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"Canadian Experience" For Immigrants and Newcomers

"Canadian Experience" For Immigrants and Newcomers


By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

Are you new to Canada, or thinking of immigrating here for a job? You should know that employers here might ask if you have "Canadian work experience."
This may sound like an odd question. There you are, coming from outside our country. You may have years of work experience and proper credentials from your homeland. Yet that may not be enough to convince Canadian employers of your worth.
So what is "Canadian experience" and how can you get it (or get around it)? Read on for more.
What Do Employers Mean By "Canadian Experience?"
According to Jeffrey Lee, Employment Specialist /Practicum Coordinator at CDI College in Burnaby, British Columbia, "Employers look for Canadian workplace experience so that employees are familiar with workplace culture, social cues, and expectations."
Since different cultures may have different ways of handling situations, "newcomers with 'Canadian workplace experience' are seen as being more capable of getting along with the workgroup," adds Lee. He also notes that having your professional credentials and education authenticated here is important too.
There are other aspects to Canadian experience as well. Peter Dudka, Acting Program Manager, Transition to Employment Programs at Polycultural Immigrant & Community Services in Toronto, Ontario, points out that employers favour the following:
- Fluent English or French, depending on what province you are in. This is crucial. Accent is not an issue, but clear expression of ideas and understanding local terminology are what matter
- Local certification. Not necessarily a two year diploma or a Bachelor's degree, but even the shortest course here that is relevant to the job will help you stand out from other job seekers
- Narrow specialization. Many newcomers instead offer (in resumes or during job interviews) wide experience and education, from which it is difficult to extract whether they can do that particular job or not
Dudka adds to this list "the art of selling yourself, which is foreign to many newcomers in Canada. It is related to the previous point: you need to be able to clearly highlight your strengths in one particular field."

How To Get "Canadian Experience"

No Canadian experience, no job. No job, no Canadian experience. It's a conundrum that many thousands of newcomers face each year. Fortunately there are ways to overcome this obstacle.
Jeffrey Lee, who has helped internationally-trained professionals find employment, offers advice. "Many recent immigrants can start by volunteering with various charitable organizations, offering their expertise for a variety of projects."
As well, Lee recommends attending a professional mentoring group where skilled immigrants are paired with local professional peers, to talk about how to prepare for entry into their desired occupation.  One such program in B.C. is from MOSAIC. He also suggests volunteering at businesses related to your profession, if they are open to this.
Peter Dudka suggests connecting with local agencies in Canada that offer free employment assistance to immigrants. "Through our agency, for example," says Dudka, "we offer advanced English classes, work placements in Canadian companies, interview preparation courses and networking events with local employers.
If you happen to live in Quebec, you can get Canadian experience working in something called a Practice Firm. These are specially made businesses that only interact with one another. No actual money or salaries are involved. Practice Firms are training facilities that let you do specific jobs as if for real. There are 30 of these Firms in Quebec, and one in Ontario. A  list of these is available at the Canadian Practice Firms Network (CPFN).
Taking A Lower Level Job To Get "Canadian Experience"

To get your start in Canada, you may want to consider taking a lower level job here than you are used to. It could be quicker for you to get initial employment that pays less. While it may be a step down, it translates into Canadian experience. The truth is that this is a common approach for a good percentage of newcomers.
However be careful not to get stuck in a menial job that is hard to move upward from. It would be smart to consult directly with one of those local newcomer agencies mentioned above. They can advise you personally based on your circumstances and needs. Meanwhile, read articles on Working for Less: When It’s OK to Take a Pay Cut, and Should I Apply To A Job If I'm Overqualified?.

More About "Canadian Experience"

According to Jeffrey Lee, some industries such as IT (Information Technology, e.g. computing, software, telecommunications) may be less strict about where your experience is gained. Therefore this field might be easier to penetrate in Canada. At present, European-trained engineers may also have an easier time to get their credentials acknowledged than ones trained in Asia or the Middle East.
Other skilled immigrants can benefit from a program offered by the not-for-profit Allies, says Peter Dudka. Allies has created a National Mentoring Initiative in various cities across Canada. Mentoring offers a connection between a skilled immigrant and an established Canadian professional in the same or related occupation. It's a way of helping skilled newcomers integrate into the workforce faster.
Working in this great country can be marvelous. There are all sorts of challenges and rewards for immigrants.

Getting your start here can be difficult, no doubt. It will make things easier if you're prepared when the interviewer asks: "Tell us about your Canadian experience."