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Maria James says finding a job in her home city of Toronto was a challenge.Duane Cole/The Globe and Mail

Maria James left her job as a software engineer in India five years ago to come to Canada with her family.

Her husband was pursuing a PhD and, when her two children reached school age, she wanted to restart her career, but faced an eight-year gap in her resume and a new, unknown landscape in the job market.

As open and welcoming as Canada had been, she says finding a job in her home city of Toronto was a challenge.

“When I was ready to go back to the job market, I started applying a lot and I felt like it wasn’t reaching anywhere. I applied, I could see lots of positions open but nothing seemed to be working for me,” she says.

Networking plays a huge part in recruitment in Canada, she says, which is a major disadvantage to newcomers. Many employers also are looking for Canadian experience.

“The first thing they all asked for Canadian experience, which nobody has unless you have a first job in Canada,” says Ms. James, 33.

Eighty per cent of jobs in this country are not broadly advertised, says Manjeet Dhiman, senior vice-president of services and strategic initiatives for Acces Employment, a Toronto-based charitable organization that provides job search programs and services for newcomers to Canada.

It’s one of the many hurdles for immigrants in finding meaningful work in this country, she says.

“When you’re a newcomer to Canada and you’re just arriving in a new city, new country, your education, your family, your professional contacts are not here, that can be very limiting,” she says. “That is one of the biggest challenges that newcomers face is this kind of sense of isolation … They’re adjusting, they’re settling, but in terms of looking for work, there isn’t anybody who they can speak to and call on and get that advice.”

In addition to resume writing, mentoring and help getting professional accreditations, networking is one of the key offerings at Acces, Ms. Dhiman says.

Ms. James was fortunate to be referred to Acces and its three-month Women in Tech program, which provides individual support, training and mentoring. She says the networking opportunities were the best part.

“If you have someone to vouch for you, that’s where I think Canadian employers really look for people.”

Through Acces, she took part in a “speed-mentoring” program sponsored by TD Bank. One of the mentors she spoke with for five minutes worked at CIBC and, as a result of that connection, Ms. James has been working as a senior mainframe developer at CIBC since January.

Acces also works with corporate partners including IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce Inc., which have introduced upskilling opportunities to fill high-demand positions.

For refugees, the challenges are often compounded because they haven’t had time to gather important documents, and professional organizations or employers may not be reachable, Ms. Dhiman says.

In those cases, Access works with World Education Services, a non-profit credential evaluation service, to confirm credentials, Ms. Dhiman says.

The current talent shortage is encouraging more employers to tap the immigration talent pipeline, Ms. Dhiman says.

“It’s an opportunity to break through some of those systemic barriers and have employers look at how to support people when they’re hiring coming from elsewhere,” she says.

One example is the health care industry. Despite the urgent need for skilled workers, health care continues to be particularly challenging to break into for newcomers, Ms. Dhiman says. The process of accreditation is lengthy and costly.

The non-profit Care Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses (Care) aims to change that by helping migrant nurses in Ontario navigate what can be a complex credentialing system. Its pre-arrival program begins even before they set foot in Canada, says co-ordinator Meghan Wankel.

“The nursing assessment process is pretty complex and expensive and it can take a significant amount of time just to go through the assessments and get the guidance from the nursing regulatory bodies on the next steps to take,” Ms. Wankel says. “It’s important to get people started on this process early.”

As they await accreditation, the program offers webinars on everything from a primer on the Canadian health care system to workplace culture, she says. Accreditation can take two to four years and Care helps clients find non-licensed work in the health care field in the meantime.

The organization also has a mentorship program with the Canadian Nurses Association, connecting newcomers with peers in the field.

There has been some easing of the strict requirements for international nurses in Ontario and other provinces due to a worsening nurse shortage. It’s long overdue, suggests Ruth Lee, Care’s executive director.

“It really breaks my heart to see many of the nurses we need to look after patients doing work that maybe other people can do, such as housekeeping or pouring coffee in a coffee shop,” she says. “Those things don’t require the skills we are so desperately needing right now.”

In its 20 years, Care has helped more than 5,000 nurses from more than 100 countries put their skills to work in Canada, Dr. Lee says. Across Canada, internationally educated nurses account for 8.9 per cent of the nursing work force.

“We are so fortunate as a country. We welcome so many newcomers with so much talent and most of them are pretty young and energetic. They have so much to contribute,” she says.

Canada welcomed a record 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021. The federal government aims to increase that to nearly 432,000 this year and 447,000 next year to help address a labour shortage and spur economic recovery following the pandemic.

Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development, says 200,000 jobs are going unfilled in Ontario alone and immigration is key to addressing the challenge.

He notes only about 25 per cent of immigrants in Ontario are working in professions in which they’ve studied.

“We all know stories of engineers and architects driving taxis,” Mr. McNaughton says. “I want them to be working in professions where they’re earning more take-home pay to raise their families. I think that’s most important – but getting them into key jobs to fill labour shortages will ultimately grow our economy.”

Last fall, Ontario passed the Working for Workers Act, which included measures to remove barriers for internationally trained people to get licensed in regulated professions and access jobs matching their qualifications. Ontario has also revamped training programs for in-demand jobs to open them up to newcomers, he says.

As for Ms. James and her husband, they recently obtained their Canadian citizenship. This is home, she says.

“We are very happy we chose this place.”

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