Answering the Canadian Work Experience Question

“Do you have Canadian work experience?” is a question many newcomers have encountered at some point or another while searching for work in Canada, and one which many may have looked at with confusion and probably even frustration. After all, how could they have any relevant work experience in Canada? Is that not the whole point of moving to another country – to gather new work experience, in that country? What’s more, many applicants who are faced with such a question already have a host of experience under their belt from working in a number of different places overseas, experience that they feel should be more than enough to land a job in Canada.

However, Canadian employers may not be thinking the same way. According to Jeffrey Lee, Employment Specialist / Practicum Coordinator at CDI College in Burnaby, British Columbia, “employers look for Canadian workplace experience so that employees are familiar with workplace culture, social cues, and expectations.” Simply speaking, employers want to ensure that the person they hire can fit into a Canadian workplace setting.

The debate surrounding Canadian work experience has been gradually intensifying in recent years as more and more newcomers enter the Canadian workforce. Since last year, moreover, the discourse in question has been of exceptional relevance, with Ontario’s introduction of Bill 149 on November 4, 2023, making it illegal for employers to require Canadian work experience in job listings. It can be frustrating for newcomers to constantly face this barrier, and not know how to address it and what action to take.


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Why Employers Care About Canadian Work Experience

Canadian work experience goes beyond technical skills. It relates to a newcomer’s ability to integrate into Canadian workplace culture. Things that are taken into consideration are:

Mastery of the language (English or French): Depending on the province, Canada requires its labor force to be fluent in English, French or (preferably) both. Workers need to be able to express themselves confidently and understand implicit and explicit communication mechanisms – skills that are demonstrated by people who have already worked in Canada.

Awareness of cultural nuances: Fitting into a Canadian workplace requires a thorough understanding of the workplace culture, communication styles, and societal norms specific to Canada. When someone has already worked at an office based in Canada, they have likely picked up on those nuances and are less likely to falter in terms of communication protocols and teamwork dynamics specific to Canada.

Hard and soft skills needed to perform the role: The Canadian labour market is, at the end of the day, Canadian. It has its own skill-set requirements, which can be learned, but over time and with constant exposure. Gaining Canadian work experience, for example, allows individuals to refine their hard skills in a context that is often governed by local standards, regulations, and technologies unique to the country.

Soft skills, which encompass interpersonal and communication abilities, are equally critical and are often culturally contextual. Canadian work environments typically emphasize skills such as effective communication, teamwork, adaptability, and problem-solving. Through everyday interactions and workplace challenges, individuals learn to navigate and adapt to the Canadian professional etiquette and management styles, which may differ significantly from those in other countries.

What You Can Do

Taking the right action upon your arrival is crucial. You don’t want to get stuck in a survival job with no upward movement, and so we recommend the following:

Get a certification in Canada: Canadian certification shows that you have taken the time to equip yourself with Canadian hard and/or soft skills, which can help grab an employer’s attention. What’s more, excelling at a Canadian program helps you stand out, as now you not only have international work experience, but have also demonstrated that you can translate your knowledge into the Canadian context.

Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to engage with the local. It helps you assimilate into the Canadian community, learn cultural nuances, and showcase to your prospective employer that you are willing to put yourself out there. You might even be able to network through these volunteer opportunities, which is always a great way to open doors to potential employment.

Take language classes: Can’t speak one of Canada’s official languages? Don’t fret, just sign up for a language course! You will find that if you get certification in English or French, you are far more likely to be taken seriously by an employer than if you have no proof of your ability to communicate at the workplace.

Taking A Lower Level Job To Get “Canadian Experience” : To get your start in Canada, you may want to consider taking a lower level job here than you are used to. It could be quicker for you to get initial employment that pays less. While it may be a step down, it translates into Canadian experience. The truth is that this is a common approach for a good percentage of newcomers.

Although the changed legislation in Ontario is a definitive step in the right direction (with the possibility of other provinces eventually following suit), it is still vital for newcomers to be prepared for this question.

By following the steps in this article, new immigrants can proactively address the Canadian work experience requirement, positioning themselves as valuable assets to potential employers and maximizing their opportunities for success in the Canadian job market.



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