Pranay Reddy is a multilingual higher education professional with a decade of experience managing academic programs at prestigious institutions, including Ashoka University, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, the University of Chicago, Western Michigan University, and the University of Toronto. Before his work in higher education, Pranay served as a pilot in the Indian Air Force after graduating from the National Defence Academy. Currently, Pranay is pursuing a Master of Education degree in Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. He also holds a master’s degree in psychology, a Post Graduate Diploma in Liberal Arts, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Additionally, he is a certified life coach (ICF) with a passion for student leadership development, career transitions, and career advancement. His research interests include International Student Employability Issues, Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Career Education, and Early Career Transitions within Post-Secondary Education.
In the last decade, Canada has catapulted to become the third-largest host nation of globally mobile international students after the conventional countries – the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In 2020, Canada hosted just 2% of the world’s international students, fast-forward to 2022, this number has touched 9% and it is expected to grow at 78% per year, which is the third largest in the world. Furthermore, at the end of 2022, Canada was hosting about 800k international students at all levels of study. India is the largest contributor of international students in the Canadian higher education system and most international students are primarily congregated in three provinces – Ontario, British Colombia, and Quebec. This is primarily due to better job prospects during and after study.
The rising popularity of Canadian higher education among the globally mobile student has been visualized as intricately linked to its immigration system. International students receive extra points for completing a post-secondary program from a recognized institute – university or college. The number of international students who became permanent residents has risen in proportion. In the last decade, and further exacerbated by the pandemic, the pathways to obtaining permanent residence in countries that were once seen as traditional rivals to Canada in attracting international talent, particularly from the global south, have become increasingly stringent. Therefore, Canada has significantly benefited from this fall in demand for international talent in other countries.
Despite the presence of robust demand for talent to fill various Canadian workplaces, the transition of international students to achieve gainful employment has not been achieved. It has been estimated that the starting salaries of international students after graduation are consistently lower than their domestic counterparts. These students come to Canada seeking quality education, cultural enrichment, and the opportunity to build a successful career. However, despite their academic achievements, many international students face significant barriers when it comes to transitioning into the Canadian job market.
- Language Proficiency – Canada is a bilingual country and most of its businesses operate using the English & French language. Although most international students acquire relevant fluency in either or both languages during their study, but they are unable to master the local accent and, in some cases, spoken fluency. This negatively affects their confidence and hinders their communication at the workplace.
- Cultural Adjustment – The cultural expectations of international students in post-secondary education in Canada vary significantly from those in their home countries. For example, post-secondary students in India at a typical engineering undergraduate level do not have an obligation to work and network to advance their careers as post-graduation career opportunities are available through on-campus placements. Whereas, in Canada, the job search paradigm is biased towards networking which is found difficult by international students as they find it challenging to network due to cultural differences, social anxiety, or a lack of connections in Canada.
- Unfamiliarity with the Job Market– International students may not be cognizant of the Canadian job market, including industry trends, job search strategies, and occupational knowledge. Navigating this unique environment can be overwhelming and lead to limited job opportunities. For example, the occupational sector such as Fast Manufactured Consumer Goods (FMCG) is known as Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) in Canada.
- Visa and Work Restrictions – Visa and work permit regulations, intrinsically complex to understand by most undergraduates may prevent them from securing part-time or full-time work during their studies or after graduation. Some students have also reported their lack of “Canadian Experience” as a roadblock to acquiring commensurate employment. Additionally, most of the part-time work opportunities available to international students are in the services sector and that may not be relevant to many international students to gain relevant pre-graduation experience.
Overcoming these barriers
- Language Proficiency – In addition to formal language classes, it is imperative that international students participate in student-run clubs and community organizations. A lot of students can look at gaining part-time work that gives them opportunities to converse with locals. Post-secondary institutions can also leverage technology such as virtual reality to enhance the communication skills of international students.
- Cultural Adjustment – post-secondary institutions must design orientation events that help first-year international students to mingle with the local community. They can organize mentorship programs that aid their process of acculturation in a gradual and planned manner. Research indicates that international students who can adapt to a foreign culture in a sustained manner have more self-confidence in their ability to succeed in the workplace.
- Building Occupational Knowledge– Research has also indicated that international students have higher job identification at the start of their academic program than their domestic counterparts. Therefore, career services must leverage this attribute to create robust co-op and internship experiences for international students. International students are not weak as far as their career development needs are concerned, these are simply different from those of the domestic students. International students must start their career exploration journey earlier and should focus on building their professional networks and strengthening their pre-graduation experience by participating in career development workshops and on-campus work-study opportunities.
- Visa & Work Restrictions – It is pertinent that the career service providers work collaboratively with the international office advising students on their immigration status. Recently, Canada has started category-based draws to invite those temporary foreign workers who work in certain pre-identified National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes on a priority due to nationwide vacancies, for example – Healthcare and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Immigration and career advisors together can offer expert advice to support those international students who are seeking permanent residence in Canada to shortlist those job opportunities that are in demand within Canadian workplaces.
Canada’s remarkable surge in hosting international students presents both opportunities and challenges for enhancing their employability. While the country’s immigration system offers pathways to permanent residence, there remain barriers that hinder the successful transition of international students into the Canadian job market. Language proficiency, cultural adjustment, unfamiliarity with the job market, and visa/work restrictions are key challenges to address.
To break down these barriers, collaborative efforts are required from educational institutions and career service providers. Language programs, student-run clubs, and community engagements can bolster language proficiency. Orientation events and mentorship programs can aid cultural adjustment and foster self-confidence. Leveraging international students’ higher job identification, offering co-op and internship experiences, and early career development support can enhance their occupational knowledge. Additionally, career advisors and immigration offices must work together to navigate visa and work permit complexities, identifying priority job opportunities.
By adopting comprehensive and inclusive strategies, Canada can empower its diverse international student community to thrive in the job market, contributing to the nation’s workforce and enriching its cultural fabric. Such endeavors not only benefit the students themselves but also reinforce Canada’s reputation as a welcoming and global education destination. With continued dedication and support, Canada can ensure that international students realize their aspirations and build successful careers in the country they have come to call their second home.