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Supporting newcomers to make informed educational and professional choices

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Finding sustainable employment is one of the greatest challenges many immigrants and refugees face when establishing their life in a new country. Even credentialed professionals can struggle due to lack of transferability, missing documents or language barriers, among other issues. Some newcomers may need to consider pursuing alternative careers – occupations that are distinct from yet related to their past work or education.

Alternative careers connect to newcomers’ original professionals via their interests, values and transferable skills. However, they also tend to be in lower hierarchical levels and provide lower salaries in comparison to the professions in the newcomer’s country of origin.

Newcomers may not be aware of alternative careers that align with their experience in their new country. If your newcomer client is struggling to enter or stay in the Canadian labour market, helping them identify an alternative path that connects to their past experience may be a good option. Following are some of the considerations, challenges and opportunities that newcomers may need to have in mind when pursuing an alternative career.

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Different levels of regulation among professions

In order to properly advise clients, you should be first clear about the degrees of professional regulation in Canada. They are usually divided into three distinctive categories:

  • Regulated professions depend on regulatory bodies to allow specific designations for individuals to work in these professions;
  • Semi-regulated professions depend on a voluntary accreditation or membership with professional associations. This category can also include courses or certifications provided by private organizations that can be of significance in the Canadian labour market;
  • Non-regulated professions encompass all the other professions that do not offer any well-defined paths for accreditation. However, even those cannot be completely neutral in terms of Canadian employer preferences, because the employer can lean toward certain institutions or programs.

For newcomers whose original professions are regulated in Canada and require greater investment of time and money than they can afford during the settlement process, an alternative career may be a particularly attractive option.

These occupations may be an end in themselves, i.e., permanent professional options for them in Canada, or they can be only temporary professions that allow newcomers to be in touch with their area of professional practice. This way, they can continue to practice fundamental skills while undertaking steps to re-enter their regulated profession in the medium or long term.

Labour markets variations

Newcomers then need to define their intended professional paths in Canada with a certain degree of clarity. This plan should be aligned with current and prospective labour market opportunities. Occupations that were growing in their home country may not be as in-demand in Canada, and vice-versa. Some professions that exist in one country might not exist in another. Variations can occur because of different work conditions, wages, technology and other factors. Even when the title of a profession is the same across countries, there may be differences in the actual work. Helping clients evaluate labour market conditions and needs will help newcomers make informed career choices.

“Newcomers may not be aware of alternative careers that align with their experience in their new country.”

Informational interviews with employers can also provide newcomers with valuable information in this sense. It would be a good idea for them to join networking groups like the Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) in Ontario or the online platform Ten Thousand Coffees.

Challenges in educational pathways

While some newcomers will already have the skills and qualifications needed to start in an alternative career right away, others may need to pursue further education. In fact, one of the most challenging decisions can be whether to pursue further education in Canada. Newcomers may also need to consider whether they need to pursue an upgrade in one of Canada’s official languages first.

Language proficiency

Newcomers may not be proficient in English or French, or may have insecurities about their language abilities even if they are adequate. But depending on their immigration status in Canada and where they are located, they may be able to access free classes that allow them to study English or French until they reach the adequate proficiency level. The Toronto District School Board, for example, has free English-language classes for those who need to upgrade their language skills. In addition, please feel free to search in your local community for current options in either English or French (it is good to be always updated in this sense since options are always subject to changes in funding).

Devaluation of foreign education

Newcomers may be uncertain about the applicability of their past credentials in a new country, while employers might be hesitant to recognize diplomas or certifications from institutions they are not familiar with. For this reason, newcomers may also benefit from a formal credential evaluation from an organization such as World Education Services, the Comparative Education Services from the University of Toronto or the ICAS from the University of Guelph. Please note, however, that credential evaluations also demand time and money.

Adequate educational guidance

In the end, if your clients decide to invest their money and time in their professional requalification in Canada, other professionals can also help them to identify which institutions and programs are well-reputed in their area of interest. Then, it is key to encourage your clients to liaise with people who may have information about feasible educational paths in their areas of interest. Newcomers can get advice from teachers, mentors and staff from colleges and universities, among others.

The connection between the profession and the area of studies

Ultimately, your clients’ choices regarding their most adequate professional and educational paths in Canada need to be primarily theirs. Alternative or not, these options need to make sense for them. Career professionals can help newcomers make informed, effective decisions by connecting them to resources and explaining the different options that are available to them in their new country.

This article has been adapted for the public of this website. The original piece, focused on newcomers themselves, was first written in Portuguese for the Discover magazine, an ethnic publication that also serves the Brazilian community in Toronto. Its website is:

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Hewton Tavares holds a master’s and a doctoral degree in education from the University of Toronto. His doctoral research focused on the role of mentoring as a strategy for the integration of immigrants in Canada. He currently works as an independent researcher and advisor.
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Hewton Tavares holds a master’s and a doctoral degree in education from the University of Toronto. His doctoral research focused on the role of mentoring as a strategy for the integration of immigrants in Canada. He currently works as an independent researcher and advisor.
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