OTTAWA - Ottawa is committing $800,000 to help skilled newcomers to Canada find work in their fields — part of a larger, job-centred effort that promises to be one of the key planks in next week’s budget.
The cash infusion is for the National Association of Career Colleges (NACC), an organization representing an array of schools across the country that provide training in sectors with skilled worker shortages.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney is to announce the funding Friday in Toronto.
The funding, details of which were obtained by The Canadian Press, is aimed at helping as many as 5,000 internationally trained and educated workers who are unable to find work in their fields to either explore other careers or land jobs that are closely related to their expertise.
Too many highly educated newcomers to Canada end up doing dead-end jobs, said Serge Buy, head of the association.
"We keep promoting Canada overseas, we keep telling them: 'Please come, we need your experience, we need your expertise," Buy said in an interview.
"And as soon as they come we tell them they can't practise in the field in which they have a passion, a drive, and we have them doing menial jobs. This program allows them to be involved in the profession that is not far from the field that they've studied."
Indeed, the association's new Alternative Pathways for Newcomers project, in partnership with 120 immigrant organizations, aims to get skilled immigrants to Canada out of taxi cabs and out of fast-food kitchens and back into their chosen areas of expertise.
"It's not at the same level, definitely, but it allows them to get back to something related," Buy said.
"So can a lawyer from Pakistan become a paralegal or an immigration consultant in Ontario by taking one of our courses? Absolutely. Can a nurse become a personal support worker, or a pharmacy assistant? Yes."
The announcement is yet another indication that beefing up job training programs and tackling the skills shortage — something the Conference Board of Canada has called the biggest barrier to Canadian competitiveness — will be a major theme in next week's budget.
The government is also expected to include initiatives on apprenticeships in Tuesday's economic blueprint. Kenney frequently lauds the German apprenticeship system as one that should be emulated in Canada, and has even asked his provincial counterparts to travel with him to the European powerhouse to pick up tips on jobs training.
Under the new NACC program, the association will make information materials on alternative careers available to skilled newcomers by developing a website where they can access information online.
Regional information centres will also be established where newcomers and community organizations can access and share information.
The Liberals were critical of the pending announcement, saying career colleges have the highest average student loan sizes and the highest default rates in the country.
They say the government is providing money to institutions that carry high costs and high probability of non-completion and default.
Buy took issue with that criticism.
"There's a higher default rate – yes. That's due to less government support for the schools, and a different population -- these aren't kids supported by their parents but rather, there's an average age of 28, people usually supporting a family."
He added that Ontario's Liberal government recently threw its support behind career colleges, extending tuition grants to students who attend them.
Two years ago, the government launched the so-called Foreign Credential Recognition Loans pilot project. Since then, more than 1,000 loans have been handed out to skilled newcomers to help them cover the costs of having their credentials recognized in Canada.
Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25