University a “portal for immigration”

TRU career education department helps international students enter the Canadian workforce

Karla Karcioglu, Roving Editor Ω

Rupinder Matharoo (left) and Manjod Kaur (right) are both international students from India in the computing science program. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Rupinder Matharoo (left) and Manjod Kaur (right) are both international students from India in the computing science program. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

International students who come to TRU face unique and complex challenges when it comes to entering the domestic workforce.

International student employment coordinator Sarah Gibson understands the issues facing international students who come to Canada for education. They often come with the goal of obtaining work experience and permanent jobs after graduation. Gibson’s master’s thesis focused on understanding international students’ transition to the labour market, and now her job, funded in-part by TRU World, consists of helping students do just that.

The difficulties in finding a job begin when international students arrive in Canada with a study permit, but discover that they cannot apply for a work permit until they have been enrolled in full-time studies with good academic standing for at least six months. The work permit costs $150 and expires at the same time as the study visa.

“I tell students if they want to get a job after graduation they must have demonstrated skills and actual experience to be competitive,” Gibson said. “Many of these students just have different cultural ideas or a different cultural lens on what having a career means and how to access good jobs.”

One of the common misconceptions Gibson faces from students is that expectation that they will be able to get a job on campus. “Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of jobs on campus,” she said. Aramark, the company that supplies food services on campus is one of the campus’ major employers, but they do not have nearly enough jobs for all the incoming international students according to Gibson.

The problem of limited employment opportunities extends off campus. Gibson said that Kamloops has a relatively small labour market and the problem may get worse when the Canadian government finally scraps the six-month waiting period for work visas, which is scheduled to happen in January 2014.

“It will be interesting to see if the local labour force can absorb how many people [students and non-students] will be wanting part-time, student-level jobs,” Gibson said.

The career education department recommends volunteer experience for any student unable to access paid work, but Gibson said some foreign cultures don’t value volunteer work the same way Canadian employers do.

“What would work to get them a professional job in their home country may not be the same as what we would advise in Canada,” Gibson said.

Nancy Bepple, Kamloops city councillor and member of the career education department, conducted research on what skills international students think they need for the Canadian labour market and what resources and assistance they want TRU to provide them.

She learned that international students thought English language skills were most important for work in Canada. Students also felt an understanding of the culture of communication in Canada was important. Students indicated they wanted to learn this language culture through work experience both on and off campus.

Many international students who come to TRU already have some form of post-secondary education and many have degrees, but Bepple said they discredit their previous education and value a Canadian education more. The same goes for prior work experience. Bepple hopes to find a way to help students market their foreign work experience and education so they don’t have to discredit it.

Bepple said that people in Canada rely heavily on personal and professional networks to gain employment, but international students usually don’t have any networks when they arrive in Canada.

Gibson said many employers are hiring by referral, causing a “hidden job market” that consists of jobs that aren’t even posted to job boards. If international students don’t have connections in their industry they will miss out on jobs that aren’t posted.

Going forward, international students will be a major source of skilled labour in Canada, according to Bepple. “Whether the university wants to acknowledge it or not, we are a portal for immigration.”

She thinks that if the federal and provincial governments want students to stay in Canada they will need to provide more support.

“Obviously we’re busy and there’s a lot of students who know about us, but we could probably be doing more to reach out,” Gibson said. “It would be great to have more international students aware of the support we do offer.”

Gibson said most international students are successful at entering the job market because they are invested in their education, not only financially, but by leaving behind their country, their home and their family. This drives them to succeed. She said they are also more willing to relocate than many domestic students who are usually tied to the region or the province.

There is at least one course on campus that can help students network and gain volunteer experience off campus, all while earning credits.

Wendy Krauza is a senior lecturer in the English as-a-second language (ESL) department at TRU. Krauza developed a course called Service Learning 1000, aimed at providing TRU students with volunteer opportunities in the community. The course is open to all students as a general elective and Krauza has a variety of students enroll every year including domestic, international and ESL students.

Through partnerships with many local not-for-profit businesses the course integrates all the important job aspects that Bepple and Gibson stress are important. Students enrolled gain work experience, they build personal and professional networks, they learn about Canadian culture and they work on their resumés and portfolios through assignments.

Ankit Hazarika arrived in Canada two months ago and doesn't qualify for any off-campus work experience. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Ankit Hazarika arrived in Canada two months ago and doesn’t qualify for any off-campus work experience. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Krauza said she is impressed with many of the international and ESL students that have taken her course. “There’s so many things I have learned from them,” Krauza said. “We can never assume that because their first language isn’t English that they don’t have a world of experience under their belt already.”

Krauza said that ESL students often feel like they aren’t taken seriously on campus because of the language barrier and she wants people to recognize that language barriers often cause false assumptions.

Ankit Hazarika, Rupinder Matharoo and Manjod Kaur are all international students from India. They agree that Canadian work experience is vital in the Canadian job market.

Hazarika, who is without a work permit and is unable to qualify for a co-op program, said TRU could be doing more to provide international students with work experience, like helping them make contacts. He said he is currently not qualified for any permanent job he could hope for after graduation. He has not yet reached out to the career education department.

Marthoo has been in the computing science program at TRU for three years and is a co-op student with BlackBerry Ltd. He spent the previous school year and this past summer working at the company’s corporate head office in Waterloo, Ontario. He will graduate this year and feels confident with the Canadian work experience he has gained.

Kaur is also a computing science student. She has been focusing on her academics and has not looked into work experience opportunities. She thinks that TRU doesn’t provide enough on-campus jobs and said it is especially difficult off campus, where employers want Canadian work experience.

The TRU student headcount on the facts and figures page of the universities website listed 2,859 international students enrolled with TRU. Those international students came from 86 different countries, mainly China, Saudi Arabia and India.

According to data from the career education department, it has 780 international students currently enrolled in their database and accessing their services. International students account for 31% of all co-op students, with 80 international students enrolled in co-op.

Experiences of an alumnus

Dmitry Sorokin graduated from TRU’s post-baccalaureate accounting program in the spring of 2013. He came to Canada with a well-established career in Russia, which he achieved by getting good grades while attending a prestigious Russian state university, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

Unfortunately for Sorokin his previous education and work experience in Russia don’t qualify him for jobs in Canada.

His education alone guaranteed him a career in Russia. He never had a problem getting a job and was making a good living before he left.

This is not the case in Canada, as prospective employers want to see Canadian work experience on a resumé.

When he first graduated from TRU, he was determined to find a good job — not simply an entry-level position — wanting to transfer his Russian work experience to Canada. But after months of unemployment he is starting to consider the entry-level option, meaning a drop in his professional status and his previous income. It’s a hard sacrifice, since he already paid so much for both his Russian and Canadian educations, but he said it is worth it to find a job in Canada.

During his months of unemployment in Canada since graduation, he has had time to reflect on his time at TRU and the obstacles he faces as an international student.

There is a mentality among certain international students that they don’t want to socialize and network with fellow students because they don’t believe this will help them get a job, he said, but now knows this to be untrue. The students he became friends with at TRU have been valuable assets during the months he has been unemployed, he said, even if they just provide advice and feedback on job search strategies and Canadian culture.

He said it is important to socialize with people and let them get to know who you are. If they like you they will probably be willing to help you with your job search.

Sorokin said another struggle international students may face is the demographics of the job market, with only three per cent of the labour market being immigrants who have lived in Canada for less than five years, according to the Government of Canada. He said he thinks employers are more likely to choose Canadian-born citizens or well-established immigrants than to take a risk on a new immigrant. He cites misconceptions and stereotypes as the main cause of this phenomenon.

His top recommendations for international students are to try and network both personally and professionally, continue improving verbal and written English language skills, build interpersonal skills and behave in an honest way to eliminate perceived notions and discrimination.

Any TRU alumnus has access to the career education department and Sorokin has been checking in regularly with the career education department since his graduation, as it is recommended other students do, as well.