Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to present to you this afternoon.
About ten years ago Manitoba embarked on a strategy to increase immigration to Manitoba from the then current 3,000 to 10,000 immigrants annually by 2007, with a deliberate focus on professionals. To assist this endeavour, Manitoba was the first province to introduce the provincial nominee program of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to target and fast-track immigrants who hold qualifications in high demand. The 2007 target of 10,000 new immigrants was achieved with about 70% through the provincial nominee program, and in 2010 nearly 16,000 immigrants came to Manitoba.
As part of this endeavour Manitoba Labour and Immigration alerted professions to the new immigration strategy and encouraged the development of licensing pathways for new Canadians. The engineering profession was singled out as being punitive to internationally educated applicants. Consequently, the University of Manitoba and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba began to consider ways to encourage applications from internationally educated engineers.
Provincial engineering regulators have always provided a pathway for internationally educated engineers to become registered as professional engineers in Canada through the completion of confirmatory technical exams assigned by the provincial regulator. This pathway often requires three to five years and has a high attrition rate, due to the fact that it tends to be completed in isolation, with little or no support from or contact with other engineers. Given the problems of this process, some internationally educated engineers chose to repeat the entire four-year engineering program at a Canadian university at considerable cost, or leave the profession altogether
Many engineering immigrants to Canada face several challenges. First, many are not familiar with the concept of a regulated profession and the legal requirement for registration to practise the profession, since in many countries the university degree in engineering confers both the right to title and practise. Second, once they understand what the licensing and registration process entails, they often find it punitive and may not have the financial wherewithal to spend three to five years getting their qualifications recognized. Third, without professional recognition, finding an engineering job becomes extremely difficult, but because Canadian engineering experience is required for licensure there's a chicken-and-egg paradox. Fourth, language and communication abilities are frequently insufficient.
The internationally educated engineers qualification program at the University of Manitoba is designed to address these challenges. The objective is to provide an alternative process of equal validity and rigour to the confirmatory exams, but with a higher completion rate in a one- to two-year timeframe. In addition to confirming academic qualifications, additional objectives are to incorporate a labour market component that provides critical assistance in finding that first engineering job, and provide language development and cultural orientation for participants.
The IEEQ program at the University of Manitoba is operated in close collaboration with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba, the provincial regulator. To enter into the program the engineering background of participants is first assessed by the provincial regulator to identify the engineering disciplines in which confirmatory exams are required. But instead of undertaking these exams, participants take corresponding senior-level undergraduate courses at the University of Manitoba. Successful completion of the normally four to ten courses required is used to confirm their technical background.
In addition to these course requirements, the program contains four additional important elements. First, a co-op work experience term in a local engineering industry gives Canadian engineering experience and helps build a professional network. Second is orientation to the culture of Canada and the culture of professional engineering in Canada. Third is professional networking opportunities within the university and the engineering community. Fourth is development of English language and communication skills. All components of the program are critical to participants gaining professional recognition and success in the Canadian engineering workplace.
The IEEQ program was introduced on a pilot scale in 2003, with up to 12 participants annually and funding from the Province of Manitoba. The program became permanent in 2007. This permanency has allowed enrolment to climb to 35 to 40 participants each year. Concurrently, the University of Manitoba approved an associated post-baccalaureate diploma that provides graduates with an academic credential, in addition to the professional credential.
IEEQ program participants have arrived from 30 countries, the top five being the Philippines, Ukraine, India, China, and Pakistan. Participants are generally between 30 and 45 years old and usually have spouses and children. About 25% are women.
All participants have a previous bachelor-level engineering degree from their country of origin, with three to twenty years of engineering experience prior to arrival in Canada, but rarely do they have any Canadian engineering experience. There are currently 45 participants enrolled in the program. All 86 graduates to date have registered with the provincial regulator as engineers in training. About 90% of the graduates have developed engineering careers, most often facilitated by the co-op work experience component of the program. Through a one- to two-year investment in the program, graduates move from low-paying jobs to engineering positions, resulting in a huge impact on the well-being of the participant and their family. Furthermore, the tax advantage to Manitoba and Canada is significant, with the government investment in funding the program paid back by participants in three or four years as they move from a low to a higher level of income and taxation.
Many immigrant agencies serve and offer support to internationally educated engineers, most often in the form of language and communication development, cultural training, professional job shadowing, or volunteer opportunities. Rarely, though, do these initiatives meet the licensing requirements as does the IEEQ program at the University of Manitoba.
The success of this program at the University of Manitoba has spawned several similar programs elsewhere. Ryerson University in Toronto began a bridging program a few years ago. In 2010 the University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina, and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan began collaborating to provide a similarly structured program that includes cultural orientation and co-op work experience. In Manitoba beginning in 2008, the agrology profession also established the internationally educated agrologists program, a partnership between the University of Manitoba and the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists, which was modelled after the IEEQ program.
In 2009 there were 155 applications to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba from internationally educated engineers. There were nearly 2,000 such applications to Professional Engineers Ontario. Nationally 36% of applicants for professional engineering licensure in 2009 were immigrant engineers. For these immigrant engineers to realize their full potential and fully contribute their skills to the well-being of the Canadian industry and society there must be an expeditious, efficient, and effective process so they can become professional engineers in Canada. However, the program at the University of Manitoba accepts about 30 new participants each year, only a fraction of the 155 applicants. Likewise, the capacity at Ryerson is only a small fraction of the nearly 2,000 applicants.
It is clear that the success of the Internationally Educated Engineers Qualification Program at the University of Manitoba provides real benefits to the individual, the engineering profession, the province of Manitoba, and Canada. It more than halves the time for internationally educated engineers to enter the Canadian engineering profession. Accordingly, governments at all levels should endeavour to make resources available to allow this and analogous programs to expand to meet the existing and growing demand.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much for the opportunity to present this program to the committee this afternoon.