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Wednesday, August 4, 2021
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Students & Youth

Canadian youth: Working abroad in a post-pandemic reality

Have you dreamed about how great it would be to work and travel in a different country but fear it won’t be possible given the current global health crisis? Or have your students come to you asking about their options after graduation, and different ways to experience another country without breaking the bank? While all travel plans are currently paused, now is the perfect time to reflect and inform yourself on what is possible.

Students can consider their options and do some blue-sky thinking about how to make their plans a reality. Or, as a trusted advisor, you can help your students sift through the plethora of information that is available. While non-essential international travel is not recommended due to COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the possibilities and make some plans. Travel will eventually happen again – now is the time to get ready for it.

We know that young people spend years going to school and learning the hard, technical skills needed to obtain those certificates, diplomas, undergraduate and graduate degrees that help them move up to the next level of “adulting.” In Canada, this usually means finding a job right away. But don’t underestimate the value of international experiences. There is significant potential for personal growth with a work and travel abroad experience. Young people can immerse themselves into a world that is different from their own, which helps to raise their cultural awareness and understanding, beyond being a tourist. They may even pick up a new language while abroad. More importantly, they find out that they are capable, adaptable and can problem-solve when on their own.

There are also very practical benefits related to employability. A report by McKinsey & Company on Youth in Transition: Bridging Canada’s Path from Education to Employment found that only 44% of Canadian youth (from 15-29) and 34% of employers believe that youth are adequately prepared for today’s workforce. While young people may have the required technical knowledge, this report indicates that they often lack the soft skills, global and cultural competencies that employers want.

“There is significant potential for personal growth with a work and travel abroad experience.”

When evaluating entry-level hires, according to the Business Council of Canada, Canadian employers emphasize competencies including: collaboration and teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving skills and people/relationship-building skills. Employers increasingly emphasize the need for graduates who can demonstrate these skills, which are often more difficult to learn in a traditional or formal academic setting.

But despite the benefits, many Canadian youth are not taking advantage of the available avenues and programs to develop these skills. And, a recent report published in International Journal has advocated for more Canadian youth to undertake experiences abroad so that they are better able to contribute to take on the global economy. The Government of Canada’s International Experience Canada program is a great option for your students or clients to explore.

What is International Experience Canada?

International Experience Canada (IEC) is a program that allows young people between the ages of 18 and 35 to obtain work permits to work and travel abroad. Originating as a post-WWII cultural exchange program between Germany and Canada, IEC now manages agreements with over 35 countries and foreign territories in Europe, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Work permits allow young Canadians the ability to work abroad to gain valuable experience or to help fund their travels. Work permits can be valid for an extended period of time, depending on the country, so co-op and internship placements can be easily facilitated. Given the reciprocal nature of the IEC program, youth citizens from those partner countries or foreign territories can also do the same in Canada.

There are two general types of work permits: open and employer-specific. Each provide their own benefits and limitations but ultimately result in valuable international opportunities. With Open Work Permits, youth are not required to have a formal job offer before applying for the permit. Depending on the country, youth are able to work in any industry, for any employer, for the length of their work permit.

Employer-specific Work Permits require youth to have a formal offer of employment before applying for the permit. These permits are perfect for co-op and internship placements, or if youth want to have the security of a job before leaving Canada.

For both types of work permits, each country/territory has its own restrictions. Please see www.canada.ca/iec for more information.

No matter which type of work permit is used, there are significant benefits to this kind of immersive work and travel experience. Young people have the flexibility to plan and shape an experience to suit their future goals and ambitions, individually and professionally.

The Government of Canada currently advises against all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. And while all travel plans, whether business or leisure, remain on hold due to the pandemic, this is the perfect opportunity to do further research, check Travel Advisories, save money and plan for an experience when travel once again becomes safe.


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Mélanie Gratton is a Policy Analyst for International Experience Canada (IEC) at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. With a passion for travelling herself, her work with IEC focuses on marketing and promotional engagement ensuring young Canadians are aware of the opportunities and benefits of working and travelling abroad.
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Mélanie Gratton is a Policy Analyst for International Experience Canada (IEC) at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. With a passion for travelling herself, her work with IEC focuses on marketing and promotional engagement ensuring young Canadians are aware of the opportunities and benefits of working and travelling abroad.
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