By Laura Lam

As an immigrant (and an immigration scholar), I have been exposed to experiences, research, and debates over the requirements for newcomers to gain “Canadian Experience.” Even beyond research, I have family and friends that have faced this very obstacle. It’s a strange concept; an elusive requirement that seems to mean anything and everything, but also extremely hard to attain if, well, you don’t have “Canadian Experience.” In the Canadian labour market, “Canadian Experience” functions as a first step for immigrant employment, but this often leads to underemployment, unemployment and higher rates of marginalization.

Volunteering, networking, contract work, going back to school, bridging programs – are all possibilities that we have heard. If you’re a newcomer to Canada awaiting your foreign credential recognition, or simply trying to get your feet on the ground, what can you do in the meantime to gain Canadian experience? There is no magical solution (it would be a dream if there was!) but today I want to share two ideas that might complement your initiatives.

1. Develop your personal portfolio

New immigrants to Canada that I have interviewed acknowledge that this “Canadian Experience” requirement from employers has been hard on their job search process. Especially for internationally educated professionals who get discouraged and frustrated from hearing this as justification for not landing a job. One solution I have heard from newcomers is setting aside time to build a personal website, buff up their portfolio, and develop their LinkedIn presence. While volunteering itself opens up lots of doors for newcomers, it can also be useful for developing your craft, and develop a win-win solution that also serves as an avenue to showcase your work.

The fields and occupations that this could work in include:

  • Content creation fields, such as marketing, writing, graphic design: Check out local organizations that might need assistance with various aspects of creating content, which can boost your portfolio.  
  • IT support, development fields: I met one newcomer who was an IT support professional and before landing his full-time job, he worked part-time to help with special projects at various small firms. It was a good trial for both him and his company – a great way to demonstrate his skills.
  • General support for startups and small-medium enterprises: Canada has an abundance of startups, and many times as these companies are just starting out, they need all the help they can get! While they might not be able to offer full-time employment right away, see if you can start a project with them. And many startups and small businesses have been launched by newcomers.

2. Beyond networking 101

This might be controversial – but it might work. You want to be wise with your time, after all, moving to a new country is a big deal. One piece of advice I heard from a client I worked with was the importance of making a list of settlement or newcomer employment organizations in your city, and not being afraid to approach them with an introduction. Attending their events in person might be difficult right now, but many may have virtual alternatives, and you never know who is able to connect you with someone. Even a phone call to reach out for an initial introduction and to gather information can be helpful and a place to start. Yes, this might be networking 101, but by making it targeted and meaningful, the results might just be a short gig that you can turn into full-time employment. Here are a few organizations to get you started (with links to each!):

Other ideas to consider:

  • Have you considered entrepreneurship/self-employment as an option? There are many free resources – such as ACCESS’s Women’s Business Accelerator – available for newcomer women to help launch a startup idea!
  • Connect with mentoring programs – like this one offered from TRIEC
  • Network with other newcomers that encountered similar experiences and see how they have overcome them.

Tell us – are there other ideas that have worked for you?