Getting back to work

The Workplace Preparation Program has helped hundreds of skilled newcomers to Canada find jobs in their professional fields

The Workplace Preparation Program (WPP) has been helping internationally trained professionals new to Canada land jobs for almost 20 years, and now it’s doing that virtually. 

The WPP at Mohawk College is part of a suite of Federally Funded Programs offered free to those with strong language skills and professional qualifications and experience from abroad who haven’t worked in their field in Canada. 

“They bring all these valuable skills, qualifications and education but then there’s that gap around how they transition into the Canadian labour market. So, we are here to fill that gap for them,” said the program’s professor Jayne Evans. 

“These people are ready to work, but there is often that barrier to getting into the Canadian workplace. Employers sometimes don’t recognize those transferable skills or they don’t understand the value of international experience or qualifications.” 

WPP is made up of five intensive, six-week modules with about 15 to 20 in each cohort, and teaches newcomer professionals to market themselves and their skills in a Canadian context. 

For example, for many participants, writing a resumé is a new process. WPP teaches students how to market their previous international experience in a relevant way that demonstrates their suitability. 

“Understanding their field in Canada through targeted research of the Canadian labour market and learning how to connect with professionals in their field, as well as developing skills to grow their professional network, are also key components of the Program,” said Evans. 

“I think one of the secrets to the success of WPP, is that we practise and through practise you make the mistakes as you build the skills and learn the techniques.” 

Evans has WPP participants write and relentlessly practise an elevator speech in which they introduce themselves, their qualifications and their goals. After rehearsing it “a million times,” that elevator speech landed Samah Maalla a job. 

It was a journey that began in an unlikely place. 

This program didn’t just give me things to read or links to websites, it gave me practise and step-by-step instructions about applying for jobs and how to do the interview

Samah Maalla

Maalla, who is from Sudan and was working as an emergency department physician in Saudi Arabia before she came to Canada in 2018, delivered her elevator pitch to her son’s dental hygienist. Maalla had just finished Mohawk’s Brain Disorders Management post-graduate program and was looking for a job. 

Using her elevator speech felt like “magic,” says Maalla, because the hygienist had a friend in the field who had a job opening for a life design coach, preparing people with brain injuries for an independent life. Maalla sent an email and the next day got a call. 

The interview didn’t focus on technical skills, but whether Maalla would be a fit for the team. She was and she got the job. 

She credits WPP for that, saying the program prepared her but also shifted her thinking. 

“Jayne taught us that we have to define ourselves and that the first step to search for a job is to search within yourself.” 

Another success story is Syed Subhan, who was a university professor teaching microbiology and virology in Karachi before he came to Canada in August. After finishing the WPP, he almost immediately started a job in the COVID-19 testing lab at a Toronto hospital. 

The WPP gave him the confidence he needed for his first job interview in Canada, he says. 

Most of the questions weren’t about his technical knowledge, so preparation was key. 

“This program didn’t just give me things to read or links to websites, it gave me practise and step-by-step instructions about applying for jobs and how to do the interview. This program is a tailored program for immigrants, so that’s very helpful.” 

WPP’s pandemic pivot to an online format allowed for participants from a greater geographic area and all the lessons are being recorded, so students work around their own schedules. In 2020, WPP was also one of 22 institutions awarded funding through eCampusOntario for a Micro-certification Pilot, and five, valuable Micro-certifications are now embedded into WPP. 

Participants also get proficient with virtual platforms that are becoming more standard in applicant screening and interviewing and have access to a mentorship program. 

When newcomers can’t find fulfilling jobs, they lose some of their identity and begin to doubt themselves, says Evans. 

“I think WPP really helps with reminding them of the professionals that they are and what value they bring to not only their profession, but to Canada. They are reminded that they are needed.”

Image: Samah Maalla

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