‘People should be judged on their merit, not their status,’ says St. John’s recruiter about Canadian work experience.
In a diverse job market of Newfoundland and Labrador, the lack of Canadian work experience can be an invisible barrier that shoves capable candidates to the sidelines.
Such is a reality all too familiar for newcomers like Montse Galeana.
Galeana, a former marketing and labour law professor with 15 years of experience from Mexico, was rejected for retail positions after coming to Canada.
She remembers sending her resume to more than 50 different stores in St. John’s, but only one responded.
In 2023, the province welcomed 3,500 immigrants who held permanent residency status.
Despite enjoying her first job in Canada, Galeana says, retail wasn’t her chosen field of work or even something where her expertise was.
“I liked it, but I couldn’t be working at the mall for the rest of my life — I was almost 40,” said Galeana.
Carey Majid, the executive director of Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, says such experiences by newcomers is not rare.
Majid, who’s also a lawyer, says she repeatedly hears that newcomers are finding it difficult to get good quality and well-paying jobs in the province.
There could be a number of reasons that contribute to this such as lack of Canadian work experience, she says, as well as language difficulty and discrimination.
“We’ve had many complaints from people who feel they aren’t getting employed because of race, dismissed unfairly or treated harshly,” said Majid.
“And in fact, the numbers are increasing.”
Fairose Suba, a recruitment officer with Work Global Canada Inc., an agency that helps hire both domestic and immigrant workers, says she notices a pattern.
“Most employers want to play it safe,” said Suba. “Even if someone has a vast experience and education from elsewhere, it’s likely they are offered an entry-level position.”
According to Suba, companies are certainly interested in hiring newcomers, but they want to start small to see how well the new hires adapt to the Canadian work environment even if they are overqualified for the position.
Transitioning from a different culture was not an easy leap for Galeana either.
“It doesn’t matter if you worked in Canada, the U.S. or India, what should matter is you have the experience to do the job.”Carey Majid
“All I knew before moving was that whatever I achieved (in Mexico) stays there,” said Galeana. “Now, I need to start all over again.”
However, she says working at the clothing store helped her meet new people, understand Canadian culture and boost her confidence.
This translated into a better opportunity — recently the former professor started working remotely with an Ontario-based non-profit organization.
From her experience with employers, Suba says if they are given a choice between a locally experienced candidate and an internationally trained candidate, companies hire the one with Canadian work experience.
According to Majid who works with the provincial Human Rights Commission, if someone less qualified gets hired over someone with more qualifications (local or international), that would certainly form a basis for a complaint.
“It doesn’t matter if you worked in Canada, the U.S. or India,” said Majid. “What should matter is you have the experience to do the job.”
Even though there is, yet, no law in Newfoundland and Labrador that bans employers from asking for country-specific work experience, the provincial Human Rights Commission says job ads should always be occupation-focused. Ontario is currently trying to introduce a law that bans the practice.
However, in certain fields, such as healthcare, the requirements are more regulated than others, says Suba.
“No matter the pay, I want to go back to teaching before I retire,” said Galeana. “Those 15 years with my students prepared me to be here today.”Montse Galeana
This means nurses from outside Canada can work as personal care attendants before being legally certified to become an RN or licensed practical nurse (LPN). Such certification requires permanent residency or citizenship.
Another profession that also demands jumping through some extra hoops is teaching.
But Galeana holds onto her dream of going back to the classroom.
“No matter the pay, I want to go back to teaching before I retire,” said Galeana. “Those 15 years with my students prepared me to be here today.”