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Arnoldo Soto, a mechanical engineer at TransCanada in Calgary, moved to Canada from Venezuela in 2006.. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Arnoldo Soto, a mechanical engineer at TransCanada in Calgary, moved to Canada from Venezuela in 2006.. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Top Employers

Employers untangle the dreaded Catch-22 Add to ...

When Arnoldo Soto arrived in Alberta from Venezuela in 2006, he endured the newcomer's conundrum. To snag a job as a mechanical engineer in Canada, he needed a Canadian license. But to earn that license, he required a year of experience as an engineer in Canada before he could apply.

"For us, experience is one of the biggest issues," says Mr. Soto, who graduated from the University of Zulia, one of his country's largest and most prestigious universities. "It is, as you call it, a Catch-22."

With 13 years experience working with a multinational company in Venezuela's heavy oil business, Mr. Soto had skills that gas and oil companies wanted. TransCanada Corp., a Calgary-based gas and oil pipelines company, hired him at the engineering technologist level. The understanding was he would move to an engineering classification when he received Canadian accreditation from the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta. The time Mr. Soto works for TransCanada provides the Canadian experience that fulfills the requirements.

"We're finding that the work force is being made up more and more of people who have come from outside of Canada - that's just a fact," says Renate Poole, leader of diversity at TransCanada. "As an employer competing for skills in the marketplace, we're interested in people who are skilled. If they happen to be new Canadians, that's great. We want to bring them on board."

Companies such as TransCanada, which was named a 2011 Best Employers for New Canadians, are allowing time off with pay for studies, and providing individual mentoring and coaching.

"We expect that they're [new Canadians]going to get that professional engineering designation and continue with us," says Ms. Poole. "It's been very successful so far for every person we've done this for - about half a dozen in the last four years."

Syncrude Canada Ltd., another of this year's Best Employers for New Canadians, is on the hunt for talent. Based in Fort McMurray, Alta, where it produces crude oil from oil sands, the company searches for people who may not yet have full accreditation. Syncrude's recruiters visit English-as-a-second-language classes at the local college to advertise what it takes to become an employee at Syncrude.

"Syncrude is a real melting pot with people who come from all over the world to work here," says Donelda Patterson, manager of the company's human resources. "We hire people with the right skill sets and then assist them to develop into fully qualified employees while continuing to improve their English skills."

Why aren't more employers hiring new Canadians? Michael Bach, national director of diversity for KPMG LLP Canada, a Toronto-based accounting and professional services firm, says many don't grasp the value of non-Canadian credentials, and what foreign experience can bring to the Canadian workplace.

"If a person graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, some people might not understand what the Canadian equivalent is for that," says Mr. Bach. "It's probably one of the finest educational institutions on the planet, but if you don't have that awareness, you might look at that and pass someone over."

KPMG, also a Best Employer for New Canadians, considers skilled immigrants critical to its growth. "We are seeing fewer and fewer Canadian-born chartered accountants," says Mr. Bach. "For whatever reasons, people are choosing different careers, so we need to remove as many barriers as possible to employment in our field."

The firm has hired from other countries and recruited experienced KPMG employees from other countries through an internal program.

In 2004, Gurdev Narula capitalized on that program to move from Mumbai, where he was a senior manager for KPMG, to Toronto. Despite not having a Canadian Chartered Accountant designation, the company gave him the same title while he gained the accreditation.

"The whole process took about a year," says Mr. Narula, who is now a Canadian citizen and a KPMG partner in audit. "The company also put me into a program where I could understand the nuances of writing exams in Canada and made sure I had a mentor at that time to help me."

Today, Canada "feels like home," Mr. Narula says.

Mr. Soto has embraced his new home in Alberta. "As an immigrant, you have to be reborn again," says Mr. Soto. "It's been a journey. You have to learn and understand what for everybody else here is like common sense on daily issues. You have to accept that this is a new game with new rules to follow. That's the way it is. Now it's home."

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