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Bridging To Success:

A Learning Day about Bridging Programs in Regulated Professions

Prepared for the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium Funded by the Government of Ontario


Bridging to Success: Introductory Comments

On November 17, 2007, the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium (ORAC) and the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) hosted a learning day about bridging programs in regulated professions and trades. The objective of this event was to allow those involved in bridging programs to share their experiences, promising practices,lessons learned and ideas for enhancing the integration of internationally educated individuals into the Ontario and Canadian labour markets. This manual was developed to summarize experiences with bridging programs in Ontario and to assist bridging educators in continuing to develop and enhance the quality of their programs.

About the author

Zubin Austin (BScPhm, MBA, MISc, PhD) has been Associate Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, and Principal Investigator in the International Pharmacy Graduate Program at the University of Toronto since 2000. He has published over 55 peer-reviewed papers in the area of health professions and bridging education. He was awarded the Province of Ontario’s Leadership in Faculty Teaching (LIFT) award in 2007 and was appointed to the University of Toronto’s President’s Teaching Academy in 2008.

Thanks to Phil Schalm (Ryerson University) and Elizabeth McIsaac (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council) for their review and comments.

Prepared for the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium,2008

Photo Credits: All photos © JUPITERIMAGES, 2008

This manual, and all the text herein, is copyrighted by the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium (ORAC) and is not to be used, distributed or copied without the express permission of ORAC.

Bridging to Success: Table of Contents

1. Overview & Introduction
2. Building Partnerships for Success
3. Getting Started
4. Designing a Bridging Program
5. Mentorship
6. Language Issues
7. Intake
8. Employer Engagement
9. Structures & Sustainability
10. Program Evaluation, Research & Knowledge Dissemination

Overview & Introduction

The integration of internationally educated individuals into the Canadian workforce has been a major public policy issue for many years. While it is clear that the Canadian workforce and our future economic prosperity will increasingly depend on the contribution of internationally educated individuals, it is sometimes less clear what pathways these individuals should take to find employment commensurate with their experience and education.

In November 2007, the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium (ORAC) and the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) hosted a learning day about bridging programs in regulated professions. In attendance were representatives from colleges, universities, community agencies and other bridging program providers. The goal of this learning day was to provide an overview of promising practices and lessons learned in integrating internationally educated individuals into the Ontario and Canadian economies. This report summarizes the event and draws upon other resources to provide an overview of many known best practices and learning drawn from a variety of bridging programs in a variety of regulated and non-regulated fields.

The Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario has reported that the professions with the highest proportion of internationally educated members in Ontario include the following:

  • Pharmacists (35%);
  • Architects (27%);
  • Physicians/Surgeons (27%);
  • Dental Surgeons (26%);
  • Dental Technologists (24%);
  • Engineers (24%);
  • Chiropodists (23%);
  • Midwives (22%);
  • Optometrists (20%);
  • Engineering Technicians/Technologists (19%); and
  • Geoscientists (19%).

(Source: 2007-8 Annual Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario)

What are bridging programs?

“[A bridging program is] any program that helps immigrants fill education gaps or other professional requirements, provides immigrants with cultural and/or workplace orientation, and/or helps immigrants find work that makes use of their skill set and former training.”

(Source: Public Policy Forum, 2007)

“Bridging programs assess a newcomer’s skills and provide targeted training that addresses only what a newcomer needs to meet requirements for licensure and employment in Ontario. Bridging programs provide newcomers with academic training, language training, work experience and other occupation-specific services to help them join the labour market quickly in jobs matching their skills, education and experience.”

(Source: Labour Market Integration Unit, Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, Government of Ontario, 2008)

While profession- or occupation-specific language training may be an important component of a bridging program, such language training by itself is not generally considered to be a bridging program.

Why is there a need for bridging programs?

  • Between 1991 and 2001, more than 70% of  the growth in  the Canadian labour force was a result of immigration;
  • By 2011, it is projected that close to 100%  of growth in the Canadian labour force will be a result of immigration, as the “baby boom” generation begins to exit the workforce in large numbers.

(Source: Statistics Canada, 2001)

  • In 2001, 16% of Canadians  were in fields that required a university education, a 33% increase over the previous decade; 
  • By 2011, it is projected that close to 40% of all jobs (and close to 75% of all newly created positions) will require post–secondary education.

(Source: Industry Canada, 2007)

  • In 2002, 59% of all immigrants had post-secondary education;
  • In 2001, 65.8% of immigrants were employed compared to 81.8% of Canadian-born individuals;
  • Economic outcomes such as these, while undesirable for immigrants themselves, also represent a significant cost for the Canadian economy as a whole.

(Source: Conference Board of Canada)

  • Without a healthy flow of foreign workers, Canada will begin suffering serious occupational shortages.

(Source: Public Policy Forum, 2007)

What barriers to employment in regulated and unregulated professions and trades exist for internationally educated individuals?

The reasons behind Canada’s underutilization of internationally educated individuals are di-verse, but include the following:

  • The need for them to enhance their occupation-appropriate language skills;
  • The lack of awareness/understanding on the part of employers on how best to interpret and assess an internationally educated individual’s education and previous work experience;
  • The lack of an educational background that is directly applicable to/suited for the Canadian workplace;
  • The inability for them to transfer previous knowledge and skills to a Canadian work place context; and
  • The need for them to better understand the culture and practice of a profession/trade in Canada so as to apply experience and education in another country to the Canadian context.

(Source: Alboim, et al. 2005)

What is currently being done to assist internationally educated individuals in accessing employment in regulated professions and trades?

Many organizations (governments, regulatory bodies, community agencies, employers and educational institutions) offer a variety of supports and services to address employment barriers. These supports include the following:

Information Programs are generally web-based portals that provide prospective internationally educated individuals with general information on immigration, employment, licensure/registration and community integration. Such portals are widely available and readily accessible but may not contain up-to-date information, may not adequately differentiate between federal and provincial requirements and may not provide sufficient opportunity for individuals to ask questions based on their personal circumstances;

Pre-Arrival Programs have been developed in targeted fields to assist potential immigrants in understanding their options and the process for gaining employment (including licensure/registration) in a particular field and are typically held in the country of origin prior to emigration. Such programs provide greater occupation-specific information and some (though limited) opportunities for individualized counselling prior to moving to Canada;

Assessment Programs have been developed in a variety of fields that give inter-nationally educated individuals an opportunity to evaluate their own skill set and readiness for employment based on occupation-specific criteria. Such programs are increasingly web-based and typically include formal examinations designed to evaluate comparability of academic preparation and/or experience to Canadian standards. There is increasing emphasis on offering some portions of such programs in an internationally educated individual’s country of origin, where      possible; and

Bridging Programs have been developed in a variety of professions and trades aimed at filling gaps in education, experience or context that internationally educated individuals may experience once they arrive in Canada. Such programs are usually occupation-specific, linked to an educational institution involved in that occupation and built around formalized competency standards including formal assessment of learning.

Currently, many professions and trades are working to ensure continuity and consistency between all four types of programs to ensure a common message is conveyed and communicated to internationally educated individuals. In the past, lack of consistency has lead to significant frustration and delays in accessing meaningful, relevant employment.

What sorts of bridging programs currently exist?

Within Ontario, there are numerous examples of bridging programs, both occupation-specific and sector-specific (such as health, financial services and information technology). Since 2003, the Government of Ontario has funded over 145 bridging projects in over 100 professions and trades. In most cases, these programs include the following:

  • Are associated with a specific profession/trade or an economic sector;
  • Are linked with an educational institution and/or regulatory body and/or professional association;
  • Are associated with local community and/or settlement/employment agencies;
  • Provide direct connections with employers; and
  • Provide employment-specific learning opportunities (such as shadowing, internships, mentorships and so on).

What has been learned about bridging programs?

Formal bridging programs have been recognized since 2000; however, informal bridging education has been in existence for decades. Successful bridging programs include the following:

  • Involve partnerships between employers, educators, regulators, professional associations, governments and community/settlement or employment agencies;
  • Focus on equipping internationally educated individuals with skills for a life-time of learning and practice in the field—not simply preparing individuals for today’s job;
  • Integrate language support/training with technical/professional skills and competencies;
  • Provide a vehicle for internationally educated individuals to learn not only the content and competencies of a profession/trade but also the context and culture of how these are applied in Canada; and
  • Engage employers throughout the program to optimize post-program connections.
During the learning day, participants shared their experiences regarding key aspects of bridging education including recruitment strategies, eligibility determination practices, project evaluation and performance measurement systems, sustainability strategies and models for integrating bridging education within a profession or trade. Participants recognized the value and importance of sharing experiences and materials (such as language curriculum or technical/clinical skills assessments) within the bridging education community. This report provides an overview of these discussions along with an overview of practices that may be useful for those initiating or enhancing bridging programs.

For further information

2007-8 Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario.
Website: http://www.fairnesscommissioner.ca/pdfs/ofc_annual_report_2007-2008_english_online.pdf

Association of Canadian Community Colleges. “Programs and Services for Immigrants.”
Website: http://www.accc.ca/english/services/i-services/bt_programs.htm

Global Experience Ontario: An access and resource centre for the internationally trained.
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca/English/geo.asp

Government of Ontario. “Work in your profession: bridge training programs.”
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca/english/bridge.asp

Government of Ontario. “About Ontario’s Bridge Training Programs.”
Website: http://www.citizenship.gov.on.ca/english/working/experience/

HealthForceOntario (Government of Ontario’s health human resource strategy for interna-tionally educated health professionals)
Website: http://www.healthforceontario.ca

Public Policy Forum. “Improving bridging programs: Compiling best practices from a survey of Canadian bridging programs.”January 2008.

Ryerson University. “Gateway for International Professionals: An array of programs and services for immigrant professionals.”
Website: http://www.ryerson.ca/ce/gateway.

Settlement.Org. “What are bridging programs for internationally trained individuals in Ontario?”
Website: http://www.settlement.org/sys/faqs_detail.asp?faq_id=4000685

Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Centre. “Hire immigrants.ca: a TRIEC program.”
Website: http://www.hireimmigrants.ca/how/6/

Building Partnerships for Success

Participants at the learning day highlighted the value and importance of strong partnerships in successful bridging programs. Key roles for partners that were identified included recruiting students, engaging mentors and employers and facilitating long-term sustain-ability of bridging programs. In particular, funders of bridging programs indicated that strong partnerships with regulators are critical to success; those applying for funding for bridging programs are strongly recommended to document the depth and nature of relationships with regulatory bodies in their field. Other partners, such as employers, professional association and community/settlement and employment agencies, are also important for the success of bridging programs. Participants at the learning day highlighted the importance of dialogue and communication between all partners as crucial to ensuring that these relation-ships can flourish and form the foundation for successful bridging programs.

An important component of successful bridging programs involves partnerships among different organizations. Bridging education is a pan-professional process involving stakeholders from different sectors within a profession or trade.It is helpful to identify cham-pions within partner organiza-tions who can provide support and resources to assist in the development and implemen-tation of bridging programs. Experience from a variety of bridging programs suggests the partners indicated on the next two pages should be en-gaged and involved through-out the process to optimize successful outcomes.

Type of Partner



Profession- ortrade-specific

Employer and employer associations;Sector councils; Industry associations

• Job shadowing/placements;
• Internships;
• Mentorships;
• Scholarships for bridging programs;
• Advocacy for government funding;
• Barrier-free recruitment/hiring processes.


Regulator (for regulated professions/trades)

• Policy/procedure changes to enable/facilitate/encourage bridging;

• Information for prospective candidates about bridging programs;

• Ensure fairness and transparency of processes and requirements for registration/licensure.


Academic/Training institutions(e.g., universities and community colleges)

• Delivery of bridging programs;

• Assessment of competencies based on standards of profession/trade.


Professional advocacy

• Information for prospective candidates about bridging programs;

• Mentorship and network-building;

• Links to employers.


Community and/orSettlement agencies

• Logistics of community integration (housing, education and so on);

• Delivery of bridging programs;

• Referrals to profession-specific programs.


Community and/orSettlement agencies

• Logistics of community integration (housing, education and so on);

• Delivery of bridging programs;

• Referrals to profession-specific programs.


Immigrant advocacy groups

• Support for bridging programs;

• Advocacy at government level for inter-nationally educated individuals.

Type of Partner




Cultural groups

• On-going support and peer mentorship
during integration process and professional
network development;
• Referrals to profession-specific programs.


General language training

• ESL to support occupation-specific language
training and assessment.






• Seed funding for development of bridging programs and occupation-specific language training;
• Information (through provincial portals such as HealthForceOntario);
• Student loans (such as OSAP);
• Sustaining funding at levels consistent with support provided for other programming
offered by institutions (particularly colleges and universities);
• Adult ESL and FSL programs (credit/noncredit)
to help newcomers increase their language proficiency in order to access bridging programs.



• Immigration policies/practices;
• Seed funding for development of bridging programs;
• ESL/FSL training (LINC), enhanced language training programs;
• Seed funding for development of interprofessional



• Community-based integration;
• Advocacy for internationally educated individuals’ needs;
• Employer- and sector-specific advocacy (e.g., TRIEC);
• Information (through municipal portals).

Depending upon the particular needs of the profession or trade, additional partners may need to be engaged:

  • Credential assessment services, such as World Educational Services or the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials, provide services to assist internationally educated individuals, employers, regulators and educators in assessing the comparability of previous education and/or experience to Canadian standards.

  • In some fields, unions may also play an important role in bridging programs by assisting in the identification of mentors, management of placement sites as part of educational programs and providing support during the registration/licensure process.

  • Internationally educated individuals are,of course, a key partner. In some fields,it may be possible to access advocacy or support groups within immigrant communities with specific links to a profession or trade; in other fields, more general organizations may exist. In either case, it is important to ensure that the internationally educated individuals whom bridging programs serve are part of the partners’ group.

How can partners be engaged?

Based on experiences from successful bridging programs, it is clear that partnerships must be formed not only within the profession/trade itself but beyond it. Few professions/trades have all the resources required to develop a successful program by themselves, and so engagement of external partners must occur simultaneously.

Key success factors for profession-specific partnership include the following:

  • The equal partnership between two or three organizations to take the lead and champion the cause of bridging education within a profession/trade. Most successful programs involve collaboration between an academic institution and a regulatory body and/or a professional association or trade union;

  • The engagement of an employer from the outset. In some professions/trades, it may be difficult to identify individuals or organizations who can speak as “representatives” of employers within the profession/trade. In this situation, it is helpful to identify employers with interests in bridging education who may serve as champions within the broader professional community. While employers may or may not be actively in-volved in administration of bridging programs, they have resources (including sites for placements, mentors/preceptors and potential access to financial support for students enrolled in bridging programs) that are invaluable. In some professions/trades, it may be possible to identify specific groups or organizations that represent employers; in such cases, bridging educators should consider strategies for engaging them from the outset. In fields where such groups/organizations do not exist, alternative methods for eliciting input and support from employers should be developed; and

  • The involvement of professional advocacy organizations that broadly represent the profession/trade should be involved. In some fields, internationally educated individuals may be perceived by some practitioners as a threat to employment, standards, livelihood or remuneration. Engagement with professional advocacy groups will facilitate dissemination of clear and correct information within the profession to minimize misunderstanding or distrust of bridging programs. Such organizations are also useful in the recruitment of potential employers, mentors and preceptors, the provision of training sites and for advocacy with government and other external stakeholders on behalf of bridging programs.

Key success factors for external partnerships include the following:

  • Engagement of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) training service providers to support (but not replace) occupation-specific language training embedded within a bridging program or English-for-specific-purposes (ESP) programs;

  • Engagement of settlement agencies that provide services related to community integration. It is important to remember that, for most internationally educated individuals, accessing a profession/trade and seeking employment is only one aspect of the complexities they are facing. Finding housing, child care, appropriate schooling options for children, learning how to use transit systems, acquiring a telephone, setting up a bank account and so on, are all difficult, time consuming tasks. Feeling secure in these activities is important to success in bridging programs, but bridging programs should not focus on these activities. Community-based settlement agencies provide comprehensive one-stop services to assist the integration of internationally educated individuals into their local communities; and

  • Involvement of immigrant advocacy organizations that provide a variety of supports. These supports include facilitating access to low-interest student loans for those en-rolled in bridging programs as well as advocating for bridging education at the high-est levels of government and media.

Previous experience suggests that all levels of governments play an important role in bridging education. In many cases, provincial governments provide seed funding to groups to develop bridging programs. It is important to recognize the specific areas in which a level of government is best able to contribute to successful outcomes in bridging education.

Provincial governments will periodically announce calls for funding proposals for the development and implementation of bridging programs or occupation-specific language-training programs. Funding of this sort is meant to be short-term and developmental, with a mid-term goal of financial independence and sustainability. Provincial governments can also provide resources, information and linkages to other programs; this facilitates the sharing of curriculum, assessments and learning.

The federal government will periodically announce calls for funding proposals to develop and implement programs that may be somewhat more interdisciplinary or collaborative in nature. For example, the federal government recently supported development of an “Orientation to the Canadian Health Care System” program for internationally educated pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, medical laboratory technicians and medical radiation technologists.

It is important to recognize the importance of identifying sustainable funding sources to ensure that bridging programs are capable of moving from simple project status to a more sustained, systemized status within an institution.

It is also important to recognize the constitutionally-mandated division of powers among federal and provincial governments. Previous experience suggests that provincial governments—whose mandates include education and training—are better able to respond to questions and calls for seed funding; the federal govern-ment is better able to respond to questions related to immigration policy, pre-immigration information and pre-arrival screening.

How can bridging programs establish partnerships?

For most successful bridging programs, an advisory board structure has facilitated development and nurturing of partnerships. Sample terms of reference for an advisory board are provided on the following page.

Terms of Reference

The Advisory Board will be constituted to provide support and guidance for the bridging program, and to advocate on behalf of the program with diverse stakeholders. The Board will not direct the day-to-day operations of the bridging program but will serve in a supportive, advisory and facilitative (such as arranging placements, mentors and so on) context.

Membership of the Advisory Board shall consist of

  • Chair: a champion from one lead partner organization, usually educational or regulatory;
  • Secretary: a champion from another lead partner organization, usually educational or regulatory;
  • Representatives from
    • Employer groups;
    • Professional advocacy groups;
    • Settlement agencies or community groups;
    • Immigrant advocacy groups;
    • Provincial Government;
    • Students (one or two) of the bridging program itself.

The Advisory Board will meet at least twice annually. Reasonable meeting-related expenses for travel and accommodation will be reimbursed through the bridging program, where possible, or through the partner organization if agreed upon in advance.

The Advisory Board will provide, as necessary, strategic advice and input on all aspects of the bridging program including labour market information, emerging trends in the practice/management of the profession/trade, employment and regulatory trends and the educational needs of internationally educated individuals and their mentors/preceptors.

The Advisory Board will review and revise terms of reference as necessary every two years.

For further reading

2007-8 Annual Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario.
Website: http://www.fairnesscommissioner.ca/pdfs/ofc_annual_report_2007-2008_english_online.pdf

Austin, Z., and Croteau, D. (2007). “Intersectoral collaboration to enable bridging education for pharmacists: the International Pharmacy Graduate Program in Ontario, Canada.” Pharmacy Education 7(1); 61-68.

Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials.
Website: http://www.cicic.ca/

Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses.
Website: http://www.care4nurses.org

Going to Canada Information Portal.
Website: http://www.goingtocanada.gc.ca

Health Force Ontario Information Portal.
Website: http://www.healthforceontario.ca/

Skills for Change (a non-profit organization providing learning and training opportunities to immigrants and refugees).
Website: http://www.skillsforchange.org

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).
Website: http://www.triec.ca

World Education Services.
Website: http://www.wes.org/ca/

Getting Started

Participants at the learning day highlighted the challenges and rewards of starting new bridg-ing initiatives. While enthusiasm for the work is clearly important, a systematic approach to planning is essential. Understanding the environment and identifying “quick win” priorities is essential in order to raise the profile of bridging programs within the profession/trade. The importance of engaging the professional community in a sustainable manner was emphasized by most participants as was the value of balancing and respecting diverse perspectives and points of view regarding the structure and function of bridging programs.

Most effective bridging programs require partnerships and planning in order to succeed. Project planning for bridging programs requires a careful, step-by-step approach to building relationships, securing resources (human and financial), accessing in-service training, developing programming (curriculum, mentorship and internships) and incorporating on-going quality assurance and program evaluation. While each profession/trade, program and situation are different, common steps have emerged on how to “get started” with bridging programs.

Step 1: Scan the environment;
Step 2: Develop the partnerships;
Step 3: Identify the need;
Step 4: Understand the learners and their unique needs;
Step 5: Develop the program;
Step 6: Engage the professional community (including employers);
Step 7: Identify sources of support, financial and human;
Step 8: Evaluate and sustain the program.

While these steps are presented here in a sequential format, real-world experience suggests that activities within each step often occur in concurrent and iterative manners. Flexibility based upon the environment and circumstances is essential to ensure that all objectives are achieved.

Step 1: Scan the environment


As the workplace becomes more complex, so too do demands for well qualified personnel. Those initiating bridging programs must continuously scan the environment within their profession/trade to ensure they understand the needs of the workplace and the context within which the profession/trade operates. A critical component of this environmental scanning is a clear understanding of present and projected labour market demands with-in the field. This must be based on best-available data and best-practice employment models. Environmental scans may consist of the following:

  • Ad-hoc scanning: This is a short-term assessment of environmental conditions, usually triggered by a problem or a crisis;
  • Periodic scanning: This is a mid-term assessment of environmental conditions, usually undertaken on an annual basis; and
  • Continuous scanning: This is on-going assessment using systematic/structured data collection.

While continuous scanning is generally regarded as best-practice, it may not be feasible for a variety of reasons. Periodic scanning should be undertaken, with ad-hoc scanning as necessary.

An environmental scan could contain the following:
  • Quantitative data regarding the current workforce of the profession/trade including demographics, education, career patterns, salaries/benefits, employment prospects, employer information and so on. While some of this data may be obtained from government
    of Canada databases (see http://www.statcan.ca/english/Subjects/Labour/LFS/lfs-en.htm) additional data may be obtained from regulatory bodies, employer groups, educational institutions and professional advocacy organizations. If available, sector councils and local economic development offices may also provide important quantitative data for the environmental scan.

Other components in an environmental scan include the following:

  • Summary of current trends within the profession/trade. This includes changes in scopes/standards of practice, employment conditions and employer status, as well as an analysis of how these trends may impact on future human resources needs;

  • Qualitative assessments from key opinion leaders within the field, including those from academic, regulatory, employment, practice and professional advocacy groups;

  • Qualitative and quantitative data regarding the experiences of immigrants within the context
    of bridging education. It is also useful to provide both data within the profession/trade—both those who are licensed and practicing and those who are attempting to become licensed—context. General data regarding immigrants may be accessed at the Statistics Canada website at http://www.statcan.ca/ and, in particular, data from the Longitudinal Study of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC); and

  • Executive summary of all data to allow for widespread distribution of results. This should be one-to-two pages in length.

Step 2: Develop the partnerships

Partnerships are integral to success in bridging programs. Key partners will include academic,regulatory, employer, professional advocacy, community/settlement agencies and governments. Most successful programs have established advisory boards/committees to provide strategic—not day-to-day—guidance and suggestions. A thorough environmental scan should assist in identifying organizations and individual champions who may be most effective on such a board. It is important to recognize and promote the notion that bridging initiatives are of use and value to the partners in helping them develop a well-prepared workforce. The reciprocal nature of the partnership should be emphasized by outlining the role bridging programs may play, for example, in assisting in recruiting/hiring practices, of sourcing internationally educated individuals’ talent and designing in-house training initiatives.

Step 3: Identify the need

While environmental scans are useful at establishing a context for understanding the profession/trade, bridging programs require specific educational-needs–assessment research to ensure that programming is fit-for-purpose. The ultimate goal of this step is to identify and
prioritize essential content (technical knowledge, skills, values, training and so on) for the bridging program, as well as develop a mechanism for ensuring continuous curricular updating in the future. Sources of data for educational needs assessment include the following:

  • Performance results on profession/trade-specific licensing examinations and employment outcomes
    that identify specific areas of strength and weakness for internationally educated

  • Complaints/discipline records review within a profession that identify challenges faced by
    internationally educated individuals in practice;

  • Credential assessment/review and tests/processes result summaries that identify gaps in academic
    qualifications common to internationally educated individuals;

  • Reports from preceptors/mentors outlining observed performance gaps in internationally
    educated individuals’ practice; and

  • Interviews with employers and other key opinion leaders that identify areas of growth for internationally educated individuals.

This data needs to be matched or compared with existing standards/practice, competency statements or other documents outlining performance expectations within the specific profession/trade. Understanding what knowledge, skills, attitudes and judgment are required within a field—and comparing this to learner needs assessment data—will facilitate development of curriculum, assessment and teaching methodologies within a bridging program.

Step 4: Understand the learners & their unique needs


Internationally educated individuals are not a homogenous group. There are significant differences in practice, education and culture across different parts of the world. Even within one cultural group there are significant differences between individuals. While some generalizations about background education and the nature of professional practice in an internationally educated individual’s country of origin, for example, may be useful in framing discussions regarding bridging programs, it is essential not to stereotype individual learners and instead develop systems which will identify each individual’s learning needs.

Many professions and trades have developed competency assessment matching tools which allow individuals to self-assess their current skill set against those identified as critical for the profession/trade. These can provide a useful starting point for individualized counseling and support. Where these do not exist, funding from provincial and/or federal governments may be available to create and maintain such tools (see http://www.citizenship.gov.on.ca/english/ or http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/index.asp). Such matching tools may be useful, but they do require individuals to demonstrate a high degree of language fluency and self-assessment skills. When interpreting results from competency assessment tools, it is essential to understand the learner’s level of proficiency and understanding.

A key component in understanding internationally educated individuals is ensuring adequate English (or French) language-fluency skills that meet occupation-specific requirements. The Canadian Centre for Language Benchmarks (http://www.language.ca/) offers useful tools/ resources for assessment of language-specific competencies.

Step 5: Develop the program

Bridging programs will vary significantly, depending on the nature/need of individuals and specific professions and trades. In general, most programs consist of the following elements:

  • Prior learning assessment and recognition processes: These ensures a more customized learning environment for individuals based on their own experience and background;

  • Academic coursework: These are benchmarked to relevant academic and professional/trade standards—including authentic assessment—and foster development of knowledge and skills within the Canadian context;

  • Distance learning opportunities (where available and appropriate): These reduce geographical and other barriers to participation;

  • Mentorship opportunities: These connect learners with their profession/trade and provide important cultural learning and opportunities for professional networking;

  • In-service training opportunities (including internships and studentships): These provide Canadian workplace experience, in-service assessment and meet licensure/regulatory requirements in some fields;

  • Peer-networking: These give learners an opportunity to develop a support network of individuals with similar experiences/situations;

  • Employment linkages (including employer links, resume preparation, employer and employee readiness training): These facilitate transition into the workplace; and

  • Employer engagement: This ensures employers are supportive of the program and will sponsor internationally educated individuals in the workplace and will hire bridging program graduates.

Each bridging program will emphasize certain elements, based on the profession’s or trade’s unique requirements; however, in order to be effective, most bridging programs will have all elements outlined above.

Step 6: Engage the professional community (including employers)

It is important to engage the professional community to dispel any misconceptions about the role of internationally educated individuals in the community or any notions that preferential or special treatment is being given to those enrolled in bridging programs. Since individual practitioners will serve as instructors, mentors and preceptors within the bridging program at various times, such engagement is also important: It will also ensure that a pool of informed practitioners is available, though this requires a focused effort on behalf of the bridging program.

Employer engagement is also an important component of success in bridging programs. Such engagement can lead to employers supporting/sponsoring learners within programs in exchange for agreements to work following successful completion of the program and the licensure process.


Step 7: Identify sources of support, financial & human

Developmental funding for bridging programs may be somewhat distinct from funding for the delivery and/or sustainability of such programs. Developmental costs are frequently significant since new curriculum, materials, assessments and training costs for instructors, mentors and preceptors takes time and resources. Sources of funding for developmental costs may include the following:

  • The profession/trade: Professional advocacy groups, recognizing the value of and need for bridging programs, may contribute financially and/or in-kind to development of programs. Employers may also be willing to contribute and should be approached for their financial and in-kind support;

  • Regulatory bodies: In the context of public protection, regulatory bodies have, in the past, contributed significant financial and in-kind resources to develop bridging programs;

  • Academic institutions: Since many bridging programs are “housed” within universities, community colleges or other academic centres, institutions may contribute financially and in-kind in order to establish themselves as the primary organization responsible for delivery of a program;

  • Community/Settlement agencies: Though not generally able to contribute financially, community/settlement agencies may be able to contribute curricular resources (particularly related to employment skills, language training and settlement issues) and, in some instances, classroom space and computer support. The value of this contribution can be significant;

  • Provincial governments: The Government of Ontario, through its Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) has issued periodic calls for project-development funding proposals. Detailed instructions for these calls are provided by MCI; proponents are strongly encouraged to assemble a partnership and follow instructions closely to optimize success in grant writing. MCI works in partnership with its federal counterpart, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to optimize available funding for eligible components of MCI-funded bridging initiatives, under the Canada Ontario Immigration Agreement; and the

  • Federal government: Owing to the constitutional division of responsibilities in Canada, the Federal Government does not generally fund provincial bridging programs but may fund certain eligible components. However, funding for language training, environmental scanning, and other supports for bridging programs may be available through Health Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada.
In order to ensure that they meet funding requirements, those programs interested in applying for external funding should consult with the relevant government or department prior to submitting a formal application.

Step 8: Evaluate & sustain the program

Since many programs receive significant financial support for development, the sustainability of bridging programs is critical. Most funders—including government, employers, professional associations and so on—recognize the need to support one-time development costs, but believe that on-going operational costs should be covered through a combination of student tuition (which may include access to low-interest professional loans, bursaries or other student-specific sources of funding) and other supports. It is critical during the development phase to ensure that on-going environmental scanning is undertaken to identify potential funding sources that would allow sustainability. Integral to this process is program evaluation, a process by which data is gathered to ensure the bridging program is indeed meeting its objectives. Successful bridging programs have successful graduates who are employed and contributing to their field; such programs subsequently attract new students, employer interest and additional revenue sources. In some circumstances, bridging programs have been integrated into the standard/core offerings of educational institutions; this recognizes the fact that bridge training is not merely a temporary phenomenon but an emerging trend within higher/post-secondary education.

For further information

2007-8 Annual Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario.
Website: http://www.fairnesscommissioner.ca/pdfs/ofc_annual_report_2007-2008_ english_online.pdf

Canadian Centre for Language Benchmarks
Website: http://www.language.ca/

Lopes, S., and Y. Poisson. “Integrating Immigrants: Building partnerships that work.
Conference Report.” Public Policy Forum, 2006.

Maytree Foundation
Website: www.maytree.com

Policy Roundtable Mobilizing Professions and Trades (PROMPT)
Website: www.promptinfo.ca/index.asp

Statistics Canada
Website: www.statcan.ca

Designing a Bridging Program

Designing a bridging program is a collaborative process and involves input from many partners. Participants at the learning day highlighted the value of this collaboration as a way of ensuring programs meet learners’, regulators’ and workplace (including employers’) needs. Participants also shared their experiences using the different components of bridging education, including Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), distance learning and mentorship. While each bridging program will vary in its emphasis on these components, most comprehensive programs incorporate all these components in some way in order to effectively prepare internationally educated individuals for the workplace.

An inventory of Canadian bridging programs compiled by Public Policy Forum in 2008 identified a variety of different approaches to bridging education for internationally educated individuals. Since first being formally described and defined in the 1990s, an impressive array of bridging
programs has been developed throughout Canada in a variety of regulated and non-regulated professions and trades.

Each profession and trade must develop a bridging program consistent with needs of the field, employers and internationally educated individuals themselves. In addition, regulatory/legal requirements and associated professional issues must be addressed. Consequently, there is no
one-size-fits-all model for bridging education. Instead, each program must select and emphasize certain aspects in order to be responsive to constituents’ needs. A key philosophical issue in bridging education, however, should remain: Bridging programs are not simply about exam
preparation or employment skills. Instead, bridging programs should equip internationally educated individuals with the competencies required for a lifetime of practice—including continuous professional development—in their field.

While the emphasis may vary from program to program, most successful bridging programs contain the following eight core elements:

  • Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) processes: These help internationally educated individuals describe and document previous experience, education and practice within the context of Canadian practice and standards;

  • Academic coursework benchmarked to an appropriate standard in the field: Such coursework also should include a meaningful assessment system, one that is similarly aligned with general assessment in the field;

  • Distance learning opportunities: Where feasible and available, these opportunities reduce potential geographic or time barriers to access. Such opportunities may include synchronous and asynchronous programs;

  • In-service training: This allows internationally educated individuals an opportunity to apply their learning directly in the field under the guidance of a practitioner. In many fields, structured workplace experience (such as internship) is a requirement for licensure/registration and there is a summative assessment component;

  • Peer-support networks: These give internationally educated individuals an opportunity to connect with others having the same experience in navigating the Canadian workplace. Formal and informal peer-networking systems allow for sharing, venting and exchanging stories, all
    of which are essential components of support during this potentially stressful time;

  • Mentorship: This allows for the development of professional networks and profession/tradespecific cultural learning;

  • Employment linkages: These linkages, often with settlement, community support and employment agencies, facilitate workplace-based life-skills training and support such as resume preparation, interview guidance, employment readiness and general settlement/integration
    issues; and

  • Employer engagement: This provides direct opportunities for employers to recruit and hire graduates of bridging programs and enables employers to gain insight into the appropriateness of their own recruitment and hiring practices.

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR)

A key finding of most bridging programs has been the heterogeneity of internationally educated individuals’ learning needs when involved in a program. Individual needs may range from general and occupation-specific English-language needs to cultural learning, to specific content/technical skills, to interpersonal skills. No one-size-fits-all program is truly appropriate for all learners.

Most successful programs have developed some form of objective prior learning assessment and recognition. Successful types of PLAR include use of the following:

  • Self-assessment and competency matching instruments which allow internationally educated individuals to identify for themselves what learning needs exist;

  • Objective occupation-specific language tests (usually built around the Canadian Language Benchmarks) which benchmark language skills against field-specific requirements. Results can be used to identify learning gaps which may be addressed through occupation-specific or general language training programs;

  • External agencies that undertake document evaluation to ascertain comparability educational preparation/practice experience to the Canadian context;

  • Objective written tests of technical knowledge identify specific gaps which may be addressed through a bridging program;

  • Objective performance-based tests (such as objective structured clinical examinations [OSCEs] and other structured means for assessment and documentation of competencies) to assess internationally educated individuals’ abilities to apply knowledge within a practical context. Results of such tests can then be used to identify specific learning needs.

The role of PLAR within bridging programs continues to evolve. For example, Ryerson University and its partners in the nursing profession are undertaking formal research related to the evaluation and recognition of prior learning for internationally educated nurses, utilizing a competency-based approach designed to be equally useful for regulators, employers and academic institutions. Work such as this may serve as a template for other professions and trades engaged in PLAR.

Some programs have identified the importance of occupation-specific language competency and have developed tools and resources aimed at measuring this as a proxy for more generalized PLAR. Results from such language assessments, coupled with self-assessments and competency matching, can serve as a reasonable (albeit imprecise) form of PLAR that is feasible and sustainable.

Academic programs

Most bridging programs have a formal affiliation with, or are hosted by, academic institutions responsible for educating/training practitioners in the field. This alignment is advantageous since it allows for use of common resources and ensures comparability in standards between bridging programs and academic preparation for Canadian practitioners.

Most bridging educators agree that it is important that academic standards in bridging programs not be diluted or reduced, since all practitioners (whether Canadian educated or not) are required to meet the same standards in practice. As far as possible, similar curricula, teaching methods, and assessments should be used for Canadian students and for internationally educated individuals enrolled in bridging programs. Such an approach will enhance the validity and acceptability of the program to the professional community and the public.

While similar materials and methods are ideal, they must also be contextualized for the learner who is not familiar with the Canadian workplace and for whom English may be a second, third or sixth language. Anecdotally, bridging educators have suggested that one hour of reading/activities/lecture in a typical university/community college classroom environment requires one-and-a-half to two hours in a bridging program to account for additional questions, clarifications and so on.

Academic programs must also incorporate both summative and formative assessments. Such assessments should be consistent with principles of effective and aligned teaching, learning and assessment (see http://www.mcmaster.ca/stlhe/ for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education website).

Distance learning opportunities

In most cases, bridging programs appear to be centralized in large urban centres and affiliated with higher education institutions. This can inadvertently result in a geographic-access barrier. Distance learning models have been piloted by some programs to address this barrier. The following are models of distance learning:
  • Asynchronous e-courses: These allow internationally educated individuals to access courses at their own pace, in their own time. Asynchronous e-courses typically involve pre-recorded or pre-developed educational material that is accessible at the learner’s discretion;

  • Synchronous e-courses: These utilize technology,such as web-casting or pod-casting, in which real-time distance interaction with an instructor is possible. Synchronous e-courses typically involve a pre-scheduled meeting time
    when internationally educated individuals and instructors log-in to a specified web-site and engage electronically in a manner similar to a classroom setting; and

  • Satellite campus models: These “host” some components (such as clinical placements, mentoring and specific learning activities) or all of a bridging program in a smaller community, utilizing the same curriculum, assessments and teaching methods, but use trained, local facilitators/instructors rather than university/community college-based ones.

The role of distance learning in bridging programs continues to evolve. The cost of development and maintenance of e-courses is significant, and there are questions as to whether e-courses are an effective medium for teaching and assessment of certain critical competencies related to communication and interpersonal skills. Several surveys of internationally educated individuals have indicated, while they appreciate the convenience of e-learning, a preference for a face-to-face classroom environment for the social support it provides. Blended learning methods that utilize some face-to-face classes and some e-courses are growing in popularity.

Satellite campus models have been attempted in some fields. Where implemented, this model has been generally successful when the centre in which the satellite is hosted is itself relatively large and has access to appropriate resources and personnel. In such a circumstance, centralized policies and procedures may be helpful to ensure consistency between the programs.

In-service training

Many fields require candidates for licensure/registration to complete a required number of in-service training hours. This can be frustrating since, without previous Canadian experience,some employers hesitate to accept an internationally educated individual. Bridging programs are able to facilitate access to in-service training positions by:

• Developing employer/preceptor outreach/marketing programs;

• Delivering preceptor training programs that assist preceptors in teaching internationally educated individuals;

• Providing “trouble-shooting” services to support preceptors who have accepted internationally educated individuals;

• Providing matching programs that allow internationally educated individuals an opportunity to match their interests/backgrounds with the needs/wants of preceptors and training sites; and

• Using summative and formative assessments to facilitate delivery of feedback from preceptors to internationally educated individuals in a consistent, fair and transparent manner.


Peer-support networks


For many internationally educated individuals, the process of gaining licensure/registration and employment in a field (regulated or unregulated) is stressful and lonely. A key finding from most bridging programs is the importance of the support provided by other internationally educated individuals in the program. More than mentorship, different than preceptorship/in-service training, peer-support networks provide a collegial environment that supports individuals through this stressful period of life. The nature of most bridging programs means that individuals proceed through a program as a cohort and, as a result, social relationships are formed. Many bridging programs go further and have developed alumni associations, international student associations and other networking organizations that give internationally educated individuals an opportunity to meet, share and interact with one another in a peer-to-peer manner. Such networks are consistently identified by participants as a “high point” of their bridging education experience and should be designed into most bridging programs.


The value of mentorship as part of the design of bridging programs is now almost universally accepted. For a full discussion on mentorship, please refer to section 5 of Bridging for Success:
A Learning Day about Bridging Programs in Regulated Professions.

Employment linkages

While bridging programs may focus on the communicative and technical aspects of practice, it is equally important to ensure that internationally educated individuals are able to integrate effectively into the workplace. Settlement agencies, community support agencies and professional
associations may be particularly helpful in providing staff, resources or materials to assist with job searching skills, resume preparation, interview skills, introduction to the Canadian workplace, computer literacy and settlement issues (such as housing, education, transportation, setting up bank accounts and so on).

Such ‘everyday’ topics may not necessarily be part of a formal bridging curriculum but should be made available to all bridging students; these life-skills are of critical importance in successful transition to the workforce.

Employer engagement

Bridging programs must ensure that they have well-developed and nurtured links to employers in the field. Not only do these employers potentially provide mentors, preceptors and instructors for the bridging program, they may also assist in recruitment of internationally educated individuals and provide training sites, provide support across the field for the bridging program and, importantly, hire graduates from the program.

In some fields, employers will actually pay for internationally educated individuals to complete a program, with the understanding that the individual will then work for the employer for a period of time. Such arrangements can be very advantageous for both parties: There is some guarantee of a position for an internationally educated individual upon completion of requirements, and an employer will have the services of a well-trained employee. Care, of course, must be taken to ensure that the rights of both internationally educated individuals and employers are clear and respected in all cases.

For further information

Canadian Association of Prior Learning Assessment (non-profit organization promoting recognition and credentialing of prior learning)
Website: www.capla.ca

Canadian Centre for Language Benchmarks
Website: http://www.language.ca

Career Bridge (provides internship opportunities to internationally eductaed individuals to address the issue of gaining Canadian work experience)
Website: http://www.careerbridge.ca/

Duncan, D., and Y. Poisson. “Improving Bridging Programs: Compiling Best Practices from a survey of Canadian Bridging Programs.” Public Policy Forum, January 2008.
Available at: www.ppforum.ca.

Ontario Public Service (OPS) Internship Program (provides internationally trained professionals with internship opportunities in the OPS)
Website: http://www.citizenship.gov.on.ca/english/working/internship/

Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Website: http://www.mcmaster.ca/stlhe/index.html

Starting and Maintaining Mentoring: A peer resource.
Website: www.mentors.ca/mentor.html



The learning day participants agreed that mentorship programs are integral to the success of bridging education. A variety of different models and methods of mentorship were presented. Algonquin College presented its experience with an on-line training course for mentors that connects with the general content of the bridging program so that mentors can provide insight and assist with the program itself. CARE for Nurses offers an on-line support system that helps to match internationally educated nurses with mentors. Several groups indicated that recruitment of mentors was facilitated by the inclusion of mentoring as an accepted part of their professional association’s or regulatory body’s professional development plan. The Professional Access and Integration to Employment Program for environmental professionals incorporates diversity training for its mentors, employers and participants. The learning day participants noted the variety of different strategies that have been used to enable mentorship and that, while each profession and trade must identify its priorities and needs, understanding the incentives that motivate mentors and mentees to engage with one another is crucial. Developing mentoring programs that meet the needs of both mentors and mentees is important for sustainability and success.

The process of professional enculturation and socialization is critical to success in many fields. Individuals must learn the technical competencies of their profession or trade but must also learn to “become” a practitioner. Socialization into any field is complex and relies heavily upon exposure to practitioners and practice settings.

For internationally educated individuals, the process of enculturation can be somewhat more complex because, in some situations, learning about practice in Canada may require “unlearning” customs and traditions from their countries of origin. In the profession of nursing, for example, Canadian nurses are expected to apply their own professional judgment and expertise in interpreting physicians’ orders: In other countries, however, nurses may be trained not to question a physician’s authority and may face punishment if they do.

Learning the cultural conventions of professional practice is usually more complex than learning the technical skills of a field. Cultural conventions of practice do not necessarily lend themselves to description in textbooks or manuals; instead, individuals learn these conventions through observation, reflection and discussion.

Mentorship is increasingly seen as a crucial tool for assisting internationally educated individuals in learning the cultural conventions of professional practice for facilitating professional socialization and for connecting with their peers in the field. Within bridging programs, mentorship systems have been gaining prominence as an integral part of educating internationally educated individuals; it is on par with academic coursework and in-service training in assisting individuals to meet Canadian expectations for practice.

What is mentorship?

Mentorship is well-established within the education and socialization processes of most professions and trades. Traditionally seen as “informal teaching”, the importance of mentorship in assisting professionals to develop within their field—and as individuals—is growing. Within many fields, mentorship is becoming a more formal part of curriculum and training, and students are encouraged to engage with mentors as a complement to traditional education. Mentorship of internationally educated individuals has grown out of this context, with the recognition that the mentor-mentee relationship can provide significant benefits throughout an individual’s career. Whether formal or informal, structured or unstructured, mentorship can provide a flexible opportunity for the development of professional networks, cultural learning and workplace skills.

Many models of mentorship have been proposed. In the context of bridging education, most mentorship programs can be defined as a purposeful matching of an experienced practitioner with an understanding of the Canadian context of practice with internationally educated individuals who are developing their skills.

Key attributes of mentors include the following:

  • An interest and willingness to share their practice and experience;
  • An ability to communicate effectively, using a variety of teaching styles and approaches based on the mentee’s needs;
  • An engagement in the life and activities of the profession beyond day-to-day work;
  • An ability to commit a minimum amount of time to the mentee (usually 4-6 hours/month over a 4-6 month period, but this varies);
  • An individual with no current constraints on their practice imposed by a regulatory body; and
  • A desire to assist an internationally educated individual in their professional development.

What does mentorship accomplish?

Mentoring relationships have been identified by many individuals as pivotal in professional development. Each mentor-mentee pair will have different objectives and goals for the relationship, based on an individual’s specific circumstances. Examples of such objectives and goals may include a mentor who:

  • Provides a friendly ear for guidance and support during the bridging program;
  • Introduces the mentee to the day-to-day working of the profession;
  • Facilitates introductions to potential employers and the professional community;
  • Introduces the mentee to cultural conventions within the field;
  • Provides feedback on the appropriateness of professional behaviour;
  • Gives guidance on resume preparation, interviewing skills and job-search techniques; and
  • Introduces the mentee to the community beyond the profession or trade.

What roles do mentors play?

For most individuals (internationally educated or not), supportive mentors have played a crucial role in professional development. Mentors may play a variety of different roles, based on the needs of the mentee, the preferences of the mentor and the requirements of a specific circumstance. In general mentors can be seen as:

Colleagues/Associates: Mentors who define themselves in this role usually display a somewhat professional detachment from their mentee. Rather than immerse themselves in the day to day personal struggles of the mentee, they focus on the professional development and profession-specific learning needs of the individual. Mentors in this capacity will frequently meet mentees in the workplace or at professional events and will steer the relationship towards specific, technical or procedural—rather than personal—learning goals;

Teachers: Mentors who define themselves in this way usually demonstrate a more active involvement/engagement with the overall personal and professional development of the individual and tend to use more traditional didactic means of accomplishing their objectives. In this capacity, mentors will frequently provide readings to mentees, invite them to lectures or other formal learning events, then use these as opportunities to explore and discuss profession-specific issues within the context of personal development;

Coaches: Mentors who self-identify as coaches frequently see themselves as someone who needs to motivate and inspire mentees to achieve their full potential. Coaches may rely on a variety of different tactics but frequently utilize their emotional and personal attachment to the individual as an important vehicle for encouraging positive behavioural changes. Coaches usually believe there are right and wrong ways of approaching a situation and will work with the mentee to help them discover this for themselves; and

Friends: Mentors who see themselves as friends tend to be less concerned with professional development and more interested in the day-to-day personal struggles of the mentees. Such mentors will likely meet with their mentees in coffee shops and restaurants rather than in an office or professional setting, and they will focus on allowing the mentees to tell their own story and answer their own questions rather than provide facile solutions. Friends tend to be relatively less judgement-oriented, focusing instead on providing relatively unconditional support.

Clearly, a mentoring relationship is complex, and few mentors fully identify with only one of these roles. In most cases, mentors assume each of these roles at different times and in different ways, depending on the context and the need of the mentee.

What are the models of mentorship?

Within bridging programs, a variety of different mentoring models have been utilized; while there is no one-size-fits-all model that is applicable within a specific field, or across professions, several key elements have emerged that must be considered when designing a mentorship program.

1:1 vs. 1:many mentorship models
Mentoring programs require a significant commitment of time on the part of both mentors and mentees. In the vast majority of cases, mentors are volunteers who generously give of their own time to contribute back to their field. Consequently, recruitment of mentors may not keep pace with demand from mentees.

The literature on mentorship is unclear as to whether the best learning environment occurs when there is a 1:1 relationship between mentors and mentees or whether matching one mentor with multiple mentees affects outcomes. In large part, this may be a function of the number of mentors available, the needs of mentees and whether mentors and mentees feel comfortable within a group mentoring framework. Experience within most bridging programs suggests that, for new mentors, a 1:1 relationship may be preferred but for experienced mentors it may be possible to utilize a 1:many model.

Structured vs. unstructured mentorship models

Many new (and some experienced) mentors may express concern about what their role is and what specific activities they are required to undertake with mentees. Structured mentorships provide mentor-mentee pairs with a series of pre-defined activities, usually beginning with general ice-breaking (“getting to know you”) activities, then moving to profession-specific technical/procedural activities (such as job shadowing or attendance at a continuing education event), and eventually moving towards more ambiguous events (such as ethical decision making using case studies). Particularly for inexperienced mentors, structured mentorships may provide a much-needed support system to assist them in their role. More experienced mentors,however, may find that an unstructured approach provides greater flexibility in identifying and addressing mentee-specific needs. Many bridging programs provide a hybrid model—structured activities for those mentor-mentee pairs who would like to use them without any requirement that they be used by those preferring unstructured mentoring models.

Face-to-face vs. distance mentorship models
Within most bridging programs, there is recognition of the value of introducing internationally educated individuals to the world of professional practice beyond large urban centres. For those outside big cities, human-resource needs may be even greater: Encouraging internationally educated individuals to move to these areas is a priority. Distance mentoring programs provide an opportunity to use telephone, Skype/video-conferencing or other mechanisms to connect mentor-mentee pairs in ways that are different than traditional face-to-face mentoring.

The success of distance mentoring has been mixed, but important lessons have been learned within the context of bridging education. First, where distance mentoring has been successful, it is built upon a foundation of initial face-to-face contact and interaction. It is essential that mentors and mentees have some opportunity to initially bond with one another in person, before relying upon distance technologies. Secondly, distance mentoring may benefit more from a structured rather than unstructured approach: This provides a context for activities and contact that seems to be more important than in face-to-face relationships where meeting casually for a coffee may be all that is required. Third, distance mentoring may benefit from a 1:many model: Mentees are geographically co-located and can connect with one another. In most cases, distance mentoring appears most suitable for experienced mentors who are able to develop an initial bond/connection with mentees and who are comfortable with and able to access telecommunication tools such as Skype, video-conferencing and e-mail.


Matched vs. unmatched relationships
In many fields, the drive towards specialization has raised questions as to whether mentors and mentees should be matched to one another based on specific professional, demographic or personal characteristics. Experience in most bridging programs suggests there is only limited value in doing this. Most internationally educated individuals are attempting to learn the context and culture of generalist practice in Canada; consequently, there is little need for mentorship based on professional characteristics. Secondly, it is important for international educated individuals to be comfortable with the diverse nature of the Canadian workforce and population; therefore, there is little value in mentorship based on demographic characteristics. Thirdly, mentorship works best when individuals are able to explore a variety of different ideas and possibilities; mentorship based on personal characteristics may result in too much homogeneity which may frustrate this goal.

How can mentors be recruited and trained?

The success of mentorship is a function of the commitment and engagement of mentors. Most bridging programs have developed formal mentor training programs to provide mentors with the confidence and skills necessary to fulfill their mandate. While such training programs may include profession/trade-specific topics, generic content related to teaching and learning is usually more important to mentors. Examples of topics discussed in mentor training programs include the following:

  • Understanding cultural differences: A session on the concept of culture, including an exploration of Canadian culture, values, norms and customs is usually an important part of mentor training. Such a session can explore concepts of culture at the individual, group and societal levels, discuss issues related to language and culture and how to help internationally educated individuals understand and navigate Canadian cultural norms; for example, the role of women in society and the idea of client-centeredness and autonomous decision making;

  • Teaching using learning styles theory: Recognizing that mentees are a heterogeneous group, and that different teaching and learning styles may result in different outcomes for individuals, providing a session for mentors to discuss how inter-individual learning-style differences can affect mentorship is essential. Such a session usually begins with mentors self-identifying their own biases and preconceptions related to teaching, mentorship, learning style and moves to a discussion of how to adapt one’s own teaching style to meet the needs of different kinds of mentees;

  • Evaluating, giving feedback and teaching self-assessment skills: Most practitioners have little or no formal training in these areas, yet they are integral to success in any mentoring or teaching relationship. A session on these topics can provide a very useful series of tools to promote effective mentoring; and

  • Analyzing, managing and resolving conflict: Providing mentors with the skills and confidence necessary to address disagreements and the training on how to model, mentor or teach these skills to mentees has been identified by many mentors as a key learning need.

In order to ensure that (where applicable) mentors receive professional credit for the time and commitment they are demonstrating in attending these sessions, the format of mentor training models varies considerably, but it most frequently functions as part of a continuing education program within a profession or trade. In some cases, certificates or other documents are provided to allow mentors to include participation in such events within a professionspecific learning portfolio.

It is important to understand and respond to the incentives that motivate mentors to volunteer in this role, beyond their altruism. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) mentoring partnership has identified several critical factors that motivate mentors to participate, including the development of cross-cultural competencies, leadership development and the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the issues faced by newly arrived internationally educated individuals. Recognizing what motivates mentors to freely give of their time and expertise is important for their recruitment and retention and for the success of mentorship programs.

Mentorship is increasingly seen as an invaluable component of professional socialization and an important part of a bridging program. Developing a pool of trained, committed mentors—and providing them with the resources and support necessary to allow them to effectively interact with their mentees—can be a challenging process; the benefits, however, are significant.

Mentorship, whether formal or informal, should be part of most bridging programs. A mentoring program may take years to develop and put into operation; in most cases, such programs grow and evolve over time. Incorporating mentorship into a bridging program, rather than grafting it on as an after-thought, ensures that it will be recognized and regarded as an essential component of the program, one that will assist in professional socialization and enculturation.

In order to ensure that (where applicable) mentors receive professional credit for the time and commitment they are demonstrating in attending these sessions, the format of mentor training models varies considerably, but it most frequently functions as part of a continuing education program within a profession or trade. In some cases, certificates or other documents are provided to allow mentors to include participation in such events within a professionspecific learning portfolio.

It is important to understand and respond to the incentives that motivate mentors to volunteer in this role, beyond their altruism. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) mentoring partnership has identified several critical factors that motivate mentors to participate, including the development of cross-cultural competencies, leadership development and the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the issues faced by newly arrived internationally educated individuals. Recognizing what motivates mentors to freely give of their time and expertise is important for their recruitment and retention and for the success of mentorship programs.

Mentorship is increasingly seen as an invaluable component of professional socialization and an important part of a bridging program. Developing a pool of trained, committed mentors—and providing them with the resources and support necessary to allow them to effectively interact with their mentees—can be a challenging process; the benefits, however, are significant.

Mentorship, whether formal or informal, should be part of most bridging programs. A mentoring program may take years to develop and put into operation; in most cases, such programs grow and evolve over time. Incorporating mentorship into a bridging program, rather than grafting it on as an after-thought, ensures that it will be recognized and regarded as an essential component of the program, one that will assist in professional socialization and enculturation.

For more information

Ensher, E., and S. Murphy. Power Mentoring: How successful mentors and protégées get the most out of their relationship. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Johnson, W. B., and C. R. Ridley. The Elements of Mentoring. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2004.

Law Society of Upper Canada Mentorship Initiatives
Website: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/mentorship/index.jsp

Lombardi, M. Induction and Mentoring: A lifeline for the next generation of teachers.
Website: http://slc.educ.ubc.ca/Downloads/JoiningHands/InductionandMentoring_ MikeLombardi.pdf

Mentoring Canada
Website: http://www.mentoringcanada.ca

The Mentoring Partnership: A mentoring program offered by TRIEC
Website: http://www.thementoringpartnership.com/

Preceptorship and Mentorship in Nursing
Website: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/mentorship/index.jsp

St. Michael’s Hospital Mentorship Program (Best Employers for New Canadians)
Website: http://www.canadastop100.com/immigrants/chapters/StMichaels.pdf

Language Issues

At the learning day, participants noted the central role that language skills play in most workplaces. Mindful of this, participants also illustrated the ways in which bridging programs can assist internationally educated individuals in acquiring both communicative competency and technical/procedural skills. There was discussion around the appropriate role of standardized language testing as well as the value of enforcing strict admission criteria for language proficiency, since many students’ language proficiency improved during the bridging program itself. There was agreement that regulators, educators, employers and professional associations need to have a clearer understanding of the communicative competency requirements in the workforce and that the process of identifying these requirements must be fair, transparent and objective. The learning day participants strongly endorsed the value of sharing materials related to communicative competency with one another. For example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has developed a Communications and Cultural Competence program that may serve as a template for other health-related fields.

In most professions and trades, communicative competency is integral to workplace success. Being able to appropriately use and interpret verbal and non-verbal cues, effectively use language to communicate and demonstrate culturally appropriate interpersonal skills is not only important in gaining meaningful employment but in keeping it and in thriving professionally. The term “communicative competence” was originally introduced by D. H. Hymes in the 1970s and incorporated many concepts, including linguistic aspects such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and pragmatic aspects such as culturally-appropriate social interactions, nonverbal communication skills and empathic responses.

Within many fields, employers, educators and regulators have noted that internationally educated individuals may have greater difficulty in demonstrating communicative competency than their North-American educated peers. It is important to note that even internationally educated individuals whose first language is English, or who have had their professional training in English, the conventions of Canadian culture, society and language may be quite different than in their country of origin. Indeed, many linguists now refer to the notion of multiple Englishes—the idea that the English used in the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent or in Eastern Asia may be qualitatively different than what some Canadian patients, customers or clients expect. It is also important to note that the increasing diversity within Canadian society means that provision of services in a culturally and linguistically relevant and sensitive way also requires flexibility on the part of practitioners.

Across all bridging programs in Ontario, there is recognition that communicative competency (generally in English, but also in French) is important. While a baseline level of English or French language proficiency is required prior to entry into a bridging program—in order to allow individuals to access and learn the content and curriculum of the program—such programs can also assist internationally educated individuals to learn the language of professional practice in Canada. It also allows them to apply a variety of Englishes—or Frenches—to the Canadian workplace context. For the purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on English-language fluency.

Assessing communicative competencies


In many professions, regulatory bodies have established minimum accepted standards and cut-offs for demonstrating English-language fluency. The process by which these standards have been derived, however, may not necessarily be clear or explicit, and many regulatory bodies are currently in the process of updating and clarifying these standards. In some fields, employers are attempting to ensure that they clearly understand the actual communication skills and competencies required in the workforce, rather than simply making assumptions.Developing an accurate and valid understanding of what communicative competencies are necessary for safe and effective practice in a profession or trade is the goal. The process for developing this understanding must be fair, transparent and objective.

In most cases, communicative competency is measured using a standardized test, developed and psychometrically validated to provide an evaluation of English-language abilities and competencies. In Canada, the most frequently used standardized tests include the following:

  • IELTS: The International English Language Testing System measures the ability to communicate in English across the four domains of listening, reading, writing and speaking. Administered in over 120 countries, it is widely available and widely recognized as a reliable, valid and robust assessment of English-language competencies. As a standardized test, however, its applicability to profession/trade-specific needs may be limited. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted by licensure/regulatory bodies as proof of English-language fluency;

  • TSE: The Test of Spoken English is often used as a standardized assessment of spoken English. It is recognized by many regulators as proof of spoken English-language fluency, but additional tests will be required to document fluency in other domains (such as writing, reading, listening). Once again, as a standardized test, its applicability to profession/trade specific needs may be limited. Similarly, the standardized English that is assessed may vary somewhat from Canadian (provincial or regional) norms;

  • TOEFL: The Test of English as a Foreign Language is administered as an entrance requirement to English-language universities. The test is available in internet- and paper-based formats which enhances its accessibility throughout the world. The test is non-specific and more formally oriented towards post-secondary learning environments rather than professional or work environments. It is generally accepted by licensure/regulatory bodies as evidence of English-language fluency;

  • meLAB: The meLAB is a series (or battery) of tests for people who require proof of Englishlanguage
    proficiency for academic or professional reasons. Not as widely available as other standardized tests, the meLAB is recognized by some, though not all, regulatory/licensure bodies as evidence of language proficiency; and

  • CLBS: As stated on the opening page of their website, the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks believes “Language is the key”. Uniquely developed within a Canadian context—and blending elements of communicative and cultural competency assessment across the domains of speaking, listening, reading and writing—the Canadian Language Benchmarks System (CLBS) are rapidly emerging as the de facto standard for language assessment in regulated and licensed fields across Canada. Many professions and trades have received funding to develop tests, assessments and curricula derived from these benchmarks.

Advocates for the assessment of communicative competency through standardized tests point to several advantages in this approach:

  • They are standardized and objective, having been constructed using accepted psychometric methods, which allows regulators to fairly and transparently compare results and set minimum standards and cut-offs;

  • They are widely available in Canada and in many other countries; this gives internationally educated individuals an opportunity to clear profession/trade-specific language requirements prior to emigrating; and

  • They are managed by established, arms-length organizations. As a result, these tests utilize extensive and constantly evolving test-banks that minimizes potential cheating and ensures that individuals who take the test on multiple occasions do not receive the same questions over and over again.

Critics of standardized tests for the assessment of communicative competency point out that:

  • The tests are generic language tests and do not adequately capture the unique needs of professions and trades. By focusing on topics such as the weather and social interaction, an important level of profession/trade-specific communication is not tested; as a result internationally educated individuals may perform adequately on these tests but may not have the language-level required for safe and effective professional practice;

  • The tests’ minimum standards and cut-offs have not been rationally designed and, in some cases, may be lower than what is actually required in practice;

  • The tests focus on summative assessment only—providing a final score—rather than providing a vehicle for formative assessment—a diagnostic tool to assist educators and candidates in understanding what specific learning gaps exist;

  • The tests are expensive, offered infrequently and only in certain geographic locations;the veracity of results from some centres (particularly those outside Canada) has been questioned; and

  • 'The tests have no standardized method of comparing scores or “converting” a score of one test (such as TOEFL) to another (such as CLBS). Such lack of interchangeability is frustrating and inefficient for internationally educated individuals.
For the foreseeable future, standardized tests will be relied upon to make initial-cut decisions regarding who may or may not become licensed/registered within a specific field. For bridging educators, a significant question remains: Should bridging programs utilize these pre-existing, external standards for their programs, or should alternative standards/processes be utilized instead? Bridging educators recognize that, in order to actually benefit from a bridging program, English-language skills are necessary. However, the programs themselves can assist individualsin improving such language skills; consequently, where to set standards for admissions to bridging programs (as opposed to the profession/trade itself) is a highly contentious question because—among other reasons—entry standards into some professional programs in colleges and universities may differ from those set by regulators for entry-to-practice standards in the profession or trade.

Currently, there is no consensus among bridging educators as to how to approach this issue, although several key practices have emerged, including the following:

  • English-as-a-second-language (ESL) training is generally not to be considered as part of a bridging program. Such training should precede bridging education; inability to communicate at a level beyond that traditionally taught in ESL would significantly compromise an individual’s ability to engage in the profession/trade-specific content of
    most bridging programs;

  • Language support is important within all bridging programs. Such support may range from allocating 90 minutes or two hours for a test or an assignment that might take a Canadian student 60 minutes to complete; it could also include development of profession/tradespecific dictionaries and glossaries;

  • Language skills of candidates in bridging programs are of significant importance if distance learning is being relied upon. Within a distance learning environment, it is frequently possible to hide one’s lack of understanding of material or lack of ability to apply or communicate it effectively. If distance learning is a major component of a bridging program, attention must be paid to an internationally educated individual’s level of language proficiency; and
  • Care must be taken to address the needs of internationally educated individuals for whom English is a first language or who have taken their education/training in English. Valuing this background, but recognizing the variety of Englishes used in the world allows bridging educators to assist in applying an individual’s experience to the Canadian English context.

Alternative forms of demonstrating communicative competencies

Standardized testing can, for some internationally educated individuals, be a problematic—even traumatic—process. There is some evidence to suggest that some individuals may not be able to perform effectively within a standardized-test situation even though they may have the competencies and abilities required. Conversely, some internationally educated individuals may have highly developed “test-wise” skills and are able to perform far better on standardized tests than their actual level of competency should allow.

In both circumstances, there is a need to consider alternative forms of evaluating communicative competencies. Most bridging educators recognize that any standardized test is limited insofar as it provides merely a snapshot at one moment in time of an individual’s abilities. The real test of communicative competency is usually first in a classroom and then in the field.

To this end, some professions and trades have begun to develop assessment systems for professional-language evaluation. Such systems have the advantage of being highly contextspecific and in providing greater assurance of the ability to use appropriate English within the workplace—as opposed to generic or social settings. Increasingly, such alternative forms of assessment are being utilized by bridging educators to allow for entry into bridging programs, with or without adequate standardized-test results. Examples of such alternative forms of assessment include the following:

  • Letters/testimonials from employers or volunteer placement supervisors in Canada: These outline the context, level and range of communication the candidate participated in while in the workplace. Such letters should be highly structured and provide, at minimum, descriptions of
    1. The workplace (size, location, client demographic, overview of services provided, interactions with peers and so on);
    2. The specific roles and responsibilities of the candidate (including a formal
      job description if available);
    3. The specific in-service training provided to the candidate (including course outlines, if available);
    4. The specific tasks actually performed by the candidate and outcomes associated with these tasks;
    5. The anecdotal observations of supervisors, peers, clients and others; and
    6. A general summary of findings, along with a specific, formal recommendation by the writer as to whether the candidate would be hired and would meet English-language standards and expectations in that workplace.

  • Structured studentships: This is when specially trained preceptors (with formal background in assessment and evaluation of profession-specific language competencies) complete standardized assessments of a candidate’s communicative competencies. Such studentships typically last at least two-full weeks (generally thought to be the minimum period of time required to fully and fairly assess linguistic competency in a workplace setting); and

  • Profession-specific language assessments: These are custom-developed by linguistic experts to measure profession-specific language requirements. Such assessments are typically daylong events involving the standardized testing of speaking, reading, writing, listening and observation and are generally built around the CLBS.

In most cases, letters or evidence from a previous employer outside North America, academic transcripts indicating individuals took their professional or trade education in English or brief meetings/interviews with candidates by untrained personnel are not strongly weighted as alternative forms of evidence of communicative competencies.

Role of bridging programs in teaching & assessing language skills


Bridging educators generally agree on the value of bridging programs in assisting individuals to extend their language abilities; while teaching ESL or foundational skills is not part of bridging education, English for Specific Purposes (ESP, or profession-specific English language training) may be part of a pre-bridging program and carried into the bridging program itself. Examples of pre-bridging programs include some Specialized Language Training Pilot Projects funded by the Government of Ontario and delivered through school boards and some Enhanced Language Training (ELT) programs funded by the federal government. These programs offer lower level—but still occupationspecific— language training to newcomers to increase their proficiency to help meet eligibility requirements for bridging programs.

Experience with ESP programs suggests that, in order to achieve a sustainable and meaningful improvement of one CLBS level in any domain, at least 18-24 weeks of time is required. Consequently, pre-bridging ESP programs may require 36-48 weeks to bring candidates to a level required for admission to a bridging program.

This would be followed by another 18-24 weeks within the bridging program itself and would bring internationally educated individuals to a functional, professional level of communicative competency. Experience in the field suggests there is little substitute for time, perseverance and reinforcement when working to improve language proficiency. While different models of expedited language training have been piloted (including use of self-study and distance learning), for profession/trade-specific language fluency to truly evolve, there appears to be no substitute for time, contact, on-going assessment and support.

Bridging educators also recognize the importance and value of strong partnerships with community, social support and employment agencies. Such agencies are frequently a primary or first-point of contact with internationally educated individuals and can provide significant support through ESL training and other language-skills enhancements. Such agencies are an invaluable resource, assisting bridging educators in focusing on their own mandate while providing internationally educated individuals in need of specific assistance with a variety of supports necessary to improve communicative competency.

Funding for ESP programs

There are several federal and provincial government programs that may fund ESP or profession/trade-specific programs, particularly when these are linked explicitly to assessment using CLBS. In most cases, there is an expectation that curriculum developers will make their programs and tests available freely to other bridging educators across the country and will connect with other ESP providers to ensure broad uptake and dissemination of materials.

ESP programs traditionally focus on all domains of communication: Speaking; reading; writing; listening; and observation. The most successful models of curriculum delivery involve partnerships between English-language teachers and profession/trade-specific content experts.

It is recommended that formal, summative assessments of internationally educated individuals be undertaken every 18-24 weeks to confirm progress; for external funders, such testing is frequently required. Development of an ESP curriculum is most frequently accompanied by development of a profession/trade-specific language assessment built around CLBS for speaking, writing, reading and listening. In some cases, after formal psychometric validation, such assessments may even be recognized by regulatory bodies as an alternative form of assessment to demonstrate communicative competency for licensure/registration purposes.

Language skills are integral to success in the workplace and are most frequently cited as a barrier by employers, internationally educated individuals, educators and licensers/regulators. Bridging educators must recognize that their role in language training is not to provide foundational, basic English-as-a-second–language coursework: Their role is to provide applied, profession/trade-based English-for-specific-purposes education and assessment. While varieties of standardized tests have been used and are available to measure linguistic competency, there is an increase in the use of the Canadian Language Benchmarks System. This system focuses on reading, writing, speaking and listening; this allows an approach that not only evaluates competencies but also the development of curriculum in a profession/trade-specific context.

For further information

Association for Assessment in Counseling (AAC). Responsibilities of users of standardized tests (3rd edition) 2003.
Website: http://www.theaaceonline.com/rust.pdf

Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks
Website: http//www.language.ca

Citizenship and Immigration Canada Enhanced Language Training
Website: http://www.settlement.org/sys/faqs_detail.asp?faq_id=4000690

International English Language Testing System
Website: http://www.ielts.org

Website: http://www.melab.ca

Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Language Training Programs
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca/english/learnenglish_improving.asp

Test of English as Foreign Language
Website: http://www.ets.org/toefl/

Test of Spoken English
Website: http://www.ets.org/portal/site/ets/menuitem.fab2360b1645a1de9b3a0779f1751509/?vgnextoid=b5d7d898c84f4010VgnVCM10000022f95190RCRD


Participants at the learning day shared many strategies for recruiting participants, ranging from posting advertisements in local newspapers, developing websites (or having partner organizations post links on their websites), contacting consulate staff and forging partnerships within the profession/trade. Participants agreed that networking—both within the professional community and the broader community—was a key success factor and that this networking needs to commence at the beginning of pilot projects, not at the end.

The success and reputation of a bridging program is based upon the success of its students. Employers, funders, regulators, potential students and other stakeholders scrutinize results from bridging programs closely and make decisions related to funding, status and attendance accordingly.
Ensuring incoming internationally educated individuals have the appropriate background, motivation and entry-level skills necessary to succeed in the program is an important responsibility for bridging programs. It is equally important to ensure that internationally educated individuals understand what completion of the program will provide them, so that there is no miscommunication or misalignment of perceptions.

Aligning expectations & realities: What is the purpose of the bridging program?

Prior to admittance in to a bridging program, it is necessary that internationally educated individuals truly understand what the actual purpose of the program is. For some, bridging education equals examination preparation, and there is an expectation that such programs will guarantee a pass on an exam, will provide them with concrete “tips and strategies” for outwitting the licensing examinations or that the bridging program will replace examination requirements put forth by licensure/regulatory bodies.

Ideally, bridging education is not simply about examination preparation but instead about equipping students with the confidence and competence to undertake a lifetime of practice within the profession/trade in a jurisdiction. While such a lofty aspiration resonates with educators, it is confusing to internationally educated individuals who might expect to complete practice exams or gain exemptions from certain licensure/regulatory requirements. Clearly communicating what the actual purpose of the program is—and carefully delineating differences between “exam prep” and skills and competency enhancement—is important.

Aligning expectations & realities: What will be done in the bridging program?

To prevent misunderstandings, bridging programs must carefully outline how admission, teaching, learning and assessment will occur within the program. For example, if a program does not or cannot provide in-service training or internship experiences required by a licensure/regulatory body, this must be clearly communicated up-front. The content (including curriculum, teaching methods and assessment methods) of a bridging program should be available for review by all stakeholders, ideally in a web-based format.


Equally, an intake procedure to educate internationally educated individuals about workload, timelines and other inprogram
expectations is a key to success. Most bridging programs are academically demanding and benchmarked to university or college standards. While the rationale for this may be self-evident to those involved in the program, the implications of this for internationally educated individuals must be clearly communicated.

Aligning expectations & realities: Who should qualify for admission to a bridging program?

Many programs feel considerable pressure to allow anyone into their program, both from social justice and financial sustainability perspectives. It is a truism that the only thing worse than having no students in a program is having unqualified students admitted. Bridging educators need to be clear and consistent and develop formal policies and practices regarding admissions
to programs. Such policies include the following:

  • Language-proficiency requirements: In some cases, bridging programs require the same standards for language proficiency as the regulatory body; the rationale being that in order to benefit from the curriculum, students need to have sufficient English-language skills to be able to learn the content. In other cases, bridging programs embed English-for-specific-purposes coursework within the curriculum, explicitly utilizing the bridging period in order to enhance profession-specific language competencies. While each field must determine its approach based on its own unique context, it is necessary that this be determined up-front and applied consistently. Bridging education is complex enough without having to also factor in wildly divergent language competencies;

  • Pre-bridging in-service training requirements: In some cases, bridging programs require individuals to have completed a period of immersion or exposure within a Canadian workplace setting; this background will facilitate contextualization of bridging curriculum. In other cases, bridging programs recognize that, without bridging education, employers are reluctant to admit candidates into the workforce and consequently do not require workplace exposure or provide exposure as part of the bridging program. As with language proficiency, each program and field must determine for itself which approach is best. It is important that this be defined up-front and applied consistently;

  • Pre-program examination requirements: In some fields, evaluation methods, through examinations or other processes, have been developed to assess comparability of internationally educated individuals’ previous academic background with Canadian educational standards. In many cases, successful completion of this examination or process is a pre-requisite for entry into the bridging program. Some fields offer pre-bridging programs or supports to assist individuals in preparing for this evaluation process, recognizing its centrality to the licensure/regulatory process;

  • Pre-program credential reviews: Accurate assessment of internationally educated individuals’ credentials is a key element in ensuring equitable access to employment and educational opportunities. In some professions and trades, credential reviews may be undertaken by organizations, such as World Education Services, that assess comparability to Canadian educational and professional standards. Ensuring processes for this assessment are fair, objective and transparent are important; and

  • Other requirements: In some fields, internationally educated individuals may need to meet other licensure/regulatory requirements in order to be admitted to a profession/trade. Candidates for licensure/registration may be required to provide affidavits of good character or other legal documents indicating that they have no criminal or police backgrounds in their country of origin. This can be very complicated in the context of bridging education; in some cases, internationally educated individuals may be refugees or may have been persecuted in their country of origin for political reasons entirely unrelated to their competency as a professional or tradesperson. This issue can be difficult to address, but requires consistency between regulators, bridging educators and immigration officials.

To address these and other issues, many established bridging programs have developed formal admissions committees to develop policies and consider exceptional situations in a more procedural and consistent manner. Membership of admissions committees typically consists of individuals representing the following:

  • Teaching staff within the bridging program;
  • Administrative/management staff within the bridging program;
  • The licensure/regulatory body;
  • Employers or employer groups;
  • Community and/or social service agencies; and
  • Program alumni and/or currently enrolled students.

The benefit of a formalized admission committee can be significant in providing a mechanism to monitor intake, to ensure that standards and processes are met and to consider exceptional situations on a case-by-case basis, translating these as required into new policies and practices.

Recruiting candidates for the bridging program

In many cases, students will find their own way to a bridging program, usually through a regulatory body, a licensing examination body, a community agency, an employer or through word of mouth from within their own communities. Some internationally educated individuals may not have access to any of these formal or informal mechanisms; consequently, specific recruitment and marketing outreach activities are required.

Successful strategies used by bridging programs have included the use of the following:

  • Strong relationships with community and social support agencies: Many newly arrived internationally educated individuals may be better connected with such agencies than with their professional associations or licensure/regulatory bodies. Such agencies may provide a comprehensive array of services ranging from housing support to computer training, ESL training and job-readiness activities (such as resume preparation, interview skills and so on). Community, social support and employment agencies are an integral part of the bridging system overall, even if they do not provide profession/trade-specific education; bridging
    educators need to connect effectively, frequently and consistently with these agencies in order to connect them with their potential students and to monitor their environment.

  • Cultural communities: Particularly in larger urban centres, there are a variety of cultural communities. Many internationally educated individuals, regardless of professional background, will connect in the first instance with these communities rather than profession/trade-specific organizations. Using these organizations (and their newsletters, newspapers and on-line resources) as a vehicle for disseminating information related to bridging programs is an important type of outreach;

  • Professional communities: Bridging programs must maintain and nourish strong links with professional organizations and associations, particularly regulatory bodies and licensing examination bodies. Front-line staff members of these organizations need to be kept apprised of the bridging programs so that they may inform their clients of the programs, admissions practices and so on. Most bridging educators recognize that it is not sufficient to simply provide a link to a website; on-going education of front-line workers in regulatory bodies and licensure examination bodies is important so that they may—through telephone and face-to-face interaction with internationally educated individuals—disseminate accurate and clear information regarding the bridging program;

Alumni networks: Bridging programs have become better established meaning that there is a large and growing network of program graduates and alumni. Alumni are the best testimonial for the success of a program, and many are eager and willing to assist bridging educators in disseminating information about the program and their experiences. This can be particularly helpful if alumni are well connected within their cultural community. Providing alumni with support to undertake this process—not simply a website link for referral—is very helpful.Some programs have developed customized leaflets in a variety of languages or have templates
for power-point presentations that alumni can use when speaking with potential candidates;

Government portals/Immigration packages: Federal and provincial governments have developed information portals for new and prospective immigrants. Such portals contain information regarding immigration policies, settlement issues (such as housing, education and employment) and access to licensed/regulated professions and trades. The Government of Ontario, for
example, has these portals available:

  • Ontarioimmigration.ca: This portal provides new and prospective immigrants access to government information and services;

  • Global Experience Ontario (GEO): Launched by the Government of Ontario in December 2006, GEO provides information and referrals about the registration process of the regulated professions and opportunities for upgrading for internationally educated individuals; and

  • HealthForceOntario’s Access Centre for Internationally Educated Health Professionals: This access centre helps internationally educated health professionals living in Ontario with information, advice and support on the process of seeking eligibility for professional practice in Ontario.

Collaboration between educators, regulators, employers and governments is required to ensure information in these portals is continuously up-to-date and reflects current practices. As a tool for intake, such portals can be useful in introducing bridging programs to internationally educated individuals and providing information regarding requirements, expectations, schedules and other admission-related details.

The purpose of such efforts is to inform potential candidates about bridging programs and to provide accurate, clear information about program mechanics. Care must be taken to not simply focus on “selling” the program to any and all candidates but to use the recruitment process as a way of identifying qualified applicants who could benefit from bridging education.

Financial issues

While many candidates would like to enroll in a bridging program, research suggests financial matters may be significant for some individuals. While few bridging programs are in the forprofit sector, and most programs operate on a cost-recovery basis, profession/trade-specific bridging education can be costly and tuition can be a significant expense.

In considering financial issues, it is important to recognize the nature of the costs and expenses involved, such as the following:

  • Direct costs: For most internationally educated individuals, the major direct costs associated with bridging programs are tuition, books/materials, lab fees, travel/relocation for education or work placements and transportation and housing costs for the duration of the program. Some professions, such as midwifery, also have special requirements such as 24-hour access to personal transportation, a pager and a cell phone. In some cases, loan programs exist to assist individuals in paying for these costs. For example, the Maytree Foundation, in partnership with Alterna Savings and with support from the Government of Ontario, has developed a loan-guarantee program that is well utilized by internationally educated individuals. Other programs have also developed bursary programs to assist internationally educated individuals in particular financial need. Students enrolled in bridging programs can apply for a loan through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and/or the Canada Student Loans Program for Part-time Studies (CSLPS), provided that the program of study offered meets OSAP or CSLPS requirements. As of summer 2008, almost 46% of Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration-funded bridging programs that focus on academic training and charge tuition/fees offered OSAP to students; and

  • Opportunity costs: It is important to recognize that direct costs, while significant, are usually not the main issue for most internationally educated individuals. Instead, it is often the fact that individuals must stop working in order to attend bridging programs and consequently give up an income stream in order to attend school. For many recently arrived internationally educated individuals, an income stream is necessary to support a family (in Canada and/or their country of origin), and this may be the true financial complication. In recognition of this, some programs have experimented with flexible delivery models; these include modular program design, part-time or evening/weekend courses that allow participants to continue full-time work while taking bridging education and so on. Success with this approach has been highly variable since the demands of bridging education generally require full-time academic commitment.

To address the issue of opportunity cost, the following strategies have been developed:

  • Clear costing information: This information illustrates the opportunity costs associated with not completing bridging programs in a timely manner. Many fields have developed models that show the delay in time to licensure/registration associated with not taking a bridging program. Given the facts that i) most graduates of bridging programs become licensed/registered more quickly than non-graduates; ii) most licensed/registered internationally educated individuals earn more money than those working in other positions; and iii) employment commensurate with education and experience provides a more stable and sustainable income stream, a strong case can be made that delays in accessing bridging education are actually more costly in the long run. There is need for research related to lost opportunity costs and social determinants of health to help inform policy in this area. Developing this “business case” for bridging education within a specific profession/trade is an important tool for assisting decision makers and stakeholders in understanding the value of bridging programs; and

  • Employer engagement strategies: In fields where there is a particular skills shortage, employers have demonstrated their willingness to support bridging programs financially. In some cases, employers have developed agreements with individual students (facilitated by the bridging program) wherein tuition and other expenses are paid by the employer in exchange for a 2-to-3 year return-to-service agreement in which the student agrees to work for the employer upon licensure/registration. In some cases, this strategy can be very successful, but it is important that all parties clearly understand their responsibilities. In particular, internationally educated individuals need to understand that, in many cases, such agreements will require them to move away from large urban centres to underserviced, rural or northern locations, and this may have significant family implications. All such agreements must include a clear and agreed upon exit provision should one or both parties wish to break the agreement—in general such a provision includes repayment of the entire amount paid by the employer, with interest, in exchange for release from the contract. In pursuing this strategy, it is key that legal advice be solicited and that all parties—employers, students and bridging educators—clearly understand their roles, responsibilities and legal obligations.

Geographic access issues

An emerging issue in bridging education is that of geographic access. Most bridging programs are associated with educational institutions, predominantly in larger urban centres. While such centres tend to be in areas where recently arrived internationally educated individuals frequently elect to settle, this may not be where there is greatest need for skilled professionals/tradespeople. Finding ways of encouraging internationally educated individuals to move away from larger urban centres (where cultural and family connections may be strongest) may require bridging educators to consider developing satellite campuses. Such campuses may also attract different funding—particularly from local employers or municipal governments—which may, in turn, reduce the financial concerns of some internationally educated individuals.

Developing satellite programs in underserviced communities is of growing interest to bridging educators. Identifying local partners (educators, employers, cultural groups and community and social service agencies, for example) is a critical first step. Recognizing that bridging education is not only a resource/support for internationally educated individuals—but also for communities and fields struggling with skills shortages—efforts to address geographic issues should be accelerated where possible.

One model that addresses the geographic access issue is distance education. The success of distance education (involving e-courses or similar technologies) in bridging education has been mixed. In large part, this may be due to the unique learning needs of internationally educated individuals for whom technical/procedural content of a program must be complemented by socio-cultural and communicative competence learning needs. Despite a general comfort with and access to on-line technologies, many internationally educated individuals indicate a strong preference for traditional face-to-face teaching, learning and assessment methods; these are important for building and developing professional and personal networks and friendships—sometimes difficult to do on-line. Bridging educators contemplating design of on-line programs as a way of addressing geographic and/or financial concerns must utilize social learning technologies and designs to ensure optimal engagement of learners. Hybrid or blended delivery models are showing considerable promise.

Strategies for enhancing retention of students

Recruitment of students into a program is only the first step—retention is critical for program success. Effective retention strategies that have been identified by bridging educators include:

  • Comprehensive pre-bridging orientation programs: These provide internationally educated individuals with a clear understanding of expectations, workload, resources required and supports provided, as well as creating a classroom climate and culture of mutual support and respect;

  • Development of peer-networks: These provide a vehicle for students to help one another academically, personally and socially during the bridging program. Such networks not only foster professional collaboration but can literally be life-saving during stressful times and events. It is also important to recognize that bridging program students, like any students, need opportunities to have fun and socialize with one another outside the classroom environment;

  • Financial support: This is provided through such means as low interest loans, bursaries and employer subsidies/sponsorships;

  • Mentoring: Please refer to section 5 of Bridging for Success: A Learning Day about Bridging Programs in Regulated Professions; and

  • Consistent academic and personal counseling services: These provide a formalized and institutionalized mechanism by which individual students can seek and find help with dayto-day academic or personal difficulties. In many cases, such services can be accessed through the academic institution hosting the bridging program; in such cases, alerting counselors to the special needs and unique circumstances of internationally educated individuals is necessary.

For further information

Global Experience Ontario
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca/English/geo.asp

Government of Ontario Immigration Portal
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca

HealthForce Ontario
Website: http://www.healthforceontario.ca

Maytree Foundation
Website: http://www.maytree.com

Skills for Change
Website: http://www.skillsforchange.org

World Education Services
Website: http://www.wes.org/ca


Employer Engagement

Participants at the learning day shared a broad range of experiences in working with employers. For some bridging programs, it is difficult to identify a large employer or representative group of employers due to the nature of practice in the field. For these bridging programs, identifying champions, eliciting success stories and disseminating information through a large and diffuse group of employers was necessary. In other programs, large employers or umbrella groups representing employers exist. For these bridging programs, full engagement of representatives from these groups within the program itself has been successful in raising the profile of internationally educated individuals. Once again, identifying champions within organizations, and eliciting and disseminating success stories, is important in raising the profile of bridging programs within the employer community.

Employers are important partners in bridging education. While the role and prominence of individual employers (or groups representing employers) will vary based on the specific nature of the profession/trade, building explicit links between bridging programs and employers is helpful in connecting internationally educated individuals to employment opportunities following the completion of a bridging program. In some fields—particularly those with large private-sector employers—the role of employer engagement within the bridging program may be more prominent than in fields where there are only a few public-sector employers.

Within some professions and trades, it may be difficult to find or engage a representative group of employers to partner with bridging programs. In some professions/trades, there may not be a specific organization that acts as an umbrella group for major employers, or there may not be any dominant employer. Consequently, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to constitute a representative sample of employers to work with the bridging program. Bridging programs, however, may still be able to work with specific employers as champions for bridging education within the professional community.

Roles for employers

In professions or trades where large employers and/or identified umbrella groups representing employers exist, key roles within bridging programs for employers include the following:

  • Provision of in-service training, job-shadowing or work placements: Some bridging programs require or recommend that students have some form of Canadian workplace experience as a way of providing context for academic programs and activities. Employers can provide either paid or volunteer opportunities for internationally educated individuals to observe and be engaged in the workplace. Working with employers, bridging programs can help define objectives and activities within these student placements as a way of reducing burden on staff and providing a concrete service to the employer. Such objectives and activities need to be carefully developed to be meaningful and relevant to students, while remaining minimally intrusive to the workplace and minimally burdensome to staff. Providing structured and easy-to-use tools for assessment and feedback that are easy for employers and their staff to use is also highly recommended to decrease burden on employers;

  • Referral of potential participants: In many fields, internationally educated individuals who have not secured licensure/registration to practice in their field find work within a non-regulated context of the profession/trade. For example, some internationally educated engineers or accountants who have not yet completed all requirements for their respective regulatory bodies may seek paid employment within non-regulated positions that still allow them to apply their knowledge and skills. Employers of these individuals have an important role to play in educating them about the value and impact of bridging education and providing financial and non-financial encouragement to enroll. Employers may benefit by then having a potential future employee with a professional designation who can contribute to the organization at a level commensurate with his or her skills;

  • Involvement in mentorship programs: Mentorship is an integral component of many bridging programs. In most cases, mentors are volunteers who give of their time and expertise. Employers can contribute significantly to bridging programs by encouraging their staff to act as mentors, by providing incentives—including time off from duties to attend training workshops or allowing mentees to shadow mentors in the workplace and so on—which encourage participation in bridging programs. A workplace culture of mentorship brings positive dividends to most organizations and creates an environment of lifelong learning and professional development; employers should be encouraged to facilitate involvement of their staff in these programs as a way of building such a culture within their organization;

  • Provision of in-service training during bridging programs: Opportunities such as job shadowing, brief, structured-workplace experiences and longer-term structured internships and preceptorships are important for internationally educated individuals to gain experience and to understand the context of practice in Canada. Such opportunities are generally negotiated with employers who must provide space and resources. In many cases, the training periods are a licensure/regulatory requirement in addition to pedagogical preferences to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Bridging programs should develop and nurture on-going relationships with employers to sustain such activities. Successful relationships are usually built upon a foundation of communication and interaction between bridging educators and employers; bridging programs must provide supports, tools, resources and training to preceptors and employers to facilitate in-service teaching and assessment. Such programs should not be onerous and should be designed to minimize the impact of internationally educated individuals in the workplace, while optimizing their value to the organization. Careful design of in-service training programs, to ensure they are meaningful without being onerous, is necessary; so too is attentiveness to feedback provided by employers and preceptors on the quality of internationally educated individuals and the in-service training program;

  • Provision of post-program internships: In many cases, a post-bridging–program internship is a licensure/registration requirement; such programs are often the responsibility of the licensure/regulatory body rather than the bridging program or the educational institution. Bridging programs can facilitate this process by once again working collaboratively with employers and regulators to design internships, assessment/training materials, resources and other supports to assist during the internship period. Helping preceptors and employers feel supported and not isolated is important in ensuring that they will continue to host internationally educated individuals in the future.

  • Development of financial incentives: These include return-of-service agreements, low-interest loans, scholarships, bursaries and employer sponsorships. Some bridging programs (such as at Ryerson University) have been able to create financial-support services for participants. In fields where a skills shortage exists, some employers have demonstrated their willingness and ability to financially support internationally educated individuals through a bridging program. This support may take the form of unrestricted scholarships or bursaries but more frequently involve some form of return-to-service agreement. Such agreements are contracts in which an employer agrees to pay tuition and other direct program costs in exchange for an agreement by the student to work for that employer for a fixed period of time. Such contracts are legally binding, and employers and internationally educated individuals must be fully cognizant of their rights and responsibilities as laid out in the contract. These contracts must include a clear exit clause that outlines the steps and consequences if one or both parties elect to break the contract. Bridging educators have an important role to play in matching employers and interested internationally educated individuals for such arrangements and must be careful to remain neutral and impartial throughout the process. For legal reasons, bridging educators must be prudent in advising either party and should encourage both parties to receive appropriate legal advice prior to signing of such contracts;

  • Advocacy for bridging programs within the professional community: Employers have an important role to play within the professional community, advocating on behalf of the program; and

  • Promotion of bridging programs to governments, business and other external stakeholders: For a variety of reasons, employers may have significant influence with governments, other businesses and other external stakeholders, particularly those responsible for funding allocation decisions. Employers who recognize the value of bridging programs and who can speak to the impact
    that these have on productivity in the workplace are strong advocates for these programs at the highest decision-making levels. This advocacy can be important in securing stable funding to support bridging programs and in ensuring that external stakeholders are aware of the importance of bridging programs within the professional community.

Most bridging programs have identified individual champions within employer organizations who are interested in internationally educated individuals and who have developed close working relationships with them. Such a champion can be an effective point of contact and source of leverage within an organization.

Engaging employers in the bridging program

Strategies for engaging employers in bridging program will depend on the specific context of the profession/trade. In some fields, it is clear who the large employers are; in other fields, particularly those dominated by sole-practitioners or small-group practices, it may be difficult to identify and engage an employer where there may not be an organized employers’ advocacy group. In such cases, it may be more difficult to engage employers. Successful strategies used by bridging programs to engage employers include the following:

  • Involving employers in the design of bridging programs: Employers have a vested interest in ensuring employees are qualified and capable of performing their job. In fields where there may be a skills shortage, and a growing reliance on an internationally educated workforce to complement the domestically educated one, employers have a wealth of information and experience to share with curriculum planners and instructional designers regarding the learning needs of internationally educated individuals. Involving employers at the inception of a program, as part of the needs assessment process and curriculum design stage, will demonstrate the program’s commitment to employer engagement, will result in the creation of relevant and meaningful curriculum and will allow the bridging program to ensure that it is connected to the day-to-day work of the profession/trade;

  • Appointing employers to advisory boards and administrative committees overseeing bridging programs: Effective bridging programs incorporate a variety of strategies for governance and oversight; these include the use of an advisory committee and a variety of working committees for curriculum development, admissions and examinations. Involving employers at all administrative levels of the program ensures that their voice is heard and that their input can be incorporated in the educational program; such involvement builds engagement and commitment, both of which are essential in encouraging employers to contribute meaningfully;
  • Providing employers with concrete “payback” for their involvement in bridging programs: Bridging educators recognize that employers do contribute significantly to education and training of internationally educated individuals, often without any explicit compensation. While bridging programs do not traditionally pay employers or preceptors, concrete payback recognizing and acknowledging these contributions is essential. Most frequently, such payback will involve continuing education for preceptors and company recruiters, development of supports and resources to facilitate teaching and assessment of in-service training placements or other activities to facilitate teaching, learning and mentorship. Bridging programs recognize that they must rely heavily upon goodwill from employers to provide the in-service training that complements the didactic portion of the bridging program; acknowledging and respecting this will ensure a sustainable relationship;

  • Demonstrating responsiveness to employers’ feedback: Employers and preceptors have a wealth of expertise to share with bridging educators. Providing structured opportunities to explore this feedback, and demonstrating responsiveness to suggestions, is essential to build commitment and engagement. Ensuring vehicles exist to “troubleshoot” in-service training issues, and working collaboratively with employers to ensure their needs are met, will build an environment of trust and respect.

Balancing employers’ roles

Bridging educators have noted that some employers who are anxious to secure a future worker may favour an expeditious, rather than effective, model of bridging education. In such cases, employers must be reminded that a bridging program’s primary mandate is not simply examination preparation but preparation for a lifetime of safe and effective professional practice. What may, at times, appear to be idealistic or overly academic to employers may have sound pedagogical foundations and be required for bridging education. At such times, relationships between employers and bridging programs may be strained.

It is essential to recognize that responsiveness to employers’ needs does not necessarily mean accepting all ideas without evaluation and assessment. Responsiveness to feedback must be built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust in which employers recognize the expertise and background of bridging educators in instructional design and curriculum development.

An on-going dialogue between educators and employers is necessary so that both groups can understand and respect one another’s perspectives. Though both share a common goal, the methods that both utilize to achieve these outcomes may differ; ensuring that there are mechanisms to maintain communication and respect, and to negotiate through differences in approach, is a key element in thriving, sustainable and effective bridging programs.

For further information

Global Experience Ontario
Website: http://www.ontarioimmigration.ca

Hire Immigrants
Website: http://www.hireimmigrants.ca

Hire Immigrants Ottawa
Website: http://www.hireimmigrantsottawa.ca

Maytree Foundation
Website: http://www.maytree.com

Niagara Immigrant Employment Council
Website: http://www.niec.com

Ryerson University. Services for employers in talent development and organizational effectiveness.
Website: http://www.ryerson.ca/ce/tdoe

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
Website: http://www.triec.ca

Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment Network
Website: http://www.wrien.com


Structures & Sustainability

A common issue faced by most participants at the learning day related to sustainability of bridging programs following completion of pilot programs and/or the spending of seed funds. While participants strongly endorsed the notion that bridging programs need to be recognized by post-secondary institutions, governments and funders as a regular part of the academic programming mix, there was recognition that individual programs must also work on their own behalf to ensure they remain viable following initial funding and development period. Several programs identified tactics for sustainability including: Offering components in a bridging program as continuing education; developing “cross-over” modules that could be sold to other bridging programs or other provinces and states; actively seeking corporate champions/sponsors; and modularizing a bridging program to allow for more flexible delivery options. While such tactics may be useful in the short term, sustainability demands a more strategic, long-term vision of how a bridging program fits and becomes recognized as an accepted and expected part of professional/trade-training and academic institutions.

In most cases, bridging programs begin as a result of an identified need within a profession or trade and the enthusiasm and commitment of key individuals or champions. The importance and impact of these champions cannot be understated, as they provide the energy and passion required to initiate and develop bridging programs. As programs evolve, however, it is essential to ensure that bridging education becomes sustainable and rooted in institutions, policies and practices. Based on the experiences from existing programs, several key themes have emerged:

  • Sustainability and the structure of bridging programs are closely connected. Programs that have a clear design, organizational framework and a systematic approach to curriculum development and admissions are, in the long run, better able to meet learner and employer needs;

  • While the importance of individual champions within bridging programs is crucial, bridging programs should not become a one-person show. Passionate individuals do, for a variety of reasons, change jobs or move into different roles; if a bridging program is too closely identified with a few individuals, that program may not be sustainable should those individuals move on; and

  • System-wide approaches are necessary to truly unleash the potential of bridging programs. These approaches secure stable, on-going funding and ensure that mechanisms exist for faculty (including in-service preceptors) training and renewal.

It is important to note that most government funding for bridging programs is explicitly linked to pilot or start-up projects that allow organizations to test new ideas and innovative approaches in education for newcomers. Such pilot projects are focused on changing the way professions and trades respond to the identified barriers faced by internationally educated individuals. Key outcomes of these pilot projects include development of effective training, tools, models and practices. The goal is to lead to a permanent, positive change in the way individual professions and trades integrate internationally educated individuals into the labour market and workforce.

Within this context, sustainability is more about embedding changes within institutions and practices. Bridging education should not be seen as “special” or a one-off service provided at a specific point in time; it needs to be a permanent change in the way organizations do business and a mainstream part of day-to-day operations for educational institutions, licensure/regulatory bodies and employers.

Sustainability and Structure

Most sustainable bridging programs are housed within academic institutions closely aligned with licensure/regulatory bodies, employers and professional associations. In some cases, bridging programs are found within community or settlement agencies which have developed similar close affiliations.

The structure and governance of bridging programs is important to ensure practices are appropriate, transparent and, based on changing needs, can evolve. As academic programs, most successful and sustainable bridging programs have organizational structures that have evolved over time. A typical structure is depicted on the next page.

Roles and responsibilities for an advisory committee are described in section 2 of Bridging to Success, “Building Partnerships for Success.” Sample Terms of Reference for curriculum, admissions and examinations committees are provided below.

Curriculum Committee Terms of Reference

The Curriculum Committee is responsible for all academic content of the bridging program, including teaching and assessment methods used. The Committee shall develop and review all course syllabi in conjunction with course coordinators and will assume responsibility for the overall direction of the curriculum. The Curriculum Committee will receive input and guidance from the Advisory Committee to ensure curriculum and assessment methods are relevant, transparent and aligned with the profession/trade and the needs of internationally educated individuals. The Committee will meet two-to-four times a year to review progress, revise curriculum and ensure content of the bridging program is appropriate.

Membership of the Curriculum Committee shall consist of
Chair: Bridging educator who is also a member of Advisory Committee;
Secretary: Administrative Assistant;
One representative from licensure/regulatory body;
One representative from employer group;
One representative from a professional advocacy organization or union;
One alumni of the program;
One student currently enrolled in the bridging program;
One in-service preceptor or mentor involved in the program; and
Two bridging program course coordinators.

Admissions Committee Terms of Reference

The Admissions Committee is responsible for policies and practices related to admission to the bridging program, including oversight of the admissions process. The Admissions Committee will also develop strategies for outreach and education within the internationally educated individuals’ communities, the professional community and other related groups/organization. The Admissions Committee will be called upon to review exceptions and make decisions related to admission based on criteria with respect to extraordinary circumstances and to deal with appeals made to the bridging program regarding admissions decisions.

Membership of the Admissions Committee shall consist of
Chair: Manager of Registration (or designate) from licensure/regulatory body
who is also on the Advisory Committee;
Secretary: Administrative Assistant;
One representative of employer group;
One representative of professional advocacy group or union;
One in-service preceptor or mentor;
One alumni of the program;
One student currently enrolled in the program; and
Two bridging program course coordinators.

Examinations Committee Terms of Reference

The Examinations Committee is responsible for the integrity of the assessment systems used within the program and will review recommendations from individual course coordinators regarding students’ course performance. The Committee will consider all evidence (including grades, petitions based on extraordinary circumstances and all other relevant facts) and will make the final determination with respect to a student’s performance in the bridging program. No grades in the program will be released to students or finalized without review and approval of the Committee. The Committee will also consider appeals based on extraordinary circumstances made by students regarding their performance in the program or course.

Membership of the Examinations Committee shall consist of
Chair: Bridging program course coordinator;
Secretary: Administrative Assistant;
One representative from licensure/regulatory body;
One representative from employer group;
One representative from professional advocacy group or union;
One bridging program course coordinator;
One in-service preceptor (or mentor); and
One alumni of the program.
Note: No current student is a part of committee due to the sensitivity of material discussed.

These committee structures may take several years to evolve within a program; while at first glance it may appear bureaucratic and cumbersome, it closely mirrors governance structures of many post-secondary institutions. For programs within colleges and universities, such a structure will likely be necessary to allow for designation of certificates, diplomas or other formal recognition of bridging program completion. In most cases, without such a structure or governance, post-secondary institutions will not award their recognition, and their recognition is essential for long-term sustainability and respect within the profession/trade.

Some larger post-secondary institutions with multiple bridging programs have also developed additional structures. Ryerson University (which offers a range of bridging programs in health and non-health fields) has established a Management Group which includes key partners to deal with day-to-day and logistical matters. Ryerson University has also established a Marketing and Promotions Committee to assist in outreach to various partners/stakeholders.

Personnel and succession planning

Success of bridging programs is closely aligned with the quality of instructors and administrative personnel involved with the program. While most bridging programs begin with the enthusiasm of a few individuals, sustainable programs must move beyond reliance on these people and nurture career pathways for all those involved.

Faculty development is crucial to this process. For bridging programs located within postsecondary educations, it is frequently possible to access college- or university-based faculty development centres that allow instructors to develop teaching and assessment skills. Bridging programs themselves must develop specific programs tailored to the needs of those involved in teaching internationally educated individuals. Additional faculty development in the area of management of cultural differences, teaching to different learning styles and conflict management and resolution are very helpful, particularly for new faculty members.


Succession planning needs to be instituted; in some cases, promising bridging programs have floundered or closed simply because one passionate individual changed jobs, leaving a void that was not filled. To facilitate succession planning, committees, structures and governance are required; so too is the ability to nurture promising young instructors. Particularly with programs that are housed within post-secondary institutions, developing a faculty plan that encourages instructors and administrators of the regular program to contribute to the bridging program helps to ensure that the program becomes embedded within the structure and governance of the institution itself, rather than simply being an “add-on” to existing programs.

System planning for sustainability

Initiating a bridging program is a time of tremendous enthusiasm and excitement: Sustaining it over the long run can, for some individuals, be a somewhat vexing process. System-wide planning is essential if programs are to be sustainable. Based on the experience of successful, sustained bridging programs, the following elements appear to be crucial for sustainability:
  • Sustainable programs are embedded within post-secondary institutions rather than grafted on to them. This means that the same (or substantially similar) instructors, administrators, course materials and assessments that are used for the regular program are used for the program aimed at internationally educated individuals;

  • The institution (college, university, faculty or school) must have a strong commitment to bridging education and recognize that it is part of their mission and vision. Such commitment will allow the organization to advocate on behalf of the program at the highest levels. Bridging programs that are add-ons do not have this sort of advocacy and consequently may struggle for notice;

  • Bridging programs conspicuously “give back” to their host organizations. For example, English-forspecific-purposes curriculum or activities specifically designed for internationally educated individuals can be used by students in the regular program for whom English is not a first language. Sharing of resources, curriculum, instructors, audio-visual equipment, and so on, embeds bridging programs within educational institutions;

  • Employer engagement is critical for financial sustainability. Without employer advocacy, bridging programs begin to lose their raison d’etre. Involvement of employers within committee structures and program governance is crucial. Working with employers to develop financial assistance programs (including return-to-service agreements) has proven successful in some bridging programs;

  • Maintaining strong relationships with licensure/regulatory bodies is essential. Over time, as the quality and success of a bridging program becomes clear, licensure/regulatory bodies can play a central role in directing potential students to the program and, in some cases, in mandating the program as part of the licensure/regulatory process for internationally educated individuals. Such system-wide change is crucial for sustainability, but it is built on a platform of positive performance and strong relationships between bridging educators and licensure/regulatory bodies; and

  • The on-going role of governmental funding must be carefully considered. While most bridging programs begin with federal and/or provincial government support, governments’ role in on-going delivery of bridging education has not been confirmed. Funding to develop and pilot bridging programs, develop English-for-specific-purposes coursework and to develop in-service training programs is available (usually through a competitive call for proposals system), but it should not be relied upon to sustain the program. Instead, tuition recovery, employer agreements or other arrangements will be required after initial development and piloting.

Sustainability of bridging programs needs to be considered at the outset and built into programmatic planning from the beginning, within both the funded organization and the institution/government providing funding. Structures, governance, relationships and planning are all required. On-going attention must be paid to the external environment (including the labour market) and modifications to plans should be made in light of such changes in the field.

Of course, sustainability is only built upon the foundation of a successful bridging program, and considerable attention must be focused on curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment and student development. When such a program is embedded within a supportive administrative structure, bridging education will flourish.

For further information


2007-8 Annual Report of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario.
Website: http://www.fairnesscommissioner.ca/pdfs/ofc_annual_report_2007-2008_english_online.pdf

Ady, G. “Engaging Employers: strategies for the integration of internationally trained workers.”Canadian Issues: Foreign Credential Recognition, Spring 2007: pp. 119-122.

Duncan, D., and Y. Poisson. “Improving Bridging Programs: compiling best practices from a survey of Canadian Bridging Programs.” Public Policy Forum, January 2008.

Policy Roundtable Mobilizing Professions and Trades (PROMPT)
Website: http://www.promptinfo.ca

Program Evaluation, Research & Knowledge Dissemination

Bridging programs must constantly work to ensure the quality of their work. Participants at the learning day highlighted their successes and challenges in undertaking program evaluation and research initiatives and in disseminating their findings. A clear definition of “successful outcome” in the context of a bridging program is crucial; traditional measures, (such as attendance, program completion rates or post-program employment statistics, may not adequately capture the breadth of the value of bridging programs. Encouraging bridging programs to move beyond program evaluation and undertake more system-based research is also important in facilitating the expansion of the knowledge base related to settlement and integration. Participants strongly endorsed collaboration between bridging programs and their partners to take advantage of these opportunities.

Program evaluation is critical to the success of any educational program, including bridging education. Bridging educators are constantly faced with questions and decisions related to the quality and impact of the programs they provide. Decisions must be based upon evidence that is objective and collected in a fair and transparent manner. Subjective bias associated with an individual stakeholder’s perspective can be mitigated through a systematic program evaluation process. Moreover, data from thorough program evaluation can be invaluable for other bridging educators, and learning from the experience of others has been important in successful bridging programs in Ontario. Research—adding to the body of knowledge about settlement and immigration—is equally important within the context of bridging programs. While program evaluation tends to answer questions about performance related to programs, research into larger contextual and impact questions—such as social determinants or understanding variables impacting success and employment—is important.

The Public Health Agency of Canada defines program evaluation as “the systematic gathering, analysis and reporting of data about a program, to assist in decision making (and) responds to specific management decision making needs (including): i) describing the intended program; ii) documenting what was actually implemented; iii) describing participant characteristics; and iv) demonstrating the impact of the program.”

A widely accepted principle of program evaluation suggests that approximately 10% of resources (including money, time and personnel) in any project should be dedicated to program evaluation; this lays a foundation for continuous quality improvement and on-going program development.

Modes of program evaluation

Selecting the correct mode of program evaluation is essential, based upon the specific question that is being asked. Failure to select the correct mode will result in inaccurate program evaluation. Similarly, failing to ask the correct question will lead to the selection of an incorrect mode of program evaluation. Bridging educators need to be clear about what problem they are trying to address, what question they are consequently asking and, as a result, what is the most appropriate mode of program evaluation to utilize in a specific circumstance.

Process evaluation is undertaken to improve the operation of an existing program and generally implemented in response to an immediate crisis or concern related to day-to-day operations or implementation. The purpose of process evaluation is to ensure that technical procedures are undertaken as effectively and efficiently as possible. In general, process evaluation is best administered during the early stages of bridging programs (implementation, piloting) with a focus on process improvements.

In contrast, outcome evaluation is undertaken to assess and measure the actual impact of a program based on either a pre-defined set of objectives or a defined criteria that measures attainment of pre-defined benchmarks. In general, outcome evaluation is undertaken once a program is already established, once process evaluation has indicated cost-effective and efficient implementation has been achieved and when procedural issues are less likely to interfere with results.

Premature completion of outcome evaluation can result in an analysis based upon a flawed process. On-going process evaluation may yield results that are highly positive or negative but not particularly useful since they simply confirm the same findings over and over. Timing and methods for both process and outcome evaluation should be carefully considered and planned.

A Five-step process for program evaluation

The Public Health Agency of Canada has published a Program Evaluation Tool Kit (see http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/php-psp/toolkit-eng.php) to assist organizations in this important work. This toolkit outlines a 5-step process for successful program evaluation.

Step 1: Focus the evaluation—select the right topics and ask the right evaluation questions;

Step 2: Select methods—manage expectations regarding outcomes and plan logistics and data collection to ensure they are feasible within your environment;

Step 3: Develop or select tools—program evaluation requires collection of data using a variety of pre-existing or purpose-built quantitative and qualitative measurement tools;

Step 4: Gather and analyze data—use appropriate methods to ensure secure, ethically appropriate data collection and statistically and psychometrically defensible analysis; and

Step 5: Make decisions and disseminate findings—ensure a process exists for interpretation of results, translation of results into an action plan and report the results to stakeholders (including other bridging educators who may benefit from your experience).

Step 1: Focus the evaluation

It is tempting to try to force program evaluation to be all things to all people. Such an approach rarely, if ever, results in meaningful data or results. It is important to focus the evaluation in a way that is both feasible and important to overall program goals. There are a variety of reasons to evaluate an educational program, including the following:

  • To identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats;
  • To measure progress of students;
  • To improve operational efficiencies;
  • To identify and evaluate what has actually been achieved; and
  • To make decisions about what aspects of the program should be continued or discontinued.

Effective program evaluation does not attempt to answer all questions but answers critical questions in a prioritized sequence. To assist in this process, it is frequently helpful to develop a logic model. A logic model is a depiction of what the program is supposed to do, with whom and why. A key component of the logic model is to demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationships between activities within the program and outcomes—both short-term and longterm. To depict this relationship, it is first necessary to define the following:

  • Components: The parts of the program or resources utilized;

  • Activities: The specific tasks or actions each part/resource undertakes;

  • Target groups: The audience(s) for the tasks/actions undertaken;

  • Short-term outcomes: Objectives usually defined within a time frame of less than six months to one year; and

  • Long-term outcomes: Objectives usually defined within a time frame of greater than six months to one year.

Further information on creating logic models can be found at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/php-psp/pdf/toolkit/Step%201.pdf.


Step 2: Select methods

Program evaluation involves gathering data and evidence; it is important to define in advance what is reasonable and feasible to collect, in order to manage expectations appropriately. Data collection can be quantitative, qualitative or a mix of methodologies. Framing the right question is essential to ensure that the correct information is collected in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner. Poorly framed questions lead to muddled methods and wastes time and energy. A plan for how data is going to be collected must be validated within the organization to ensure that the method is feasible and makes sense to those involved.

Step 3: Develop or select tools

In order to ensure that data collection is transparent and objective, the correct measurement tools must be used. Wherever possible, use of published and validated instruments is preferred since these tools have a statistical and psychometric stability that provides greater assurance of accuracy than “home-made” tools. To locate pre-existing measurement tools consider doing the following:

  • Networking with colleagues and other bridging educators to identify the tools they have used for program evaluation;
  • Searching the Internet (including e-mail discussion lists);
  • Reviewing the published literature systematically;
  • Partnering with other college- or university-based faculty members to draw upon their resources and expertise; and
  • Working with a librarian or information specialist.

While it may take time and effort to identify pre-existing tools that can be used for data collection, the value of doing so is significant. Robust program evaluation research is only as strong as the tools used for measurement.

In most cases, pre-existing measurement tools are available. If there is a need to develop a customized measurement/data collection instrument, care must be taken to ensure it is statistically and psychometrically stable. In such cases, it is useful to involve appropriate external personnel with expertise in development of evaluation tools.

For further information on development of tools, refer to http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/phppsp/pdf/toolkit/Step%203.pdf.

Step 4: Gather and analyze data

Once appropriate measurement tools have been identified, it is necessary to gather and analyze the resultant data. Gathering data can be challenging, since it will involve convincing individuals (students, external stakeholders, members from partner organizations and so on) to spend time and effort in completing surveys and interviews or participating in focus groups. Recognizing this real-world limitation on program evaluation research, it is essential that the research plan takes into account ‘drop out’ rates—individuals who initially agree to participate in program evaluation research but who then withdraw consent. Pre-testing your methods to ensure they are indeed feasible can be helpful in alerting you to potential logistical pitfalls that had not been anticipated.

Analysis of data should be undertaken by individuals with appropriate expertise in qualitative, quantitative or mixed methodologies. Analysis of data must be completed in a transparent and objective manner, to ensure that findings are accurate. It is also imperative that any data gathering is consistent with relevant privacy legislation and that informed consent is received from all participants whose data is to be gathered and analyzed.

Step 5: Make decisions and disseminate findings

A carefully constructed program evaluation should result in findings that are of interest to the individual program, the general profession/trade and the community of bridging educators. Since most program evaluation is conducted to assist decision makers, it is useful to disseminate findings broadly. There are a variety of venues for disseminating the results of program evaluation, including:

  • Profession/trade-specific conferences;

  • Bridging-education meetings;

  • Higher-education meetings (such as the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education or the American Educational Research Association); and

  • Immigrant-advocacy–group meetings (such as TRIEC or Metropolis).

There are a variety of methods for disseminating program evaluation results, as outlined on the following page.

Dissemination Methods

Dissemination Method



Oral presentation

Meetings, conferences or podcasts/

Verbal summary of findings and results; usually brief and very highlevel.

Oral paper

Meetings, conferences or podcasts/

Verbal report of one or several key findings; usually in-depth and focused on methods and outcomes.

Poster presentation

Meetings and conferences.

Written summary of findings/results; can be either brief/high-level or in-depth, depending upon the audience.

Descriptive paper

Non-peer reviewed journals (professional or trade association journal) or on-line
journals, profession-specific websites and so on.

General outline/description of program, evaluation, results and so on; aimed at a practitioner audience and designed to raise awareness rather than change practice.

Research paper

Peer reviewed journals (print and/or on-line).

Focus report produced in a standardized format outlining research hypothesis, methods, results and findings using appropriate scientific/statistical methods.

Technical or policy manual

Licensure/regulatory bodies, governmental agencies or academic institutions.

Comprehensive overview meeting the same standards as peer-reviewed journals but with a specific target audience in mind.

Importance of disseminating findings

Within many professions and trades there is a truism: “If you haven’t documented it, you haven’t done it.” Within bridging education, the same principle applies. It is essential to recognize that, no matter how important and effective a bridging program may be, improvements can be made; the single best way to accomplish this is through program evaluation. Program evaluation is most valid when results are disseminated for public and stakeholder scrutiny, comments and feedback. This facilitates program improvement and it allows others to learn from your experience.

The value of bridging educators sharing their experiences with one another cannot be overstated. Though professions and trades may differ in technical content, bridging educators face substantially similar issues with respect to recruitment, employer engagement, curriculum design, learner engagement, assessment and so on. Program evaluation and dissemination of the results of that evaluation provide a vehicle for sharing and refining promising practices within the field. It also allows bridging education to develop as a distinct, unique and important sub-field within education.

For further information

American Educational Research Association
Website: http://www.aera.net

Canadian Evaluation Society/Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation
Website: http://www.evaluationcanada.ca

Health Canada. Program Evaluation Tool Kit
Website: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/php-psp/toolkit-eng.php

Website: http://international.metropolis.net/

Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Website: http://www.mcmaster.ca/stlhe/index.html

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
Website: http://www.triec.ca

Treasury Board of Canada, Secretariat. Program Evaluation Methods: measurement and attribution of
program results (3rd edition).
Website: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/eval/pubs/meth/pem-mep_e.pdf


This report was developed to summarize experiences with bridging programs in Ontario and is based on contributions from participants attending the learning day on November 17, 2007. Please refer to section 1: Overview & Introduction of this report for further information regarding this event.

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Prepared for the Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium, 2008

Photo Credits: All photos © JUPITERIMAGES, 2008

This manual and all the text herein is copyrighted by Ontario Regulators for Access Consortium (ORAC) and is not to be used, distributed or copied without the express permission of ORAC.

Funded by the Government of Ontario