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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Membership has its privileges

By Carter Hammett
Special to The Toronto Sun


Arriving in Toronto from his native Gambia a mere nine months ago, Ayo George, 27, experienced frustrations similar to that of many new Canadians. Where do you look for a job? How do you start? Arriving in Canada at a time when the IT field was experiencing a downturn didn't help matters either.
Northern Region members of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT) visit the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc.


"It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Just getting around was difficult, and not knowing what to do was challenging," he says.

Fortunately he managed to hook up with BITePro (www.bitepro.com), a networking and education association for IT professionals. Formed in 2000, the group has grown to include a membership of 150 people interested in all aspects of the IT field, from the technical to customer service.

Volunteer-driven, the association publishes an online newsletter, organizes workshops and sponsors, and participates in numerous seminars and conferences where people interested in IT can meet and network.

Membership in associations can be an invaluable experience for the job seeker looking to break into a new profession, or perhaps change careers.

Generally speaking, most associations operate as non-profit entities, and provide a tremendous resource in terms of support, networking, professional development, advocacy and mentoring. Some offer career support through regular meetings, and others maintain online job banks. George says members offer each other leads, and he receives a few weekly e-mails through BitePro's employment service.

For the purposes of job seeking, the professions that associations represent can be divided into two categories: regulated and unregulated.

Unregulated professions include business, marketing, customer service, high tech, journalism and others. While these associations are not governed by legislation, many of them still practice a code of ethics and promote standards of service and behaviour.
As a member of a professional association, says Angela Shama, executive director of OACETT, "you get recognition as a competent professional whose credentials have met standards according to ethical codes and technical competencies."


Regulated professions are governed by occupational regulatory bodies (ORBs) that determine membership in a professional group. These groups are mandated through provincial legislation to establish competency standards, grant licenses and discipline members. The professions in this category tend to be older and more established, including doctors, nurses, social workers, midwives, teachers and lawyers.

The Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT, www.oacett.org) is an ORB representing the interests of about 21,000 members across the province. Established in 1962, its primary role is to offer professional designations on its members to practice in Ontario by administering examinations, assessing credentials, establishing standards and other activities.

"By becoming an OACETT member, you get recognition as a competent professional whose credentials have met standards according to ethical codes and technical competencies," says executive director Angela Shama.

Members also have opportunities to access a variety of services and programs, including a bi-monthly magazine, speakers bureau and industry tours.

In addition, OACETT conducts salary surveys to help members obtain competitive wages, and sponsors an online job bank available to paying members.

Shama points to the success of the site, which provides members with access to jobs across the country, through membership in its national counterpart, The Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists.

"To me, when an employer looks at a member's credentials, it says this person has met standards, had reference checks done, credentials checked, and meets the minimum standards necessary to be a certified technician or technologist," Shama says.
BECOMING A MEMBER
  • Membership in associations doesn't have to be limited to professional affiliation. Look at various aspects of yourself; chances are you'll find an affiliation, and therefore a networking opportunity for you. Some associations are built around gender (Canadian Association of Women Executives and Entrepreneurs, www.cawee.net); culture (including the Canadian Society of Iranian Engineers and Architects, www.mohandes.com), and even abilities (The Network of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities (NEWD), www.entrepreneurdisability.org).
  • An excellent resource exists with Associations Canada, published by Micromedia. This mammoth resource lists more than 19,000 Canadian associations, and includes everything under the sun. It is available at most libraries and employment resource centres throughout the city. Or check them out at: http://circ.micromedia.ca/ hotlinks/associations/main.htm.
  • Last but not least, consider volunteering in your association! It provides an opportunity to meet others, maintain and develop your skills and obtain access to special events. It's also a great way to give something back while making yourself more visible and accessible within the association.


  • Another benefit of membership, of course, is networking. With thousands of members across the province, job seekers can meet each other and swap stories, job search strategies and share knowledge about industry trends and employer activity.

    In Canada, 80% of all jobs are never advertised, so networking forms a key activity of many associations.

    Networking also plays a vital role in the activities conducted by the Toronto chapter of the International Customer Service Association (ICSA, www.icsa.on.ca), says membership chair Nancy Von Hapke.

    Unlike OACETT, the ICSA's activities are largely volunteer-driven, and the Toronto chapter is the only Canadian member of this North American organization.

    Additionally, ICSA is dedicated to sharing best practices in customer service provision and management through regular networking meetings offered biweekly during the year. The chapter maintains a large database where members can contact others, access jobs and keep up to date on the latest events offered by the association.

    "Members are anyone, be it corporations or individuals who want to improve customer service and are going after quality," Von Hapke says. "It's a great opportunity for networking. We offer professional speakers and have luncheons and breakfast meetings. We survey our membership to ask what skill sets are you looking for, and then try to provide it."

    The meetings create a lot of support for job seekers and career changers.

    "A lot of individuals don't know how to start a job search. Membership provides an informal social opportunity to meet people, talk to them; it's a great chance to share," Von Hapke says.

    "You have the opportunity to meet managers and front line people, or, you can just watch others and learn about successes and downfalls. It's a great chance to learn by just getting out there and communicating. You don't learn everything from a book. People build relationships, not paper."

    (Toronto writer Carter Hammett [communityconnection@hotmail.com] is a Toronto-based writer, trainer and employment information officer.)



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