New project aims to help immigrant women

  • Nov. 21, 2012 4:09 p.m.

A new project geared to bolstering the job prospects of immigrant women was launched recently in the City.

The Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association (CAIWA) in conjunction with Status of Women Canada is spearheading the Women’s Economic Security project – a three-year initiative aimed at helping stakeholders identify, understand and remove obstacles to immigrant women landing work in their professional fields.

Tabitha Phiri, women’s economic security & safe homes program coordinator with CAIWA, said immigrants face a number of obstacles when they arrive in Canada and seek work. Often, they are professionals in their native countries but those skill sets aren’t recognized in Canada.

“Some are doctors, some are professors, some have master’s degrees or are managers, but when they come to Canada they have to start all over again,” she said.

Often, they end up in jobs they are completely over-qualified for.

“The first stumbling block is language. Some of them can’t speak English. Others can speak English, but they have an accent so the English they do speak isn’t really understood here.” Also, their resumes can be overlooked because of their lack of work experience in Canada which contributes to the issue of not being able to move forward.

The Women’s Economic Security project will ultimately help to formulate strategies to break down barriers, she said.

“During the next three years we are going to involve the community, our political leaders and our employers. They will be involved in coming up with solutions to help with what the women are experiencing.”

During the project launch at RDC, several women from countries around the world shared their experiences of how they couldn’t work in the careers they had been trained in back home.

Margarita Fuentes, 42, came to Canada from Columbia in 2005. A dentist by training, she said the cost of the retraining that would be necessary to practice here is very high. She now works with Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association on a full-time basis and enjoys her job, but has been frustrated that she can’t work as a dentist here in Canada. She said she couldn’t find work as a dental hygienist either.

And with the financial pressures of raising a family, there isn’t much time for retraining anyways.

“Trying to go through the process of becoming a dentist again is extremely difficult – almost impossible,” she said, adding she hopes the newly-launched project will make it easier for immigrants to work in their professional fields upon arrival here.

Jim Taylor, a consultant for the project, said that over the past 10 years, Canada has accepted between 221,000 and 281,000 permanent residents each year. Most are accepted under a ‘point’ system where they are awarded points for education, experience or being in the primary work years for example.

“Unfortunately when they get here, many have problems getting their credentials and skills recognized. As a result, many highly skilled immigrants and refugees are not able to work in their areas of expertise.

“Not only is this a tragic loss to them because their economic prospects are so much less than their potential, but it’s a tragedy for the country as well because we aren’t benefitting from the skills and richness that they could bring to bear.”

Taylor said the Women’s Economic Security project is in three parts – the first year will focus on identifying gaps and barriers to existing opportunities.

“Year two will be the development of a community plan to try and overcome the gaps and barriers for women’s economic security. The third year will be the implementation of the community plans and an assessment as their effectiveness.”

The initial research phase will include talks with service providers, local political leaders and employers. Taylor said he’d really like to hear from employers as to what their hiring needs are, and the barriers they may have in terms of hiring immigrant and refugee women.

Tara Veer, City councillor, said the breadth and depth of adversities immigrants face is unbelievable. “They come with the hope and expectation of a better life, and in many respects we provide that because of our quality of life.

“But there are still risks that they face, when you look at the number of unemployed or underemployed immigrants who have come to Canada under the points system that has chosen them as immigrants because of the skill sets they bring. When they get here, they get caught in this vicious circle where their accreditation is not recognized.

“Ultimately what we have is an immigrant population that is happy to be in Canada and who wants to contribute to our society, yet are unemployed or underemployed,” she said. “And they often have skill sets that our economy needs.”

Veer said one of the things that needs to happen is a means of bridging the gap to accreditation. “Instead of having them start from scratch and go through school once again, there has to be way of having them challenge exams or upgrade to Canadian standards on a fast track.”

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