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2010 FIFA World Cup & the ‘No Canadian Experience’ Myth

Imagine this…A team of professional soccer players arriving in South Africa all eager to participate in the 2010 FIFA World Cup series. On reaching the stadium they are told they cannot play because they had never played in South Africa before. In fact, they are told they do not have any “South African Experience”, notwithstanding that many of them previously played for teams such as Man U, Juventus, Ghana, Team Canada and Team USA.  What a shock! What are they to do? Some will quickly pack their bags and head back to their former teams, but others won’t have that option. They cannot return, neither can they tell their family and friends ‘back home’ that they didn’t have South African experience and therefore, could not participate in the games.

They are perplexed and start asking questions among themselves. How different can playing soccer in South Africa be from playing in the UK or Italy? Don’t they kick the ball the same way? Don’t they have goalies at opposing ends? Doesn’t each game last for 90 minutes with a break after 45 minutes? Don’t they hand out yellow and red cards for the same infractions?

The above analogy is played out time and again when many internationally-educated professionals (IEPs) arrive in Canada. Every year, Canada accepts approximately 250,000 new immigrants from all over the world, most of whom tend to settle in the MTV hubs – Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver.  Many of these newcomers are highly-educated and usually gain permanent residency status under the Independent Category, meaning they applied on their own and were not sponsored by family members. Although their educational qualifications and work experience play a huge part in determining whether or not they are approved for residency, once they arrive, these same qualifications appear to play a less significant role in helping them find good jobs. This is when they are likely to hear that they lack Canadian work experience.

Why is there a disconnect between employers and IEPs?  The reasons vary. Some IEPs come with a set of expectations only to discover a different reality. Employers, on the other hand, are not aware of what IEPs bring to the mix. They struggle to understand if a degree from India, Venezuela or Moscow is comparable to the Canadian standard. They are concerned about the inability of some IEPs to converse effectively in one or both of Canada’s two official languages. They are afraid to take a chance with someone they don’t know, and if a resume indicates that the person’s last job was in another country, it’s automatically relegated to the ‘No Canadian experience’ file.

While the discourse is taking place, Toronto is losing billions of dollars because employers are failing to tap into the IEP’s skills. A recent study by the Toronto Board of Trade states, “Economists estimate the Toronto region is losing as much as $2.25-billion annually because people are unable to get jobs in keeping with their training and qualifications, or because they find these jobs, but aren’t getting paid as much as they could be.”

The next post will shed more light on this challenging situation, look at how the needs and expectations of employers and IEPs differ, and offer some strategies to bring them closer together.