by Christa Van Daele, Good Work News March 2004
Public health educators, physicians, physiotherapists, hospital program directors, insurance plan administrators, nursing care specialists - why are these practitioners appearing as regular guests and panelists at The Working Centre? Over the past six months, a busy chain of learning, stimulating community outreach, and overlapping research activities have been steadily linking people and projects in a new body of adult education practices of The Working Centre. In the late fall of 2003, continuing into spring of 2004, both project staff and employment counselors alike met for hours at a time with co-coordinator Stephanie Mancini to lay the foundation steps for a new fast -paced project called Focus on Health Care.
The project’s goal: to provide intensive support, job search guidance, specialized language learning, and long-term career path assistance to highly educated new Canadians who have been practicing health care professionals in their country of origin. Identifying possible mentors in the health care community, bringing in specialized panels of health practitioners and administrators to comment on the organization of health care in Ontario, and putting new Canadians in direct touch with employers in their field are some of the most important ongoing activities now taking place in The Working Centre’s new health care initiative.
Dentists, nurses, several physicians with different specialties, an optometrist, several pharmacists, a laboratory technologist, and a speech language pathologist - the first pilot group represented a fairly complete range of the health professions. A second group met in February and March. In an already lively employment centre space, the appearance of the so-called “STIC” project – standing for Sector Specific Training and Information Counselling -- added one more going concern to other forms of employment supports at The Working Centre.
Today, in the spring of 2004, participants who have completed the project in late 2003 are moving forward in encouraging job search steps. Touring hospitals, public health offices, pharmacies, and diverse private practice settings, participants gradually attained a more hands-on sense of the employment opportunities that could be open to them in the local labour market. In fact, they heard some good news on a number of fronts from visiting guests. A number of local hospital administrators who visited The Working Centre, as well as labour market analyst Ray Gormley from HRD Canada, shared labour market forecasts of promising career opportunities in nursing, medicine, pharmacy, laboratory technology, and paraprofessional roles in the years to come.
In the course of the project, some participants went on to get their educational and professional credentials assessed. With a counsellor and many highly focused web-based resources aimed at internationally trained individuals, they planned out what steps they might take to resume careers in their chosen profession. As well, with the help of community outreach activity carried out by the Working Centre’s “health sector team”, some have identified personal mentors to help them with long term planning. A key part of continuing outreach in 2004 is helping a New Canadian build the professional contacts necessary to keep making informed career choices in the future. Commented one program participant, a physician: “It was so important for me to get a mentor… the course was important because it helped me in innumerable ways to get information about my profession. We got to know the functioning of the hospitals here. This will definitely help me in my licensing exams.”
So far, the progress of many of the group’s participants is good. In January of 2004, some of the participants others have started part-time paid or volunteer employment in a related career choice. Such a choice – work in a laboratory, a nursing home, as a dental assistant, or a pharmacy assistant - - is the first step in a path back to the credentials, contacts, and qualifying courses required to re-enter a regulated health profession in Ontario. All in all, the sector specific project has achieved what it set out to do - to build confidence and competence in approaching a complex Ontario labour market in regulated professions. “We learned that we must keep working on a high level of English to fully enter our profession,” stated one participant. “I am prepared to do this.”
In the bigger provincial picture, what is the Focus on Health care about? The Working Centre, along with six other Help Centres in Ontario, took a chance in late 2003 on a new pilot program called a “sector specific” employment counselling initiative. The program is supported and funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. Developed by Toronto-based agency called Skills for Change, and then re-visited by Help Centres and the Ontario government some years later, this form of group employment counseling is designed to accelerate the progress of professional New Canadians back into their professional discipline in Canada. Communities such as London, Windsor, St Catharine’s, Oshawa, Guelph and Cambridge, and Niagara Falls have increasingly been challenged by the complex life and work dilemmas of professionals settling in their communities. As the pilot projects were reviewed and discussed throughout Ontario, each Help Centre had an opportunity to consider which professional sector to target, selecting from accounting, health care, engineering, or information technology choices. With a number of New Canadian health care professionals already visiting the Centre in recent years, The Working Centre chose health care as its focus.
What can the Kitchener - Waterloo community do to help? As most Canadians now know through the media stories and television documentaries aired on the subject, the stubbornly entrenched red tape problems that face new Canadians attempting to move forward into their professions are far too tangled for a single newcomer to tackle alone. With each health profession strictly regulated by its own professional body, and with procedures to apply to the professions not well understood by government immigration officials, employment counsellors in Ontario’s settlement agencies, or the internationally trained individual himself, the decision-making path that each newcomer has historically taken is fraught with misunderstanding, expense, and great difficulty. In fact, it has been well documented that many newcomers just give up, and never do attain former professions.
The Working Centre continues with developing the Focus on Health Care project into 2004. Interested members of the community who wish to support this undertaking can review our invitation below.