More and more international students are choosing to stay in Canada after their program. According to CBIE research, 50% of international post-secondary students in Canada are interested in pursuing permanent residency. Immigration analysts claim that this young and Canadian educated graduate is the ideal immigrant to fuel Canada’s knowledge economy. Yet a recent Globe and Mail article paints a less rosy picture. It argues that the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, the bridge between Canadian post-secondary and permanent residency for international students, is resulting in low-wage jobs that undervalue our graduates.
PhD holders in Canada are highly trained and develop specialized knowledge, about half are foreign-born, and they are arguably undervalued by Canadian employers. To help ensure that doctoral graduates are not entering low-wage jobs, all stakeholders involved in doctoral training – recruiters, supervisors, advisors, administrators, employers, funding bodies – must help inform new and prospective doctoral students about the diverse Canadian career paths that exist. We need to guide them on the steps to take at each stage of their doctoral program to ensure they secure a desirable and rewarding career. Proper guidance which includes providing students with opportunities, such as self-assessment tools and industrial research partnerships, will help them become better-rounded and develop a larger Canadian network.
Doctoral programs across Canada have seen a steep rise in enrolment. The Conference Board of Canada reports that “the number of PhDs granted by Canadian universities has risen by 68 per cent between 2002 and 2011.” International students are in a large part helping fuel this increase in enrolment.
The traditional career aspiration for a PhD graduate is a tenure-track academic position. Are PhD students reaching their career goals? If not, are the skills they developed during their program being undervalued in the positions they do obtain? The Conference Board claims that only 40% of doctoral students in Canada find a position in post-secondary education; half of which secure a tenure-track position, while the other half are in less secure, lower paid teaching, research and administrative roles. The remaining 60% of PhD holders are finding roles in industry, government and non-government organizations. The unemployment rate for a PhD holder in Canada is low, sitting around 4.1%.
Pressure is mounting to adapt doctoral training to meet the needs of these “alternative” employers. Increasing evidence indicates that while PhD holders do find employment, employers have difficulty evaluating their qualifications. Employers want to see well rounded candidates who have accumulated Canadian professional experience, have developed soft skills and are adaptable to change. These qualifications are not always present in international doctoral students whose Canadian experience is very much focused on academic research and teaching.
Canadian universities have responded to this labour-market shift with the creation of graduate student professional development programs, such as Concordia University’s GradProSkills. GradProSkills offers an expansive series of workshops, activities and online resources designed to give graduate students tools that complement their academic training and help them develop the soft skills needed for non-academic careers. These programs are a step in the right direction, but they are not mandatory in most universities. Unfortunately, there are still many international students who do not access these programs, or do so very late in their program, and risk not having an accurate picture of their career opportunities.
By working together, creating and sharing more knowledge about the skills sought by Canadian employers, we can ensure that our graduates are successful in their transition to Canada’s knowledge economy, and valued for the diversity and expertise they bring.