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Nixing Canadian experience rule spells opportunity for Ontario foreign engineers, workers say

Dmytro Zaitsev had more than a decade of experience working as an electrical and solar engineer in Ukraine before he fled the war in that country for Ottawa.

But those years of work still weren't enough for him to apply for a professional engineering licence in Ontario because he lacked Canadian work experience.

The situation meant Zaitsev -- who arrived in Canada in October -- had to work entry level jobs as a solar panel installer and electrician to support his wife and child.

A recent change in regulations, however, mean Zaitsev and other internationally trained engineers no longer require Canadian work experience to be licensed in the province.

"It is good news, " Zaitsev said in an interview. "It helps to get a job in Canada, an engineering job."

Under previous rules, one year of Canadian work experience in engineering was required to apply for a licence in Ontario. Immigrant engineers had to work for a year under the supervision of a licensed Canadian engineer to gain that experience.

But that was a challenging requirement, Zaitsev said.

"How can I get Canadian experience, if I can't work in Canada?" he said.

The Ontario government introduced legislation in October 2021 preventing certain regulated professions and skilled trades from requiring Canadian experience qualifications, unless they got an exemption.

Professional Engineers Ontario last month became the first regulatory association to put the law into effect, ahead of an end-of-year deadline to comply.

Zaitsev said securing an engineering licence could help him get a new, higher-paying job that better matches his skills and experience.

"I want a little more because I need to pay my rent for the apartment and food and all," he said.

Since arriving in Canada, Zaitsev said he has also taken training courses from an organization that helps newcomers, and has learned new engineering skills.

He said he hoped those new skills, his six months of experience in the Canadian job market in entry-level jobs, and the prospect of an engineering licence, will help him land his dream job.

"I'm optimistic about this," Zaitsev said.

Dmytro Zaitsev, an engineer from Ukraine who moved to Canada last year, is shown in this undated handout photo. Zaitsev had more than a decade of experience working as an electrical and solar engineer in Ukraine before he fled the war in that country for Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dmytro Zaitsev

The provincial government has called the move a "game changer" that will help fill approximately 7,000 vacant engineering positions in Ontario.

Accessible Community Counselling and Employment Services, a charity that supports internationally trained engineers like Zaitsev, said the dropping of the Canadian experience requirement is a welcome development.

"We know this will assist thousands of internationally trained professionals to successfully integrate into the engineering profession," the organization wrote in a statement.

"Changing the Canadian experience requirement will enable us to help qualified, international applicants work toward Canadian licensure and enter the Canadian job market in their chosen profession, without unnecessary delay."

Wasseem Makhoul, a professional engineer who immigrated to Canada from Syria in 2015, said the move is a "step in the right direction" but noted that companies might still prefer to hire candidates with local engineering experience.

"The company that is going to hire you, they wouldn't hire you as a fully qualified professional engineer if you just got qualified yesterday," he said.

Makhoul, who currently works as a project manager at a private mechanical company, said he worked as a plumber and construction worker for years after arriving in Canada, despite having more than a decade of international engineering experience.

While he now holds an Ontario engineering licence, he said the entry-level jobs he worked during his initial years in the province helped him become a better engineer.

He suggested having internationally trained engineers take short, intensive training courses before they enter the Canadian engineering field to best prepare them for the local industry.

Professional Engineers Ontario has said that dropping the Canadian work experience requirement for licence applications moves it to a model focused on competency, rather than geography.

Its vice-president has said the organization will still ensure only "properly qualified, competent and ethical individuals practise engineering,"

Professional Engineers Ontario has said up to 60 per cent of the licence applicants it reviews every year are internationally trained.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.

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