Communication skills, or language discrimination

TORONTO (04/02/2004) - Step into a taxi in a major Canadian city, and there's a good chance the person behind the wheel has a higher level of education than you do. I've been driven around by doctors, engineers, lawyers and programmers. Even though they come from diverse backgrounds, I've noticed two common threads in their tragic stories.

The first, and the most difficult to overcome from a coordination perspective, is that their degrees and certificates of learning aren't recognized by Canadian institutions. That makes some sense ... but surely there's a way to fast track an established, credentialed practitioner of any profession into the Canadian mainstream, even if at a less than ideal position? Or do we really believe our interests, especially our nationwide skills shortage, are best served by having doctors and engineers driving taxis?

Their next problem is almost trivial when compared to the complexities of verifying professional certifications. Nevertheless, based on hundreds of conversations over the years, I'd suggest it is the number one reason why foreign nationals fail to find work in Canada. What is this huge hurdle? Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Honourable Judy Sgro, states that, "language difficulties are the primary problem facing any immigrant attempting to enter the Canadian workforce."

I write and speak for a living, so I cannot argue against the importance of good communications skills. These skills are so important that even though English is my mother tongue, my desk is piled high with well-thumbed dictionaries, thesauri, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and dozens of other books on writing and the art of oratory and rhetoric.

Communication skills are important, but they are not the only measure of human potential -- unless of course you're trying to get hired by a Canadian manager. That's a generalization, but based upon numerous examples, it's not unreasonably unfair. (If you don't place yourself in that category, you can prove it later.)

For an example of "language discrimination" in IT, turn to the Marketplace section of this issue of ComputerWorld Canada. You'll notice an ad by Rashel Ebrahim. That ad has run in every issue for the past year. She still hasn't found an IT job.

Without even looking at her résumé, you know a lot about Rashel. She's creative: how many people take out an ad to find work? She's persistent: a year later and she's still running that ad; most people would have admitted defeat by now. She's a risk taker: in a world filled with those who play it safe, she's willing to risk something in order to succeed. She's a self starter: sometime in the past year she upgraded her skills, in the hopes that someone reading this publication would need both the technical skill and the type of person willing to acquire it on their own initiative.

I find it difficult to believe there is any company that has an overabundance of the above skills. Yet in the last year she's had only two interviews as a result of this ad.

You need only contact her to immediately know why she's currently an office worker (did I mention "determined" when I listed her qualifications?). English is her second language. Her English isn't bad, it's just not up to Canadian standards, that is, it isn't perfect.

Is "perfect English" really necessary for all IT jobs? Her English is good enough to acquire Canadian Java and Oracle certification. By gaining these certificates in Canada, she's proven she would be a valuable addition to any IT department.

What offends me about this, and hundreds of other stories, is the sheer waste of human intellect. You know how to contact Rashel; her e-mail address is in her ad.

While I'm at it, here's another situation. I know someone with several years of business analyst experience in the banking industry in Latin America. If you need an analyst with fluent Spanish and if good, though not perfect English, isn't a debilitating handicap, then contact me and I'll put you in touch with another underutilized intellect.

de Jager is a speaker, consultant and writer, and he continues to work on his Canadian English. Contact him at pdejager@technobility.com or at www.technobility.com.

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