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Breaking the Cycle

Upfront, I have to admit a bias here.  Like many of the respondents to our EO List survey in November, I am an internationally-educated professional (aka an “IEP”).  For this reason, I am sympathetic to the challenges faced by other IEPs in HR in the Canadian market.

The other evening I began teaching at my first evening course of the semester.  Every class has something unique about it, and this year I am struck by the number of IEPs taking my course.  During the “get to know each other” part of the first night, we learned that it was almost 60% of the group. Most of them indicated that they had had very little success in their job search efforts since arriving in Canada and had decided to return to the classroom to gain “Canadian” HR knowledge to improve their employment prospects.  I was also struck by the level of overall HR experience some of them have.  I don’t know what to say except that it just feels wrong that this is such a problem and feel compelled to blog about it with a hope to improve the situation.

Toronto is an international city.  We produce and buy things from all over the world.  A sizable portion of the population of the Greater Toronto Area was born outside of Canada (I have seen statistics ranging from 30 to 50%).  Canadian businesses are setting up shop in countries the world over, leading to a growing number of Canadian headquarters.  In this environment, we have to get past the bias of language barriers and knowledge of the Canadian workplace.  World experience is absolutely critical to our success.  We have to break the cycle of over-reliance on Canadian credentials and experience.

According to our November 2011 EO List survey, 15% of respondents indicated that they were IEPs in HR, with others indicating that they had worked in HR in other countries.  Of those who responded as an IEP or a newcomer, 56% indicated that they had experienced barriers in employment.  The nature of these barriers is not surprising.  Respondents to the survey indicated that these barriers include:

  • Exclusion from the interview process on the basis of ‘no Canadian experience’;
  • Insufficient bridging programs (e.g. not enough courses that focus on the primary barrier which is employment law), making IEPs non-competitive;
  • Overemphasis on the CHRP in the workplace and the process for an IEP to become a CHRP takes too long; and
  • A job market where mid-senior levels are highly competitive, and IEPs applying for lower jobs end up being over-qualified.

There is no easy fix to this problem.  After all, it could be a problem if an HR Professional working in Canada was unaware of various employment standards or labour relations requirements or assumed that HR was universal everywhere.  That said, the overreliance on Canadian experience reduces the pool of talent in potentially an unfair way.

I believe 2012 will go down in history as the year of unprecedented change in HR.  The November 2011 EO List survey indicates that 48.1% of respondents are actively in job search mode, and the majority of these respondents are currently employed.  With all that mobility, this creates an opportunity to think beyond the traditional candidate and to consider a broader list of candidates for HR Jobs.

Some of the suggestions provided by survey respondents to improve the marketability of IEPs include:

  • Create volunteer or bridging jobs, including internships; and improve bridging courses and training;
  • Expand the services of newcomer organizations; and provide more venues for newcomers to share and gain recognition for their international knowledge;
  • Provide more flexibility for candidates to demonstrate capabilities; stop shortlisting on the basis of Canadian experience;
  • HR Professionals should step up; agree to mentor IEPs; and
  • Expand the services of The EO List.

This type of message is always difficult when there are so many who are unemployed. I know lots of regular folk with Canadian HR experience who are really struggling with finding a job right now.  Ultimately though I think we need to stop taking the easy way out and look at the broadest set of candidates possible in every HR search.  In the meantime, we also need to work on eliminating those barriers. That way we can start to break this cycle.


  1. Hi Bonni,

    Honestly I am surprised by seeing no comments on your post.
    I am an IEP in HR and I could confirm all of what you’ve said. Having an experience from several different countires I just cannot understand the “Canadian experience” thing. Especially now when HR is going through a huge turnaround towards globalization and unification of best practices. The sad thing is that we are rejected by the people who should understand all that and drive the shift in mindset at their workplace.
    Recently I have finished the bridging program and the people I met there are high calibre professionals and all of them are struggling finding a job. I wish I have enough to believe that situation may change soon…

  2. My Dad is an IEP. A well-respected Ophthalmologist who spent our first 10 years in Canada having to start over from scratch, attending med school and working his way back up to the specialist level. My family can definitely identify with the struggle.

    I’m actually going to message you later for some advice regarding my mother’s situation. It’s not completely relevant to the topic at hand, but I would really like and appreciate your input.

  3. Hi Bonnie,

    I agree with your comments, however, I do believe that even if companies start hiring HR professionals that are IEP’s, they will not be successful unless they value and understand diversity. In one of my previous roles I was responsible for investigating and resolving Human Rights issues. I have seen many instances where people who are diverse were labeled because they behaved differently from the mainstream. People with differences ended up being disciplined or lost their jobs. Not everyone wants to raise a Human Rights concern.

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