canada, you may hear of work opportunities in your field, but you also know that you need certain Canadian skills and knowledge to be able to successfully take advantage of those opportunities.

At times, it may seem that the gap between your current situation and those work opportunities is huge, and impossible to overcome. However, you can “bridge the gap” between applicant and employer by attending one of six “bridging” programs currently offered by George Brown College.

“We work with many employers and community partners to help newcomers meet the credentialing, upgrading, language, and workplace orientation skills they need to successfully get employment in their field or in a field that makes good use of their skills,” says Trotter.

Two of the following bridging programs at George Brown College are brand new for September 2009; others have been running for several years:

  • Pre-Health Science for Internationally Educated Individuals
  • Research Commercialization and Innovation for Internationally Educated Professionals
  • College Teacher Training Program for Internationally Educated Professionals
  • Career and Work Counselor for Internationally Educated Professionals
  • Construction Management for Internationally Educated Professionals

Continuing Education Programs

Many other programs at George Brown are also suitable for newcomers. The Continuing Education group offers thousands of courses that are accessible and flexible for immigrants, says Jan Carter, Manager, Language/Workplace Projects, Immigrant Education.

For example, according to Kathleen Abbott, Associate Dean for Continuing Education, new immigrants to Canada “could take any of the thousand or so Continuing Education courses, but George Brown’s Academic Pathways course is specific to internationally trained nurses.”

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