Canadian Experience

by Mr. Cheap

One of the things that drives me nuts and seems to have been getting more common in recent years is “Canadian experience”.  For those who haven’t encountered this, an applicant might get rejected from a job with the explanation “lack of Canadian experience“.  This euphemism could refer to the applicant having a strong accent, making some cultural “faux pas”, an unusual smell or in some other way being “too foreign” for the interviewer.

I certainly accept that when you move to a new country there are cultural expectations that you must adapt to.  In Thailand it’s considered very offensive to point the sole of your foot at someone (so crossing your legs in public is a no-no).  I did this, was told that it was rude, then I stopped.  It’s inevitable that mistakes like this are going to happen to someone in a new setting.

Where I think it gets offensive is when it’s used to reject someone outright from a job that doesn’t rely on a mastery of local customs.  Perhaps in sales it’s important to have a good understanding of local standards of behaviours, but does an engineer desperately need “Canadian experience”?  Is there no way for co-worker to make allowance for someone new to the country as they learn those standards?

A government run school provides training for new Canadians by simulating an office experience and having them work for 40 hours a week for 3 months or more.  To me this just seems crazy.  A *MASSIVE* amount of labour is being wasted.  For people who are highly skilled coming into the country there are better ways to help them get up to speed with local customs than getting them to play work for hundreds of hours.

Slightly better than this but still sub-optimal is an expectation that new comers volunteer to get Canadian experience.  Giving back by volunteering is a wonderful thing, but is someone who is newly arrived in the country, hoping to make a better life for themselves, really the person society expect to work for free?  I once found a particularly obnoxious posting where a man wanted newcomers to come work at his business for free, and he “generously” offered to lie and act as a reference saying they had double the experience they actually did (so if they’d work for him for 3 months, he’d claim they’d been there for 6 months).

Welcome to Canada!

I’ve talked to newcomers to Canada and they seem to be quite accepting of this.  If I was being treated this way in a country I’d recently moved to I would be VERY, VERY annoyed.

I don’t think there should be a law against this sort of thinly veiled discrimination (in my experience the law is a very crude instrument).  Instead, I think there’s a real opportunity for companies that are willing to look at the bigger picture.

If, after an interview, someone seems highly skilled but lacking in culture-specific graces, make them a job offer that reflects that.  Obviously someone who could effortless interact with co-workers and customers is worth more to the company, but the newcomer isn’t worthless:  offer them a salary that takes this into account (less than market rate, more than $0).  Make it clear to their co-workers that they’re new to the country and not to take offence at slips.  I’ve had Chinese friends tell me I’m fat MANY times, and it’s been explained to me that in China this type of honesty reflects a close friendship and a concern for someone (it isn’t considered as mean as it is here).  Try to create a culture where the established employees help get the newcomer up-to-speed and where the newcomer is receptive to suggestions on ways to interact more appropriately in the new country.

If, after time, the person shows no interest in adopting cultural specific behaviours and is causing problems with people they interact with, fire them just like (hopefully) any other jerk would be let go.  If, instead, they get more polished in their social graces, raise their salary towards market rate.

The company should hopefully be able to tap an overlooked labour market, once the employee is up-to-speed they should hopefully be more loyal than normal (since the company hired them when everyone else was showing them the door), and the company should develop a more global outlook (which will be helpful if they’re doing business in other countries).  I work with people from all over the world at my university and it’s FUN!  It’s a MUCH better environment then it would be if it was 100% Canadians.

For the workers, they get to work and actually get paid.  Imagine that!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alaa

Great article.

I faced the same experience when I came to Canada couple of years ago. I am a highy skilled Java developer that develop frameworks used by other developers, so my clients are nerds just like me.

When I came to Canada I got rejected numerous times for even half the market rate because of this Canadian experience. I felt I am being punished for seeking new life and better future for my family.

Luckly one employer did what you suggested in the article and I am working with them since then. I am more “Canadian Culture” polished now but it did not matter at all since the R&D department where I work is like “The Big Bang Theory”, nobody understands what we are talking about.

2 Potato

“but does an engineer desperately need Canadian experience?”

Yes, more-so than any other profession!

It’s a well-known fact that engineers are tools of the robot uprising, out to kill humans (or as they call them, “fleshies” or “biologicals”) at every turn. In Canada though, we make engineers wear an iron ring that reminds them not to kill people. I shudder to think what chaos an engineer not bound by such magick could unleash…

3 Causalien

Two things:

1- Canadian engineers get paid at half the price of the US engineers and even that is expensive in terms of pay.

2-Before pointing your fingers at Canadians, remember that 3 of the fingers is pointing back at yourself. US is even worst when hiring non us workers.

4 Mr. Cheap

Alaa: Sorry to hear that this reflects your experience. I’m glad you were eventually able to find a company that was a good fit.

Potato: Yes, I frequently tell my computer and other electronics that I’m happy to turn on my fellow humans and become a collaborator when the revolution starts. Long live the robots! Death to all humans!!! (except me)

Causalien: wtf?

5 Nadia

I totally agree with the writer except that the newcomers seem to accept the “lack of Canadian Experience” concept. I was one of the newcomers who faced this non-sense and I really really hated it. But, what is the other option that the newcomer has? Sometimes you have to go with the flow in order to survive and this is unfortunately what most of newcomers find themselves obliged to do.

What bothers me the most is the stupid, endless circle; you can not work unless you have the Canadian experience. And you can not have the Canadian experience unless you actually work!!

6 Bucksome Boomer

This is the first time I’ve heard of the “Canadian Experience” requirement for jobs in Canada. It seems like a legal way to discriminate or am I missing something?

7 Mr. Cheap

Nadia: I’m glad to hear that the “acceptance” I was hearing was politeness and / or resignation rather than an actual belief that this is a reasonable way to be treated.

Buxom: It seems the same way to me.

8 Another Perspective

I can give you the employer’s perspective. about 8 years ago, I was involved in the decision making process to hire a software technical lead for our development team. we eventually settled on a “newcomer” who had excellent technical qualifications but spoke English with heavy accent.

for the next two years, he was busy turning the team members against each other. rather than leading the team, he was busy playing politics to consolidate his power base. a few projects failed because he refused to cooperate with project managers. No one understood what he was trying to say in his emails. His verbal instructions were always vague and he used that to his advantage when something went wrong, because he’d tell people they didn’t follow his instructions. When I brought these issues to his attention in private, he quoted Chairman Mao, saying “a chirping bird gets shot.”

The two years he was with us was hellish, and I vowed to myself the day he was let go to still look at someone for his/her qualifications but also place a premium on a person’s so called Canadian experience.
In short, for me, someone with knowledge of the customs of this country helps team chemistry, or so I hope.

By the way, if you must know, I moved to this country 20 years ago.

9 Alaa

Another Perspective: So you mean having canadian experience, will turn you into the ultimate team player and you won’t play politics to consolidate your power base. No projects will fail and you will always cooperate with project managers ??

Knowing the “canadian way of doing things” will not turn you from bad person into a good one. And judging all new comers based on this bad experioence is very discriminatory.

10 Four Pillars

I agree with Alaa – changing your hiring practices because of just one bad hire is just plain stupid.

The reality is that you made a mistake when you did the hire and you are now blaming his background for that. The second mistake was keeping him around for 2 years. I’d say you are the main problem here.

11 guinness416

Most of us spend at least a year waiting to get our residence approved. If employers want it how much of the “cultural training” or at least a heads up, not that I necessarily accept it’s needed, could be done through the consulates and while PR applications are being reviewed rather than when people get off the plane? None of this was a challenge to me but it was an initial issue with my husband – who as you know has an accent but lived in NYC from the age of 16 – which made me extremely angry. You can see a lot of bitterness and feelings of ripped-offedness on new immigrant/settlement message boards. One could argue whether it’s all legit but pissing off large numbers of people who are here to stay and contribute seems fairly counterproductive to me.

12 Rachelle

I’m with Buxom Boomer on this one. It’s discrimination pure and simple. Furthermore it’s not discrimination against all people from all countries. What this actually means is brown and yellow people with bad english.

My hubby is from the States is white and 6’3″. Whenever he gets around to it, I’m sure he’ll find something in short order. In fact people often say stupid anti-immigrant bullshit to him and when he tells them that he’s an immigrant they invariably say “We don’t mean people like you. We’re talking about those other people”

It’s disgusting. He’s very sensitive to these kinds of comments as well coming from the American South where the same kind of veiled comments are made about Hispanics and African Americans. Discrimination is alive and well.

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