By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
Nadira Gopalani immigrated to Toronto from Mumbai, India, in February 2002 full of enthusiasm about beginning her new life. In the fall of 2003, the seasoned marketing manager began preparing to enter the workforce, pouring her energies into job searching and networking. But months later, she discovered she was on an uphill battle -- and no one was throwing a rope.
"It was a slap in the face," she recalls. "I had all the skills and had supervised a group of people, but people didn't recognize what I had done back home. They didn't know what to make of it. It was very frustrating."
Gopalani became disillusioned with her prospects, and, at 44, felt further insecurity about her employability as a mature worker. Driven by the frustration of her experience, she decided to abandon her marketing career to help other newcomers in the same situation.
Her path led to the South Asian Women's Centre, a non-profit women's organization that helps its clients enhance their economic and social standing. Her competence with English and her previous experience volunteering at the centre landed her a job as an employment counsellor, and in January 2004 she started her first Canadian job.
Located at 1322 Bloor St. W., the centre (www.cassa.on.ca/sawc
) offers a number of services to its clients, among them employment counselling that covers assessment of foreign credentials, lack of Canadian work experience, computer training and networking.
"There's a lot of confusion about the information to settle and work here," she says. "We are getting the best information out to people who require it."
| TIM OWENS|
World Education Services evaluates international academic credentials
Gopalani's employment struggle is one that's played out in different forms among tens of thousands of Toronto immigrants, and the South Asian Women's Centre is one of hundreds of agencies working to remedy a situation that's only continuing to worsen.
A new study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that in 1980, 86% of immigrant men were employed, compared to 68% of newcomers in 2000. In 1980, this group earned about 80% of the average Canadian's salary, but 20 years later, their average income was only 60% as much. This, despite the study's finding that today's foreign-trained professionals are better educated than native-born Canadians.
But Canadian labour market statistics make clear the need for this trend to reverse itself. One third of the country's workers will retire by the end of the decade, and by 2011, it's anticipated that 100% of Canada's net labour force growth will come from immigration.
Another agency looking to give foreign-trained immigrants a fair shake is World Education Services (WES). WES evaluates international academic credentials so that newcomers may more effectively advance their educations, become certified in their profession and find work.
For $115, individuals can order a comprehensive document report that identifies and describes each earned diploma or certificate, and it's Canadian equivalency. A $200 course-by-course report lists subject taken, credits earned and the grade equivalent and grade average in Canadian terms.
"In some way, employers are most interested in this service because they've never had a way to compare foreign credentials to Canadian ones," says Tim Owens, director of WES. "They don't know what to do with the resume of someone who got a degree outside of Canada."
WES has information on more than 40,000 academic institutions worldwide, and is a recognized credential evaluation authority among hundreds of North American schools, regulatory bodies, corporations and governments. In 2003, it received applications from 7,300 foreign-trained immigrants.
The goal, Owens says, is to prevent newcomers from needlessly pouring money into updating their education, and to enable them to pursue their goals more efficiently.
"A lot of people think no one will ever believe they have degree, so they go back to school. But often they're spending time and money they don't need to," Owens says.
For Gopalani, the quest to integrate immigrants into the job market has been bolstered by a new program that was a boon to her and to newcomers. The eight-month Employment Counselling for Immigrants and Refugees certificate program offered by George Brown College helps counsellors better understand the unique needs of immigrants so that they may better assist them. The Maytree Foundation, a charitable foundation that addresses inequality and poverty, subsidizes 90% of the cost of the course -- valued at $2,550 -- for qualifying students.
Gopalani was a member of the program's first graduating class last month.
"I know from personal experience that immigrants have a whole different set of employment issues," she says, "and this program helps us to better help them."
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