Canadian Experience

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.”  ~ Viktor Frankl

Newcomers to Canada face many challenges and barriers, some very real and some imaginary ones.

One of the most common barriers is the “lack of Canadian experience”. Many newcomers ask, “How am I supposed to get Canadian experience if nobody gives me an opportunity?”.

It is true that many highly skilled immigrants (physicians, engineers, teachers…) end up driving taxis, working as cashiers at supermarkets or security guards. But it is also true that many fulfill their dream of working in their profession or industry, some change careers for an even better opportunity, some find their true call in this new country and many eventually settle and make Canada their new home.

In regards to Canadian experience, I have seen newcomers with only two weeks of arrival who seem to have it, while some immigrants who have been more than five years in the country and have worked in Canada obviously lack it. How is this possible?

The main issue about “Canadian experience” is that it represents different things for different people, and sometimes, it also hides real challenges and barriers. It is used as an euphemism (the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant).

Let’s see what “Canadian experience” may mean for employers:

  • They are not sure whether your education and experience compare to what is needed for a similar position in Canada
  • They don’t know if you will “fit” among their employees, clients and suppliers
  • They have the perception that they will have to train you
  • They believe you’ll leave the job in a few months
  • They think your English level is too low
  • They are not sure whether you are going to be punctual, responsible, etc.
  • They don’t like your attitude, your appearance or your accent, but they know they can’t legally say this to you.

As you can see, nowhere above we mentioned actual “Canadian” work experience…

There will be things you won’t be able to change, such as discrimination or ignorance from some employers, but you don’t want to work for such employers either!

Let’s see what you can do:

  • Get your credentials evaluated and recognized. Before you jump and send your transcripts to ICES, please read my posting here about this subject. Many occupations are regulated and it is op to their regulatory body or professional association to determine whether your studies and experience are comparable to Canadian standards. For many non-regulated occupations, having your credentials assessed gives extra credibility to employers and allows you to continue studying further if needed.
  • Learn about the Canadian Labour Market, and become familiar with your industry, profession or occupation and how it is done in Canada. We call this LMI (Labour Market Information). This means to fully understand the work environment, requirements and responsibilities that apply to your profession or trade. Check here to learn more about how and where to find this information.
  • Get involved in the wider community, not just your ethnic community. Most “Canadian experience” consists in understanding how Canadians communicate, what is OK and what is not (culturally speaking) and understanding local references and resources. If you hide within your own people, the only experience you’ll get is second-hand information from immigrants in your own community who may or may not have experience success here. Check this article for more details on how community involvement can help immigrants.
  • Take some strategic courses in well-known Canadian institutions. You don’t need to go back to school or complete a master, you just need to polish your skills and take some courses related to your profession. A thorough LMI (see above) will tell you what the best courses to take are; depending on your job target and industry. Check this post to learn more about where, how and what to study.
  • Improve your English: there are many ways to do this: from formal courses to renting documentaries, books and movies from your local library and “studying” in a group or alone. Check this post here for more specific resources and ideas.
  • Volunteer: with so many Canadians volunteering at so many levels, volunteering has become part of the Canadian identity. Not just employers like to see that you are volunteering in your resume, but volunteering gives you much more. Check this post to learn more about this topic.
  • If you need to work: take a part-time job, preferable in the same industry. It may be easier than taking a professional job for which you may not be yet prepared, but it will provide you with local experience, transferable skills and peace of mind. See this job as a transition, and not as a “survival”. Check my article about survival jobs here.
  • Engage in long-life learning: moving to a new culture is always challenging. The only way to overcome this is to embrace learning, open your eyes and your heart, stop complaining and expecting that things “should be” this or that way. They aren’t. If you want things to be other way, tart learning, become involved and start advocating. However, the only way to advocate is to fully understand the roots of the problems and see that both sides have responsibilities: Canadians and immigrants, employers and job-seekers.

Some comments on taking a “survival” job:

I have nothing against jobs in general. But when a job becomes a cage, I am against it. The difference between a “survival” and a “transitional” job is much more than the way you call it. Think about this:

Two people go to work biking. One decided to bike because she learned about the damage cars create in the environment. She bought a bike, learned to ride and dresses in comfortable clothing. The feels empowered and happy of being able to experience Nature as it is: she enjoys the wind in her hair and the freedom of moving around without traffic.  She loves her bike and uses it to get to many places, not just work. The other person had to buy a bike because she didn’t have enough money for a car and doesn’t like public transportation. She has not learned how to make the best of her experience, so she ends up being late and uncomfortable for work. The bike for her is a burden and she keeps dreaming of a time when she has enough money to buy a fancy car and can get rid of the bike.

What is the difference? The same happens with a survival job. You may get stuck in it forever, lose your skills and forget about your dream, or you may see it as a bridge to something better. You may hate it, or you may enjoy meeting new people and learning new skills, while planning for a future where the skills you practice today can be used creatively.

Be aware of abuse and exploitation:

Some newcomers take a job from people from their own ethnic community who offers them an “opportunity to gain Canadian experience”. While this may be true in some cases, there are many cases where this becomes exploitation: low pay and working extra hours is the norm, and the “Canadian” experience is nowhere to be found.

Remember: if a job won’t provide with the income you need to pay the bills, but neither the satisfaction of doing something you enjoy, it is not a job, is a cage. Working for five, ten years for an abusive boss just because you are new will not provide any “Canadian experience” and won’t serve you as a human being either. Do not accept “under the table” agreements, illegal “contracts” or any other intrusive or abusive behaviour. That is not for what you came to Canada…

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