On 21st and 22nd June 2011 my wife and I attended a CIIP (Canada Immigrant Integration Program) course in London, and wanted to share our experience for anyone else who is thinking of going. I’ve basically documented an abbreviated version of the kinds of thing we went through to give people a good idea of what the course involves.
For starters, let me say that we both found this course very useful. Not only is it extremely informative, but also the course offers to connect you up with supporting partners with regards job seeking, housing, education, schooling etc and help with networking. This course is also completely FREE. Of course you still have your travelling, accommodation and time off work costs to figure into it, but I think it is well worth doing this!
You can sign up for CIIP once you get to the medical requests stage of your visa, and the main website is http://www.newcomersuccess.ca
Our course had about 13 people attending. In the UK they have only been running these since January 2011 so they are fairly new, but they have been running them previously with great success in India, the Philippines and China before this, and these courses have been attended by around 11,000 immigrants so far.
The course is split into 2 sessions. The first is a day long session from 9am to 4.30pm (we overran slightly to 5pm) and is a group orientation day, and the second is a private session with one of the course leaders lasting 1.5 to 2 hours, to discuss your personal action plan with regards settling in Canada!
DAY 1 – GROUP ORIENTATION
The day was split into 4 sections, and each section was led by a different course tutor (Katrina, Jens, Adriana and Flora). As well as giving a lot of useful information, participation was highly encouraged and there were also group exercises – little quizzes, drawings on flip charts etc, so you are involved in the whole session. I think this was important since it was quite an intensive day so the group exercises and coffee breaks helped!
Section 1 – Why am I at CIIP? What do I want to get from it? – led by Katrina
The day began with a short (10 minutes or so) introductory video about CIIP, and then an introduction from Katrina, who was herself an immigrant from Belfast, Northern Ireland and who had immigrated 18 years ago. This went over what we should be covering during the course of the day – about the risks and challenges of immigration as well as the positives – and I remember a nice shot of the Confederation Bridge on the screen talking about the metaphor of “The Journey – Together investing in your success”.
We were then paired off with another random member of the group, to talk about each other’s backgrounds, why we were planning to move to Canada, what benefits we thought we would get out of it etc. One guy was initially paired off with his wife by accident, before pointing out that he already knew enough about her! We then went round the table sharing one or two pieces of information about why people were going to Canada and what they hoped to get out of the CIIP session and these all got listed on a flipchart so we could see and compare.
The “whys” for going to Canada included better job opportunities, better quality of life, family out there etc – one lady said her reason for going was almost exclusively skiing!
The “what we hope to get out of CIIP” included how to get a job, job retention, how to get licensed in Canada, understanding taxes and making connections.
Section 2 – Job prospects – led by Jens
The next section was led by Jens, originally from Germany who had immigrated to Canada around 5 years ago – and centred around choice of destination in Canada and the job prospects therein.
First we looked at the difference provinces and territories in Canada, and what factors would influence our destination choice. We were asked to make our own personal notes on this and then each share the most important one with the group. These included job opportunities, friends and family, cost of living etc. My #1 choice was qualify of life, although I did point out this was closely followed by the need to have a very good musical instrument store – hence affirming our choice of Vancouver!
We then got into groups of 3 or 4, and there was a multiple choice quiz on the provinces and territories. They would ask a question on which province was well-known for a certain thing and we had to choose in groups our answers, then we went round the table – each group giving the next answer. On average the masses probably got about 50% of the questions right.
Then Jens went through slides on each province, covering the capital, other major cities, and most importantly which job occupations were in demand in that particular province, as well as giving province’s website and other resources and information about the province. We also looked at the sector councils and associations available for particular professions (for example, the Information and Communications Technology Council http://www.ictc-ctic.com).
Next up we looked at transferrable skills. Which skills of your current job might be transferrable to other professions, thus opening more doors with regards job opportunities? And also which factors might influence your choice of occupation.
Section 3 – Job readiness – led by Adriana
This section, led by Adriana, was all about job readiness and preparation. How to overcome challenges of skill gaps, language barriers, credential recognition and lack of Canadian work experience?
We looked at being able to describe your skills with regards hard skills (technical skills to do the job) and soft skills (social skills, ability to work in a team etc). We covered essential skills which are applicable to pretty much any job (reading, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication etc) and we then looked at demonstrating our oral communication. We were split into groups and each group had to either talk about “Working with others” or “Thinking skills” – and pretend we’d been asked an interview style question of “Can you demonstrate how you’ve worked with others or used thinking skills”. A few people (myself included) then answered these to the entire group.
Adriana also talked about educational partners (Colleges and Universities etc) which can offer bridging programs to help bridge skill gaps.
We also covered credential recognition – how you can use websites to compare your qualifications from your own country with the equivalent qualifications in Canada, and get a preliminary assessment done on the CIIP website, and also useful sites like http://www.wespropass.com which allow you to electronically store authenticated documents such as degree certificates and transcripts etc. We also looked at language courses in English and French.
Finally Adriana went over settlement in Canada issues – finding places to stay, finance and establishing credit, health coverage and getting social insurance number, Canadian driving licenses etc.
Section 4 – Job search – led by Flora
This section was led by Flora who was the only Canada-born tutor during the day! I personally found this to be the most useful section of the day (although they were all useful!).
Flora talked about how to succeed in the Canadian job market, and that only 20% of jobs opportunities arise from the external job market such as employment agencies and job bank sites etc. The other 80% arise from referrals, professional associations and even cold calling companies yourself.
We looked at six key job search tools – resumes, cover letters, references, interviews, thank you letter and the follow-up!
We then focussed on the interview itself. We went over the types of interview (informal/ screening / face-to-face interview / group interviews and follow-ups) and look at job interview preparation (attending job interview workshops, knowing who is interviewing you, doing your research into your prospective employer, pre-empt questions and prepare responses etc).
The next thing was the interview process itself, and the main elements likely to be discussed in an interview (openers such as “Tell me about yourself?”, work experience, education/training, company research etc).
As an exercise Flora asked us to prepare a one minute presentation in response to a “Tell us about yourself” interview style question, and a few of us read out what we’d come up with and we discussed the merits and how to polish it to be better. And we covered job offers – negotiation over salary and benefits if you are offered a job, but also on asking for feedback and reflection if you are rejected.
Section 5 – Job retention – also led by Flora
We started this section by re-visiting hard and soft skills. Basically that hard skills (technical skills) might get you a job, but it’s the soft skills (your social skills, how much of a team-player you are etc and your ability to get on well with people) that would help you retain the job!
We looked at the changes a new immigrant would face – personal life, career changes, environment changes – and the cultural adaption life cycle most immigrants will go through from arrival, culture shock, adjustment and adaption. Flora also went over some of the employment rights and legislation in Canada.
Finally – we looked at tips on how to succeed once you have your job (punctuality, dressing appropriately, small talk and being a team player, showing initiative and asking questions etc!).
The day was very informative and most sections involved individual and group participation so you felt part of it, but even so it was a pretty intensive day and there was a lot to take in. We decided to allow our brains time to recharge by going for a Thai curry and seeing a show at the west end (we saw The Woman In Black which was excellent, although very dramatic and scary in places!).
DAY 2 – PERSONAL SESSION
Ok so brains fully re-charged we got back at 8.30am the next morning for our personal session. Anyway the session was with Adriana who got us coffees and then showed us the Action Plan she had begun to piece together both me and my wife. The plan is in the form of “What to research” and “What to do”.
This started by going over our estimated date of departure (were we going for a short or permanent landing etc) and then looking at our destination options. British Columbia is the province which best suits the combined job demands of myself and my wife (computer programmer and industrial pharmacist) and it is also the province we like the best and we have friends and family already there. So for us the choice was pretty clear cut! A short way into the session Flora popped in and was kind enough to supply me with some additional caffeine! Since we’d been staying in a very noisy youth hostel (cheap and cheerful) during our few days in London, sleep had been at a premium so the more caffiene the better!
We then went over things like career options, credential recognition, job preparation and readiness, and job searching strategies etc. In each section we were given very useful web links (especially career options which had some very useful IT links) upon which to do research, and also “What to do” action points such as “I will tailor my resume to Canadian norms”.
Adriana went over both our resumes with us, and showed we were could polish these. Mine was already pretty reasonable but she advised me to de-clutter and try to work with bullet points rather than paragraphs since Canadian employers like to read bullet points! The less clutter and the more concise the resume, the more chance there is that the prospective employer will actually read it.
We went over a tonne of other stuff including health care, housing, driving and ended up with a couple of dozen web sites to research and action upon.
At the end of the session Adriana went over sources of help and support, and also said she would forward my action plan to one of their supporting partners at ictc-ctic.ca.
Now, I have spent a great deal of time researching into our move to Canada – but am still really glad we attended the CIIP session since I feel a lot better prepared, and am aware of more preparation which I really need to do. Also I think the connections and networking that result from the personal Action Plan that the CIIP tutor will discuss and agree with you are invaluable.
So to summarise – this course is completely FREE, and I would highly advise anyone to try to attend one!