The problem of too many over-qualified immigrants
By Ted Alcuitas

Guerrero-Campbell (photo provided)

Guerrero-Campbell (photo provided)

Philippine Canadian What inspired you to proceed with the book, given that you were privy to many of their stories in your work with institutions catering to their needs.

Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell: The underemployment of skilled immigrants is now a widely known fact in Canada. Many initiatives from government, the non profit sector, some regulatory bodies, and even employers have tried to improve the situation through mentoring programs and such. Yet, skilled immigrants continue to be underemployed. There are just too many of them. Not enough employers are hiring them. There are not enough programs due to limited resources. Not all newcomers know about how to prepare for the transition, and even those who do, are not getting it – that a successful transition requires smart, hard work and persistence.

I wanted to call attention to this problem, and demonstrate the devastation that happens to a person who is forced to be severely underemployed  falls and the impacts on his family for a long time to come. It is such a waste for the newcomer, as well as for Canada. With this book, I hoped to call the attention of government policymakers and professional regulatory bodies to do more, and immigrant service providers to do better. And most of all, I wanted to re-inspire newcomers to the possibility of their potential, and not give up.

Philippine Canadian  How do you explain the fact that you yourself  did not ‘stumble’ since you were able to get a job in your profession as an urban planner in Edmonton and proceeded up the ladder in Surrey,etc. Are there some lessons here for immigrants regarding professional accreditation?

Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell: When I look back on it, I guess that there are several reasons:

Language – I was already proficient in English upon my arrival to Canada. My first degree was English and Comparative literature and grew up in a private school where English proficiency is drilled into you.

How I handled the interview -I addressed the key question in their minds: ie, will I be able to plan Edmonton when I had not planned a Canadian city before. I said I had many Canadian professors in the masters program for urban planning, and named them. I described the curriculum of the urban planning program. I described the planning activities we were doing in Metro Manila (which was my job in the Human Settlement Planning Commission). I even told them how my Canadian professors chided me about going to Canada (boring there they said, too traditional) when planning the Philippines was much more exciting and innovating. I said there are many things I wanted to learn from Canada such as the public planning processes which we did not have in the Philippines. I said I could always return to the Philippines, but coming to Canada is too precious opportunity to pass off. I was upfront with the interviewers that there things I would definitely need to learn in Canadian planning, but that I knew enough planning methodology to plan the city along with a team. They obviously figured that what I knew, and my attitude, was good enough, and they offered me the job.

The job was the appropriate level for my background – planner 1 was an entry level planning job. I was coming into the job with only 1 and a half years of planning experience with Metro Manila planning. While I was already coordinating 13 staff members in Metro Manila, it was not too big a demotion to planner 1, where I supervised only one planning assistant. I thought it was good to learn the ropes first rather than jumping into a managerial role.

I addressed professional accreditation even if I did not have it – I said that while I did not have accreditation from the Planning Institute of Alberta, I planned to look after that very soon. It helps that the planning profession at that time, was not, and is still not, as strictly regulated as physicians or engineers.

Luck – I was in a job market that wasn’t very tight. ie, not too many people competing for jobs.

My learnings and tips for others:
1. Polish your spoken english. Fluency is important in a professional role. You will get fluent by mixing with English speaking people, and not just staying in a Filipino enclave.

2. Prepare for interviews. Practise answering questions that will be asked, particularly questions about no Canadian experience, and how you would handle the job itself. Cite equivalent assignments done, and successes. Research the job and focus on what the employer needs, and tailor the way you describe your background to how you will help them in that job. Remember, it is all about them, not about you. English and preparation are the key things that will make you confident in a job interview. So prepare and practise.

3. Be realistic in terms of job expectations – even if you have several post graduate degrees, or years of professional experience, do not expect to be a manager right away, but do insist on working on the profession or sector of your education or background. If you perform well on the job, you will rise through the ranks in time.

4. Find out about the requirements of the regulatory body which accredits your profession, ahead of time (from the Philippines before you go if possible) – prepare the materials required and submit them. Upgrade with a course or two, if you can. Tell  your interviewer that while you may not have the accreditation yet, it is underway, or will soon be underway, and you are already working on it.

5. Access resources for skilled immigrants. Research them and use them.

6. Enhance luck by increasing your opportunities to find out about work in your field before they are advertised. Do this through:
– networking – networking among people in your profession gives you access to job information before they are advertised. Networking increases your self-confidence by
meeting other people, learning about Canada, practising your English; and
– volunteering – preferably in an organization or role related to your profession. Volunteering allows you to find out about jobs early. A volunteer role could turn into a job. You get to practise workplace English when you volunteer. A volunteer assignment is considered Canadian experience and enhances the resume of a newcomer.