FRONT

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

A pilot project may lead to Canada finally benefiting from skilled immigrants

MaryJanigan December 15 2003
FRONT

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

A pilot project may lead to Canada finally benefiting from skilled immigrants

MaryJanigan December 15 2003

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

A pilot project may lead to Canada finally benefiting from skilled immigrants

FRONT

ON THE ISSUES

MaryJanigan

THE IMMIGRANT experience is never easy. But sometimes it is harder than it should ever be. Take Roberto Baca, who arrived in Toronto alone last year from Mexico. He did not know a soul. But, with his impressive work record in marketing and administration, he figured he would eventually find a job. “If you are going to jump into the water,” he says now with a rueful laugh, “jump with both feet.” He very nearly sank.

After settling into a rooming house, he scanned newspaper ads, peppered employers with resumés and hung out at job centres. He sat through interviews, pleading his case while employers pointedly mentioned his lack of Canadian experience. He even volunteered at a local job centre, organizing files and information resources. The centre returned the favour this fall when it directed him to an innovative, not-for-profit pilot program dubbed Career Bridge. Today he is a very contented intern setting up databases for the immigrant assistance program of the charitable Maytree Foundation. “It was really rough,” he says, “because of my lack of experience here. I just needed a chance.”

One man cannot find a job despite 10 years as a trade financing expert. Another has a doctorate in industrial engineering.

Canada will open its doors to between 220,000 and 245,000 permanent residents next year; more than half will be skilled workers and their dependents. But we do too little to help them fit into their new home. a Sure, there are federal centres, listing jobs and offering assisOne man tance. Sure, the fedcannot find eral Human Resources a job despite Department is work10 years ing to find ways of recas a trade ognizing the credenfinancing tials of medical and expert. engineering arrivals. a Another doctorate has What we cannot seem in industrial to do is overcome the engineering. hurdle of “lack of Canadian experience.”

I have a file folder of tales from unemployed immigrants. One man, fluent in Spanish and English, and with a working knowledge of French and German, cannot find a job despite 10 years as a trade financing expert for an international bank in Latin America. Another has a doctorate in industrial engineering from a British university coupled with experience in the Middle East as a management consultant. “How can I get Canadian experience if I do not get an appropriate job in Canada?” he asks.

As a Toronto project that aims to expand across Canada, Career Bridge is only a beginning. But it is the way of the future. With three years of start-up funding from Ontario, it is targeted at immigrants who are not trying to enter regulated professions or trades. This fall, it examined the resumés of2,000 applicants, winnowing the list to 500 qualified people who had at least three years of work experience elsewhere. (More than one-third had an M.A. or doctorate.) Career Bridge tested their language skills, checked their educational and work records and verified their immigration status. Fifty lucky interns like Baca are now starting fourmonth stints at 28 firms ranging from the Royal Bank of Canada to Humber College. The program should reach 1,100 internships by 2008. “These people were definitely having a lot of trouble helping themselves,” says Lucille Joseph, CEO of Career Edge Inc., which runs the program. “So we worked to answer employers’ worries.”

Baca is in heaven. When asked where he sees himself in five years, he does not miss a beat: stable employment and a “realistic plan” to buy a home. He adds, “I see myself as an integrated part of Canada.” To my surprise, Ottawa’s Human Resources Department admits “it was very difficult to find someone in the department” who had heard of Career Bridge. It should inquire. Now.

FaceTime

Frosted “I’m not too old to shovel. I’m just too old to be bullied,” says Olga Friesen, a 69-yearold grandmother who spent 30 minutes in jail for refusing to scrape her sidewalk down to pavement when the City of Edmonton won’t always do the same.

McGuintyville? Environmentalist David McGuinty is considering a run for John Manley’s old federal riding— Ottawa South-the same one held provincially by brother Dalton, Ontario’s new Liberal premier.

Cannibal In a sensational German trial, 42-year-old Armin Meiwes admitted killing and eating the flesh of a 43-year-old engineer he had met through an Internet torture site. Meiwes said the man volunteered for the act and that eating flesh felt like “taking communion.”

OnSpec

Punishment detail As Paul Martin slips into the prime minister’s chair this week, two new books suggest the kind of minister he needs at his side is the kind he’s most likely to avoid.

Jane Stewart’s kind.

In his new book, Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament, the University of Moncton’s resident expert on public administration, Donald Savoie, argues Stewart should get credit, not blame, for trying to fix the grants scandal she inherited at Human Resources Development Canada in 2000. “Despite her decision to play by the rules,” Savoie writes, “Stewart was subjected to a year from hell.”

David Good was an official in Stewart’s department when she made an embarrassing internal audit public. Good’s book The Politics of Public Managements the definitive history of the resulting mess. He offers a tart account of her clumsy release of the audit, but notes her diligent attempts to fix the problem.

“There’s great strength from lessons learned the hard way,” Good said in an interview. The easy response to an internal audit is to bury it. Stewart chose the hard way. Banishing her, which may well happen when the new cabinet is sworn in Dec. 12, would send a very clear message to new ministers: if you find problems, hide them.

Mary Janigan is a political and policy writer. mary.janigan@macleans.rogers.com