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Never underestimate the value of the watercooler

 

Why is the water cooler so important

Water coolers: Where it all happens in Canadian culture

Canadian office culture may not seem intimidating, but if you’re a new Canadian, your qualifications and global experience may not be enough to move ahead in your career. Understanding the value of small-talk in the office can be paramount to progressing into a management position. That’s where MaRS client KIOSK steps in.

KIOSK offer English as a Second Language (ESL) communications solutions and specialized language camps, helping new Canadians who have  skills to integrate into the workplace.

Statistics Canada reported in March that Toronto’s visible minority population  could more than double from 2.3 million in 2006 to nearly 5.6 million by 2031. This means the work of organizations like KIOSK will only become more important with each passing year — for immigrants and businesses alike.

Recently, KIOSK won an Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC) tender. This will allow it to expand its self-directed, online training programs and to develop a diagnostic assessment tool for professionals in the IT and Communications (ICT) field who want to immigrate to Canada. This tool will help KIOSK clients evaluate their language skill proficiencies within the context of five specific ICT professions.  Perhaps more importantly, the diagnostic will also assess their understanding of Canadian business culture.

“The water cooler talk example seems to come up quite a lot in discussions with our group,” Jorge Ulloa, Vice-President of KIOSK Language Centre, told me when we spoke. “Newcomers often don’t understand the concept or benefits of networking and socializing in the workplace. In some cases they come from work cultures that expect you to punch in and be productive, while all socializing takes place after work hours. In Canada,  networking often plays an important role in determining the projects that you’ll be chosen for and the people that you will be working with.  Our corporate clients often look to us for intervention in addressing communication breakdowns and challenges surrounding a diverse list of issues such as cross hierarchical informal discussions, receiving/giving feedback, negotiation tactics, leading meetings and presentations, small talk and slang, gender and cultural issues and much more.”

KIOSK’s clients also appreciate getting an early start on solving these challenges. “The process (of immigration) can take anywhere between one to three years before the individual arrives in Canada,” Jorge said. “That’s very valuable time that we can take advantage of and get people up to par in their English skills and cultural awareness.” Back in 2004, Statistics Canada revealed that almost 7% of ICT immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s re-emigrated. This percentage represented close to 50,000 ICT workers who came and left again.

Jorge says the main reason for this migration pattern is that new Canadians feel they don’t have the same opportunities as their Canadian-born colleagues. In evaluating everything from compensation packages to professional development, these highly-trained ICT professionals feel that there are more appealing opportunities in other markets.

“One of the attractive methods offered to us at MaRS, which KIOSK strongly supports, is the collaborative approach to creating innovative and effective solutions,” said Jorge. “From the private sector perspective, it hasn’t generally been the tradition to collaborate with the public sector, government and other individuals in the community. From our perspective, it’s been great to open up dialogue between ourselves and our community partners, to figure out ways of working together to improve the experience for our clients and the integration of new Canadians into the economy and society as a whole.”

KIOSK values their relationship with MaRS and, indeed, its presence in Canada, but knows the future can still provide challenges.  According to Jorge, Canada does an excellent job of offering bridging programs and an overall support system that helps newcomers integrate and understand the educational and professional job opportunities available. However, newcomers continue to face various barriers and obstacles that needs to be addressed in order for Canada to continue its role as a global leader and competitor.

“It’s no longer about just being functional in English or French,” he cautioned. “It’s about possessing leadership qualities — the communications skills and cultural component that are key to the long-term success of your professional career. That shouldn’t be overlooked. After investing so much time in your education, after being exposed to so much great international experience, why not complement that with the communication skills and business culture awareness that will help overcome future workplace barriers and obstacles?”

In the end, KIOSK clients feel the main benefit provided by their training is confidence. Jorge describes it as the moment the light turns on, giving somebody the inside-track view. “The impact that it has on our clients is life-changing, at least from a professional development perspective. And having the opportunity to play a role in such an important moment in our clients’ lives gives us a high level of satisfaction.”

KIOSK has a current project under review with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for the Online Communication Skills for Professionals training of new Canadians in Ontario.  If the bid is successful, this project will be the first of its kind — leveraging cutting-edge, online distance education technologies for the benefit of newcomers across the province.

To lean more about KIOSK, their current ICTC project, and more, please visit their website.

Internationally Trained Workers

In Canada, the integration of internationally-trained workers into the labour force is a pressing issue. As is the case with other industrialized nations, Canada’s economy faces the challenges of labour shortages, increasing need for skilled workers, the globalization of labour markets, and rapid demographic change. Industrialized nations today are competing with each other to recruit and retain internationally-trained workers—valuable human resources that can help economies facing labour shortages, increasing need for more skilled workers, and rapid demographic and technological changes.

In Canada, the situation is urgent. Due to demographic changes, it is predicted that immigrants will account for 100% of net labour force growth by the end of this decade. However, it has been estimated that Canada currently loses approximately 30% of its new and highly skilled arrivals because they are unable to integrate into the economy and in communities. In 2006, the national unemployment rate for immigrants was 11.5%, more than double the rate of 4.9% for those Canadian-born. Immigrants find work, but only 42% work in their intended occupations. These historically weak integration patterns remain systemically persistent and appear to be getting worse.

Various studies have shown that the successful integration of internationally-trained workers is affected by:

  • poor preparation prior to immigrating
  • weak proficiency in the language of work
  • necessary requirements for Canadian work experience
  • non-recognition of prior experience and qualifications, and lack of appropriate social supports and networks to gain access to employment.

Since the recognition of prior experience and qualifications is key to bringing into play the full potential of the internationally trained worker in the Canadian labour force, the term Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) is often used broadly to encompass the range of issues associated with the integration of internationally trained workers in the workforce.

Online Education Platforms

With the rise of online education platforms, a new model of online learning has emerged, promising quality, affordable education at scale. This new generation of educational platforms offer alternatives to expensive degrees programs and physical classrooms in the hopes of emphasizing interactive, personalized and skill-based learning.

An online education platform must provide the following:

  • Comprehensive cloud-based learning platform – Delivers a unified, scalable learning platform through both public and private cloud infrastructure.
  • Mobile-centric education experience – Provides full support for mobile devices and tablets to increase engagement and enrich the learning experience.
  • Digital content discovery and distribution – Empowers instructors with new digital content through numerous top publisher partners from around the world as well as through open content marketplaces.
  • Learning analytics – Offers complete learning analytic engine to optimize content and learning pathways, provide predictive models, and to support improvements in retention and learner outcomes.
  • Open API integration – Supports open standards including The IMS Global Learning Consortium specifications, Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and extensibility with other learning applications.

Language Barriers to Employment

Statistics Canada says that new immigrants continue to have more difficulty in finding a job than Canadian-born residents.

In addition to the general difficulties of regular job seekers in the mainstream society, immigrants and visible minorities have to cope with many other barriers to employment. It is very difficult for these job seekers to find and maintain employment, particularly for unemployed immigrants who are new arrivals, lacking an understanding of working culture and workplace norms of the mainstream society. Despite the fact that the majority of these new arrivals bring positive working habits such as loyalty, hard working, etc. to the new workplace, they may not be able to maintain their employment because of misunderstanding and differences in culture and practices at the new workplace such as team work, conflict resolution, working relationship with coworkers and supervisors, differences in communication styles, and miscommunication/misunderstanding at work (this is particularly true for those with a low level of communication skills in English).

The following significantly constitute the most systemic and personal barriers that immigrants- particularly foreign-trained professionals and trades people must overcome in order to find long term employment compatible with their skills and experience:

Accreditation of Skills: It is difficult and expensive for clients with professional backgrounds to have their education and experience evaluated and recognized. Majority of the program’s skilled trade workers and professionals face special challenges in their search for meaningful employment in their former field. For example, many of them encounter the dilemma of requiring licensing before being considered for employment in their profession, but they are unable to apply for any form of license until they obtain experience within Canada. It is especially true for refugees who were forced to leave their homelands without documentation, and therefore their educational accomplishments are not verifiable.

Lack of Canadian basic training and upgrading opportunities: Many overseas trades or training skills are not recognized. Local employers either discount overseas foreign qualifications or hire the person at a much lower salary rate. Training institutions normally do not have their training programs customized to meet the needs of internationally trained professionals or skills trade workers for skills upgrading.

Lack of Canadian work experience: Many new immigrant job seekers have neither Canadian work experience nor a stable work history (because of war or political/social turmoil in their former countries).

Lack of Knowledge of Canadian laws, bylaws, and regulations: Internationally trained professionals and skilled trade workers from other countries normally do not know North American standards required for their profession. It is essential for local training institutions to provide them with special training courses about Canadian laws, bylaws, and regulations in their professional fields.

Lack of English proficiency: This is the main barrier to employment for many immigrants. It prevents many professionals from getting a job where they can utilize their expertise. It is also a roadblock to employment for the skilled trade immigrants who normally do not have high education from their former countries. Lack of English may be interpreted as poor communication resulting in limited social networking for employment search. Language barrier may lead to loss of confidence, depression, and withdrawal.

Different Culture norms: Cultural barriers are also a burden for our clients being able to find employment. Speaking well about oneself is not socially accepted in many cultures. North American concept of “selling yourself for work” is an alienated idea from other cultures. “Avoiding eye contact” – a sign of respect elsewhere – could be easily misinterpreted during a job interview as lack of confidence or even dishonesty.

Lack of local Network: Networking is an essential part of the job search process. It is impossible to have access to hidden job openings, unless one has an extensive network. In many cases, it is very true that it is not what you know, but whom you know will help you successfully gain employment.

Accessibility of Training: Most immigrant clients are unaware or unable to access training opportunities. Some are restricted by language or finances while others are intimidated by the application process or discouraged by a lack of self-esteem. For others the concept of an adult going to school or changing careers in mid-life is culturally unacceptable.

No Knowledge of Labour Market Information: Many immigrant job seekers neither recognize the important role of LMI in marketing their skills, nor do they know how to collect and filter information necessary for their employment search.

Lack of Job Search Skills: The exercise and process of job search in other countries are not as comprehensive as in North America. Many immigrant job seekers do not how to prepare a resume or a cover letter. They do not know how to market themselves as well as sell their skills and experience in the labor market. Immigrant job seekers normally cannot compete with mainstream applicants in a job interview.

Unrealistic Expectations: Internationally Trained Professionals - particularly from Europe - who have high education, technical skills, and/or good English Language skills tend to have a high expectation for employment that prevents them from getting their first stepping-stone job in Victoria. This situation exists until they either accept the condition of the local labour market after a long employment search or face the financial reality when their savings is about to be drained. It normally taxes these clients’ time and energy until they adapt to the reality of the local labour market, usually within six months to a year.

Deflated Expectations: Many immigrants bring with them distorted ideas about life in North America. Demystification can be especially trying for clients with professional backgrounds who face entry level work outside of their field.

Loss of Supports: Being in a new country means losing family ties and friendships which otherwise would offer support and guidance in times of difficulty.

Lack of basic “modern-life” skills: Immigrants from third world countries may lack skills such as time management, stress and anger management, budgeting, and general information needed to cope with the way of living in North America. It is hard for them to find and keep their first job in Canada.

Racism: Immigrant job seekers may feel a psychological blow to their search for employment, when discrimination, misunderstanding, prejudice, and probably racism play a role in the hiring process. Racism is also a primary concern for visible minority job seekers, particularly those who apply for management positions or jobs in the public sector. It makes them feel rejected and the negative impact generally pushes them into a withdrawal mode.

Loss of confidence & self-esteem: Only a small percentage of internationally trained professionals and highly skilled trade workers were able to secure a professional job in their former field. Many of them have only two choices: either accept entry level positions or stay unemployed and keep dreaming of going back “home” for their former jobs. In both cases, they have confidence and self-esteem gradually eroded after years of trials and failures to find meaningful employment. It may take toll on their emotion and destroy their family fabrics.

We, at the Employment Transitions & Coaching Program, recognize the above roadblocks to employment for immigrant job seekers. We provide them with specialized employment assistance services to meet their unique needs.

The ETC program has successfully helped ten thousands of immigrant job seekers overcome their employment barriers, increase their employability, find and maintain employment since 1990.

Career Focus Program

ICTC is pleased to announce that once again the Career Focus program experienced an overwhelmingly positive response. The total number of subsidies has been awarded, and we are no longer accepting further applications.

This program helps small and medium-sized organisations with some additional funding to include highly skilled young post-secondary graduates in their workplace and increase productivity. Career Focus also aids youth across Canada to build their employability capacity in ICT and develop their digital skills.

ICTC is truly grateful for the support received from our funding partner, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, as well as for the participation of employers and industry partners who have all contributed to the success of the Career Focus Program.

If you would like to receive information about our future initiatives we encourage you to sign up to the ICTC contact database or follow us via social media [@ictc_ctic or LinkedIn.]

More Articles...

  1. KIOSK & ICTC Press Release

Related Information

  • Career Focus Program
  • KIOSK & ICTC Press Release
  • Online Education Platforms
  • Internationally Trained Workers
  • Language Barriers to Employment
  • Never underestimate the value of the watercooler
ICTC is pleased to announce that once again the Career Focus program experienced an overwhelmingly positive response. The total number of subsidies has been awarded, and we are no longer accepting further applications. This program helps small and medium-sized organisations with some additional funding to include highly skilled young post-secondary graduates in their workplace and increase productivity. Career Focus also aids youth across Canada to build their employability capacity in ICT and develop their digital skills. ICTC is truly grateful Read More
June 2, 2010 What are the gaps and barriers that prevent newcomers from finding good positions in their field of expertise? Inadequate communication skills and lack of Canadian workplace and cultural experience provide the most immediate roadblocks. "A 2004 study of immigrants…identified health care workers and ICT professionals as the two occupational groupings most likely to emigrate. Almost 7 per cent of ICT immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s re-emigrated." This percentage represents close to 50,000 ICT workers Read More
With the rise of online education platforms, a new model of online learning has emerged, promising quality, affordable education at scale. This new generation of educational platforms offer alternatives to expensive degrees programs and physical classrooms in the hopes of emphasizing interactive, personalized and skill-based learning. An online education platform must provide the following: Comprehensive cloud-based learning platform – Delivers a unified, scalable learning platform through both public and private cloud infrastructure. Mobile-centric education experience – Provides full support for mobile devices Read More
In Canada, the integration of internationally-trained workers into the labour force is a pressing issue. As is the case with other industrialized nations, Canada’s economy faces the challenges of labour shortages, increasing need for skilled workers, the globalization of labour markets, and rapid demographic change. Industrialized nations today are competing with each other to recruit and retain internationally-trained workers—valuable human resources that can help economies facing labour shortages, increasing need for more skilled workers, and rapid demographic and technological changes. Read More
Statistics Canada says that new immigrants continue to have more difficulty in finding a job than Canadian-born residents. In addition to the general difficulties of regular job seekers in the mainstream society, immigrants and visible minorities have to cope with many other barriers to employment. It is very difficult for these job seekers to find and maintain employment, particularly for unemployed immigrants who are new arrivals, lacking an understanding of working culture and workplace norms of the mainstream society. Despite Read More
By Geraldine Cahill @ MaRS August 23, 2010 Water coolers: Where it all happens in Canadian culture Canadian office culture may not seem intimidating, but if you’re a new Canadian, your qualifications and global experience may not be enough to move ahead in your career. Understanding the value of small-talk in the office can be paramount to progressing into a management position. That’s where MaRS client KIOSK steps in. KIOSK offer English as a Second Language (ESL) communications solutions and specialized Read More

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