Canada continues to rank first among the G7 for having a highly educated workforce, with nearly one in four working-age people having a bachelor’s degree or higher credential. In 2019, more than 33,000 postgraduate students entered the Canadian workforce as skilled workers – 67 per cent of which were international students.
Despite Canada’s immigration strategy forecasting increased numbers of international graduates, the country has seen a 7.7 per cent rate of unemployment among newcomers within the past five years. This highlights gaps in knowledge between the Canadian government and employers regarding the potential contributions of this new candidate pool.
Key supports to help newcomer graduate students transition into the workforce
In addition to financial and academic stressors, many graduate students – particularly those from racialized backgrounds, low-income families and/or with dependents, experience an array of challenges, like uncertainty surrounding their career pathways and limited professional development and mentorship opportunities. New international graduate students may also have previously earned foreign qualifications that may not be well understood within the Canadian economy, causing them to lose their competitive edge if their skills are not marketed effectively, which could stall their career development. Postsecondary institutions should therefore provide international graduate students with access to robust support systems which address common obstacles affecting their career education, industry work experience, networking, and mentorship, to aid with their integration into the workforce.
Career education is a key component of graduate student support. These types of programs provide students with 1:1 guidance on their career goals and other academic applications. Career education specialists typically provide tailored best practices for job application and interview preparation, allowing students to think “outside the box” when considering career paths and assessing the job market.
Work experience components such as co-operative work programs and internships provide students with more hands-on experience in their respective fields. They are an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with Canadian workplace culture, build networks, and develop skills and most importantly, demonstrate their value to prospective employers. This is particularly true for international students who may rely on such programs for post-graduate employability.
Networking and mentorship
Networking opportunities such as career fairs, industry workshops and professional learning communities allow students to connect with others in their field, develop relationships, and gain industry insights. As a newcomer, building a professional network can be difficult and this may hinder access to job opportunities, given Canada’s workplace culture. Mentorship programs can offer invaluable connections. As a mentor, an industry professional can advise on a variety of topics for both personal and professional growth, providing students with a better understanding of the skills and experience valued by employers.
Putting newcomer graduate student supports into practice at TMU
In keeping with these guidelines, three subunits at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) – the Career, Co-op, and Student Success Centre, International Student Support, and the Tri-Mentoring Program – engineered a pathway for newcomer graduate student success in the Canadian economy. Using a strengths-based approach and the design thinking framework, they developed the Job Search Club for international and newcomer graduate students. The program has run successfully for the past three years, through a mix of hybrid, online, and in-person delivery, focusing on topics such as Canadian workplace culture, employment rights, and more.
A unique feature of this program is its intentional cross unit collaboration catering to elements of career education and mentorship to provide robust support services to newcomer students. So far, approximately 92 per cent of attendees report having greater understanding of their rights, responsibilities, and those of their employer in the workforce. This is in keeping with the program’s objective of equipping students with the tools needed to highlight their qualifications and self-advocate when meeting with prospective employers. This past winter, the group has taken it one step further and piloted an additional five-month mentorship component matching student participants with industry professionals from their respective fields for more practical professional development opportunities outside classroom contexts.
While there are many ways in which post-secondary institutions can support newcomer and all graduate student success in the workforce, the key to the development of such programs and services is the use of an integrated approach to providing support. Utilizing campus and community partnerships will allow students to develop their skills, build their networks and explore pathways that align with their interests – providing the resources and opportunities needed to thrive within Canadian workplace culture.
This column is coordinated through the Internationalization of Student Affairs Community of Practice of the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS). For comments or questions please contact [email protected].