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)
“[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.”
What are bridging programs?
(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; andBridging 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?
- 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).
Formal bridging programs have been recognized since 2000; however, informal bridging education has been in existence for decades. Successful bridging programs include the following:
What has been learned about bridging programs?
- 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.
For further information
2007-8 Report of the Office of the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario.
Association of Canadian Community Colleges. “Programs and Services for Immigrants.”
Global Experience Ontario: An access and resource centre for the internationally trained.
Government of Ontario. “Work in your profession: bridge training programs.”
Government of Ontario. “About Ontario’s Bridge Training Programs.”
HealthForceOntario (Government of Ontario’s health human resource strategy for interna-tionally educated health professionals)
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.”
Settlement.Org. “What are bridging programs for internationally trained individuals in Ontario?”
Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Centre. “Hire immigrants.ca: a TRIEC program.”