Canadian Consulting Engineer

We need a job map

Tens of thousands of internationally trained engineers come to Canada every year, led to believe that employers will be waiting in the wings, eager to grab people of their skills. But as Rosalind Cairncross, P.Eng. shows in her article on page 36,...

June 1, 2004  Canadian Consulting Engineer

Tens of thousands of internationally trained engineers come to Canada every year, led to believe that employers will be waiting in the wings, eager to grab people of their skills. But as Rosalind Cairncross, P.Eng. shows in her article on page 36, many of these hopeful and personable young people, whether they be from Asia, South America or Eastern Europe, struggle to find work and end up doing menial jobs for minimum wages. The problem is particularly acute in Toronto, where the lion’s share of new immigrants tend to live.

From the general media we hear that Canada is desperately short of skilled professionals and all that is holding them back are restrictive licensing practices. “Bound by Red Tape,” was the headline of a recent column in MacLean’s magazine. “My wife and I cry all the time,” said the unnamed new Canadian from India who was the subject of the article. An electrical engineering graduate, he has been designing HVAC systems for 22 years and felt it was unfair that he was being asked to write an examination in order to get an Ontario licence. The columnist was extremely sympathetic

In fact, the situation is more complex. Obtaining a licence isn’t easy for immigrating engineers, but the professional bodies have already done a great deal to remove the regulatory barriers. Provincial associations have opened up new provisional licensing categories and set the Canadian experience requirement at just one year. Meanwhile, engineering organizations are running programs to help immigrants with job searches, language and cultural assimilation. Governments have been generous with funding. As I write this, a fax arrives from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada announcing $1.8 million for programs to aid the recognition and assessment of foreign credentials.

The real obstacle facing immigrant engineers is that, despite all the talk about Canada’s need for skilled professionals, there probably aren’t enough entry level jobs available to absorb them. We need doctors and nurses now, but there doesn’t seem to be an immediate dire shortage of new engineers.

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Paul Martin, P.Eng., a board member of the Ontario Society for Professional Engineers, believes there is an oversupply of entry-level engineers. He explains that a decade ago in 1991 the total number of engineering graduates and immigrant engineers was approximately 8,000. By 2001 that figure had increased more than threefold to around 25,000. Meanwhile, during the same period the job market for engineers had grown only 17 per cent. After talking to a few consulting engineering firms, I hear that the only place there does seem to be currently a shortage of entry level engineers is in Alberta.

On the firm principle and understanding that we openly welcome engineers from all countries and ethnic backgrounds without reservation, what we need is a more accurate map of precisely where we need their skills. We need to give the prospective immigrant engineers the information before they pick up and leave their homes, families and cultural roots. The employment map needs to give details by both geography and discipline, and it needs to be scrupulously kept up to date. The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers is working on plans to organize such a labour market study as part of its mega-project to integrate new Canadians into the profession. Let’s hope it succeeds.

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