International Workers Find Welcome, Soft Skills in Canada

There’s a wave of nationalism and anti-free trade sentiments sweeping the United States and Europe, and questions remain about whether international workers will be allowed to continue working in those nations, and how to address the difference in skills. Free trade agreements allow for foreign workers to work in their host nation, and travel between their home and host countries freely.

Immigrants often come with the “hard skills” – the training specific to a job – but lack “soft skills” – the cultural norms and relational skills that make one candidate shine above a similarly qualified candidate. Cultural misunderstandings can tank a burgeoning career, and make it difficult to stay in the host country. While the future of trade treaties are uncertain at this time for the U.S. and Europe, Canada is still welcoming guest workers and even making efforts to recruit and train them.

From Romania to Canada

When Luiss Zaharia left her native Romania to work in Canada in 2002, she thought she could count on her banking skills to land another banking job. She has an MBA in financial management, and ran eight branches of the Romanian bank where she worked. But all of those qualifications proved difficult for Zaharia when she looked for a job. At first she was turned away altogether, but then she found a low-level position as a mortgage officer, but the job was a dead-end.

That’s when Zaharia enrolled in the Rotman School of Management’s Business Edge program at the University of Toronto. The program focuses on soft skills, like leadership and salary negotiation, that guest workers with professional skills might need to further their careers.

From India to Canada


Sarbjit Singh Chadha came to Canada from India with a diploma in mechanical engineering and plans to pick up his career where he left off. Unable to find full-time job, Chadha cobbled together a living doing labor, security and custodial work. He eventually found work in maintenance at a healthcare facility, and decided he liked the work.

Seneca College’s Building Environmental Systems (BES) — a government-funded, part-time bridging program — helped him bridge the gaps that kept him from realizing his true potential. The program combines certification with the specific building management skills with the intercultural communication skills he would need to succeed as a worker in a foreign country.

Helping International Workers Build Soft Skills

Bridging programs are recognized as a “global standard in newcomer integration,” says Nicole Pereira, manager of government contracts and training services at Seneca. “They’re meant to be short, targeted training interventions that are a bridge over a gap.”

A number of bridging programs focus on enhancing skills for specific industries, including architecture, engineering and optometry. BES and other programs like it also include work on finding a job in Canada, as well as employment counseling. The program helps students develop professional networking skills as well, Pereira says.

“Bridging programs should never be about duplication of prior learning — retraining people to do what they’ve always done,” says Pereira. “It’s about appreciating that people who immigrate here are probably about 90% of the way there.”

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

The total number of TFW more than doubled between 1993 and 2013, to 338,189 workers. Between 2006 and 2014, more than 500,000 workers (referred to under the program as Temporary Foreign Workers or TFWs) were brought into Canada under the program. In 2013 there were 338,000 foreign workers in Canada.

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