Work: Why You Need to Go Back to School

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By Claudio Munoz

In 2006, newcomers were almost twice as likely to have a university degree as people born in Canada. Despite this apparent advantage, according to a Statistic Canada report titled Immigrants’ education and required job skills, “During the 1991 to 2006 period, the proportion of immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low educational requirements (such as clerks, truck drivers, salespersons, cashiers and taxi drivers) increased.”

International education or foreign work experience doesn’t lead to jobs in the Canadian workplace as smoothly as you would want it to. It can be frustrating to the point of forcing you to leave the country. Reasons are plenty, and all of them revolve around the lack of “Canadian experience” or “Canadian credentials”. Mother tongue and country of origin are considered some of the causes that explain these difficulties. Immigration class may also be a factor, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The Canadian experience paradox is one of the most puzzling experiences for every newcomer. How can you get Canadian experience if you can’t work because the lack of it? How can you avoid it, or fight against it?

Well if you are not in Canada yet (especially for our increasing number of readers on the web) think about including a certificate, a bridging program or even a new degree from a Canadian institution in your budget. If you are already here, maybe it is time to take a look at some of the programs offered by Employment Ontario through its Second Career initiative or the financial support you can find – like OSAP – to get back to school (see Sandra Fletcher’s “Making a Change”).

A degree in Canada doesn’t guarantee you a job. But it can certainly put you back on track for a career in your field and the life you want. Obviously, any post-graduate program (like master degrees, certificates or even PhDs) at any Canadian educational institution is available to anybody, but the objective of those programs is not to get you a job as soon as possible.

Beside, what’s the point of going back to school to get the education you already have?
That’s why there are bridging programs, a special kind of education that can help newcomers get their license or certificate in their profession or trade so that they can work in Ontario. Even more, they can help you get the skills you need — not only technical-job-related-skills but soft skills like getting along in the workplace.

If you’re a nurse or an accountant for example, these programs would help you get your credentials recognized in the province so you can work in your profession. Employers, colleges and universities, occupational regulatory bodies, and community organizations came together to design and develop different bridging programs. Ryerson University, for example, is constantly meeting with bank representatives to improve their business courses and adapt them to the industry necessities.

A bridging program provides assessment of education and skills, workplace experience (through simulation, for example), skills training or targeted academic training, preparation for a license or certification examination, language training for your profession if necessary, and individual learning plans to identify any needed training.

Can they make a difference? Yes. Some programs boast employment rates as high as 80 percent (the economic crisis may have affected these numbers but they are still pretty effective).

Newcomers earn less than their Canadian born competitors and it takes time to close the gap. Here’s some valuable information to support our recommendation of going back to school. According to a Statistics Canada study called Literacy and the Labour Market: Cognitive Skills and Immigrant Earnings published in 2008, “Immigrants who complete their education abroad have earnings that are almost 65 percent lower than comparable Canadian-born workers, whereas those with some Canadian education receive earnings that are about 16 percent lower than otherwise comparable native-born Canadians….” Again, it depends on the level of education, your country of origin, if your mother tongue is either English of French and so on. But it does illustrate a point: a Canadian diploma can open the door to a better job.

Canadian work experience can help you overcome this income gap as well. The same study stated that “male immigrants without Canadian education receive significantly greater returns with Canadian work experience”, but the problem is how you can get the experience in the first place.

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