'Levelled the playing field': Alberta regulator puts immigrant engineers on equal ground

Divyesh Kumar Patel was a professional chemical engineer with nine years experience working for a massive, multinational firm. But when he moved from India to Edmonton in 2015, his engineering job applications went unanswered. 

Alberta engineering technicians regulator says foreign experience no barrier to accreditation

Divyesh Patel, a certified chemical engineer in India, struggled to find a job in the field in Edmonton when he immigrated in 2015 (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Divyesh Kumar Patel was a professional chemical engineer with nine years experience working for a massive, multinational firm. 

But when he moved from India to Edmonton in 2015, his applications for engineering jobs went unanswered. 

"Some positions I could see that the job description was exactly the same as what I did, but I wasn't getting the calls. So it's quite frustrating," he told CBC's Radio Active

Employers, Patel says, didn't recognize his Indian experience and credentials. He eventually accepted a job as a machine operator with a pet food manufacturer while he looked for ways to bolster his resumé. 

That's when he found the Association of Science & Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), a not-for-profit that oversees engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. 

In 2016, ASET says it became one of the first regulators in the country to scrap the requirement for Canadian education and work experience. Applicants still must take formal exams, submit post-secondary transcripts and prove their professional experience if they want to be certified. But Canadian and foreign qualifications are treated equally.

"I said, listen, this is too subjective. If we can, we should break down what we're looking for," ASET chief executive officer Barry Cavanaugh said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

The Canadian experience requirement in many professional fields creates a vicious cycle for newcomers: to get certified they need experience, but it's difficult to get experience if your credentials aren't recognized. 

"In that manner, I guess we levelled the playing field," Cavanaugh said. 

Six month process

Patel applied shortly after learning about the ASET certification. It took him six months to finish the process. At the end of 2016, he became a recognized engineering technologist in Alberta. 

An engineering technologist is not the same as a professional engineer — the regulator that oversees professional engineers in Alberta still requires applicants to have some Canadian experience — but the ASET certification improved Patel's job prospects.

Within a few months, he was promoted to an engineering position. He later took a job with a local grocery chain as an operations manager, a position that blends managerial and engineering work. 

Patel says he would not be where he is now without the ASET certification. 

"No, not at all," he said. 

One in every two immigrants with an engineering degree is working in the field, compared to two-thirds of their Canadian-born counterparts with the same level of education, according to a recent Statistics Canada study

The study found the gap persists, although to a lesser extent, across the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in Canada.

Cavanaugh wants other regulators to follow ASET's lead and make their certification criteria more objective. He says ASET has offered to share its assessment process with similar regulators across the country at no cost.

"Regulation of this profession is constant and pretty much the same right across the country.  There are differences from province to province and there needn't be," he said.