In September, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) released a report on the barriers faced by international engineering graduates (IEGs). The ICC is a national charity co-founded by former governor general Adrienne Clarkson that delivers programs and special projects and publishes reports on citizenship and inclusion. Its new report, Closed Shops: Making Canada’s Engineering Profession More Inclusive of International Engineers, was unveiled at an event at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Ontario, during which PEO Acting Deputy Registrar of Licensing and Registration Moody Farag, P.Eng., participated in a panel discussion. PEO Interim Registrar Johnny Zuccon, P.Eng., FEC, also attended on behalf of PEO. Other panelists at the event included report author Lauren Heuser, fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation; Katrina de Asis, EIT, an IEG who recently immigrated from the Philippines; Aarthi Vig, program manager at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE); and host Scott Young, director of ideas and insights at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
The report examines Canada’s immigration system and reviews the licensure process, with an aim to identify ways IEGs might face unique barriers, and makes recommendations for change. Its recommendations are aimed at Engineers Canada, provincial engineering regulators, immigration officials, policy-makers, fairness commissioners, employers, universities, settlement support agencies and IEGs. In its examination of licensure and employment processes, the report’s findings suggest a systemic bias and suggests this is due to an overly complex and misunderstood system that is not consistent from province to province. Finally, it suggests streamlining processes and reducing information gaps.
The report made the following observations and recommendations:
- IEGs face higher unemployment rates and persistent wage gaps;
- IEGs face systemic barriers that are the result of disconnects between various stakeholders—government, regulators, employers and other agencies—that have a hand in shaping their outcomes as opposed to problems endemic to any one system;
- The engineering profession should not relax its standards; however, standards should be equal for all, regardless of where applicants received their education;
- Most IEGs do not obtain a licence when they come to Canada, quoting Engineers Canada’s Monitoring Report on the Educational Credential Assessment Project (2015), which states only 15 per cent of IEGs apply for licensure in Canada;
- Employers have a bias in favour of native talent;
- The path to licensure is long and frequently opaque;
- A disconnect exists between Immigration Canada’s Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) for Express Entry applicants ranked by a points system and a licensure process that doesn’t recognize it; and
- IEGs may or may not receive information about licensure, nor do they have access to internship and co-op opportunities, which, in concert with potential employer bias, makes the one-year Canadian experience requirement difficult to achieve.
- Engineers Canada should conduct ECAs for Immigration Canada and share that database with regulators for licensing purposes rather than having IEGs undergo a separate credential assessment with regulators;
- Immigration Canada should inform IEGs about support services and licensing procedures when they arrive and work with settlement service providers to ensure IEGs are aware of career opportunities in related fields;
- Provincial assessments standards should be harmonized, with a national standard for assessing IEGs’ credentials and competence, and specifically suggesting Engineers Canada, which was consulted for the report, take on this role;
- Regulators should develop more systematic methods for disseminating information about licensing and its benefits to IEGs;
- Regulators should employ dedicated IEG managers to support them;
- All provinces and territories should introduce fairness commissioners, and they should be empowered to receive complaints;
- Statutory maximums regarding processing time for licensure should be imposed;
- Bridging programs should be made available across Canada (Ontario and Manitoba have them);
- Competency-based assessment processes like Engineers and Geoscientists BC’s pilot program, the Canadian Environment Experience Requirement Project, should be adopted by regulators across Canada to satisfy the Canadian work experience requirement;
- Standalone advocacy organizations like OSPE should advocate for IEGs and should be established across Canada;
- Regulators and employment agencies should create discipline or region-specific mentorship programs to help IEGs navigate the licensure process and form professional networks;
- Regulators should create a credentials database for employers; and
- Employers should be encouraged to diversify their workforce.
At the launch event, harmonization of licensure processes was the main topic of discussion. During a question-and-answer segment, Zuccon spoke to why the provinces and territories have their own systems and how harmonizing processes across Canada is challenging because every province and territory has its own act to adhere to. Farag addressed questions regarding perceived lengthy timelines, noting several factors that come into play, such as that PEO often waits years for the requisite supporting documents.
When PEO’s approach of assessing the competency of individuals versus institutions was questioned, Farag explained: “It’s not just about the education, it’s about the application of knowledge. At the end of the day, it’s the individual who gets the licence.” Farag also explained that PEO’s provisional licence was put in place to assist IEGs with employment and that it lets employers know their education has been vetted.
Concern was expressed by all over a statement made by de Asis, who is frustrated by the licensure process, saying she came to Canada because she thought it was a “land of opportunity.” Vig of OSPE suggested the immigration process needs to be more honest during its application process and give a more realistic picture of what immigrants can expect regarding employment.