Most Internationally Trained Engineers (ITEs) will likely have difficulty finding employment in Canada in their chosen fields, due to licensing requirements, the current oversupply of engineers compared to market demand, and the need for excellent communication skills. Work as a professional engineer demands:
- a high level of proficiency in English, particularly with technical language;
- familiarity with Canadian engineering standards, rules, codes, and regulations; and
- certification, which requires an appropriate educational background, the successful completion of a test, and four years of work experience, 12 months of which must have been completed in Canada.
It can take some time for newcomers to complete all the steps required to work as a professional engineer. However, there are several programs that newcomers can access to help with this process. There are also other employment options available to ITEs who are willing to work without the “Professional Engineer” (P.Eng.) designation.
Certification and Licensing
Engineering is a regulated profession in Canada. By law, professional engineers must be licensed, and hold the title of “Professional Engineer” (P.Eng.). This designation indicates that the industry’s high standards of knowledge, experience, and professionalism have been met. Each province and territory within Canada is considered its own jurisdiction and has different criteria for earning the P.Eng. designation.
According to a pamphlet created by Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), an engineer is eligible to be licensed in that province when the applicant:
- Is at least 18 years old;
- Is of good character;
- holds an undergraduate engineering degree from an engineering program accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (or possess equivalent qualifications);
- successfully completes PEO’s Professional Practice Examination (PPE); and
- demonstrates at least 48 months of verifiable, acceptable engineering experience, at least 12 months of which must be acquired in a Canadian jurisdiction under a licensed professional engineer (P.Eng.).
ITEs who are decisive about becoming a professional engineer in Ontario may begin the licensing process before even arriving in Canada. It is not required that a licensee be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.
For those who wait until their arrival in Ontario to begin the process, it is advised to apply to the PEO’s Engineering Intern Financial Credit Program within six months of landing in Canada. Registration in this program has two benefits. First, assuming all criteria are met, the application fee for the P.Eng. license may be waived. Second, those who qualify for the program may also participate in the Engineering Intern (EIT) Program at no cost for one year.
The EIT program provides assistance as ITEs acquire the necessary work experience required for licensing. While the EIT program does not provide work placements, it does offer workshops, host events, and support local chapters, all of which provide a place for newcomers to meet and network with professional engineers. The Licensure Assistance Program, in particular, links engineering interns with professional engineers in a mentorship situation.
For details on the application process and criteria for the PEO’s Engineering Intern Financial Credit Program, refer to the pamphlet: Valuing Newcomers: A Guide for International Engineering Graduates.
Newcomers who do not meet the criteria for the PEO’s Engineering Intern Financial Credit Program, and thus cannot have fees waived for the P.Eng. licensing application or the EIT Program, may be able to access other forms of funding in order to pursue certification. Check, for example, the post on our website that contains A guide to loans for newcomers to cover licensing and training for more information.
ITEs in Ontario who need to fulfill the requirement of 12 months’ worth of engineering employment within Canada may access the Ontario Public Service (OPS) Internship for Internationally Trained Engineers program. This program places ITEs into paid internships for 12-15 months. To qualify, ITEs must have their credentials screened by the PEO and must qualify for a provisional license. As outlined on the OPS Internship for ITEs website, the criterion for a provisional license are:
- meeting the PEO’s academic and technical requirements for licensing;
- passing the PEO’s Professional Practice Examination;
- proving at least 36 months of acceptable and verifiable engineering experience outside of Canada;
- being eligible for work and licensing in Canada; and
- having adequate English language proficiency.
Note on Convention Refugees
Convention refugees may:
- Lack standard forms of identification;
- Be unable to obtain official documents regarding education and/or accreditation;
- Be unable to provide verification of work experience;
- Have gaps in training or work experience;
- Have additional financial hardships;
- Have difficulty obtaining employment references;
- Have difficulty related to proving good character; having, for example, experienced life under corrupt regimes.
Provincial Human Rights legislation across Canada prohibits discrimination and stipulates a duty to accommodate. The Engineers Canada website outlines strategies that regulatory bodies such as the PEO should follow in order to ensure that convention refugees are fairly considered for licensing.
Other Occupations to Consider
Becoming licensed as a professional engineer requires a considerable outlay of time in order to gain the required work experience, study for and successfully complete the PEO’s Professional Practice Examination (or other provincial equivalent), and complete the paperwork required for licensing. In some cases, it may be in a newcomer’s best interest to pursue an occupation where engineering education and work experience are valued, but the P.Eng. designation is not required.
As pointed out on the Engineering Career Pathways website:
If you have international training or experience in engineering, applied science or technology there are literally hundreds of alternative occupations where your skills may be immediately applied. You should consider all your options and discover which pathway or pathways might result in your successful employment in the shortest time possible based on your skills and experience.
For reference, some alternative careers include:
- Chemical – Chemical Technologist and Technician
- Civil – Construction Estimator
- Civil – Construction Project Coordinator
- Civil – Drafting Technician and Technologist
- Civil – Civil Engineering Technologist and Technician
- Electrical – Electrical & Electronic Engineering Technician and Technologist
- Industrial – Industrial Engineering and Manufacturing Technologist and Technician
- Mechanical – Mechanical Engineering Technologist and Technician
As well, ITEs may consider other types of engineering-related employment such as:
- Engineering Aid(e) / Assistant
- Field Services Technician
- Materials Expediter / Handler
- Project Controls Technician
- Project Expediter/Manager
- Project Management Technician
- Quality Controller
- Quantity Estimator
- Electrical Designer
- Construction Coordinator
The settlement.org website, the Engineering Career Pathways website, the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre, and the Roadmap to Engineering in Canada website are all valuable resources when researching alternative careers for ITEs.
Types of Employers
Engineering is a diverse sector. According to the Engineering Career Pathways website, there are 24 engineering disciplines, ranging from the lesser-known areas of agricultural, biochemical, biomedical, and geomatics engineering to the long-established, traditional disciplines of civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. Within each discipline are dozens of different types of employers. The scope of employment is further broadened by the possibility of working in an alternative engineering-related career, rather than as a professional engineer.
The Government of Canada Job Bank website lists many types of employers in the engineering sector. Employers include:
- Professional architectural, engineering, scientific, and design services;
- Computer software developers and service providers;
- Mining, oil and gas companies;
- Real estate development and construction companies;
- Transportation companies;
- Warehousing and distribution services;
- Infrastructure construction companies;
- Medium and large enterprises in other sectors, with in-house departments or divisions looking to improve efficiency and effectiveness through product design, processes, and IT support; and
- Academic and research institutions;
- Federal, provincial and municipal government.
Need for English Language Proficiency
Because of the highly technical language used in this sector, high levels of English proficiency are crucial. The Province of Manitoba’s professional engineering organization, Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba, indicates on their website that a minimum level of CLB 8 is required in order to register with the association for certification. However, certification does not guarantee employment; and individual employers may require a higher proficiency level.
Given that there are hundreds of alternative careers available in the engineering sector, there is some variation in the required CLB levels. However, a minimum of CLB 7 is required for those in the engineering technology sector and those wishing to become certified as Engineering Technicians and Technologists.
Of course, the more that verbal and written interaction is required with customers, suppliers, government, and co-workers, the bigger difference higher levels of English proficiency will make in career development.
Programs for Internationally-Trained Engineers (ITEs)
Bridging programs provide valuable resources to ITEs whether they are working to earn their P.Eng. designation or have chosen to follow a different career path. Although each bridging program is different, most offer supports such as:
- Enhanced Language Training (ELT) or Occupation Specific Language Training (OSLT) to improve English language skills and especially proficiency in technical terminology.
- Introduction to the P.Eng. licensing process.
- Overview of Canadian engineering standards, rules, codes, and regulations.
- Job search support, such as workshops about Canada’s workplace culture, resume building, and interview preparation.
- Mentoring and networking opportunities.
In the Programs and Events section of our website, filter the “Sector” by “Engineering” to find applicable programs.
Within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), organizations offering programs for internationally-trained engineers may inlcude:
- ACCES Employment;
- Humber College;
- Ryerson University;
- Seneca College;
- Skills for Change;
- Toronto District School Board (TDSB);
- Toronto and Region Conservation Authority; and
- University of Toronto.
Almost all of these programs require a minimum English language proficiency of CLB 6 or CLB 7 to qualify. As of Fall, 2019, however, there was at least one Engineering/Connections program with ELT training that required only CLB 4 to enter.
Job Market Outlook
Whether working as a professional engineer or following an engineering-related career path, the type of employment is extremely diverse and includes hundreds of different types of jobs. It’s difficult to provide a comprehensive overview of the job market for this sector.
That said, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) reports that there is a serious shortage of work for all professional engineers. According to a white paper prepared by the OSPE, “Crisis in Ontario’s Engineering Labour Market: Underemployment Among Ontario’s Engineering-Degree Holders,” only 29.7 per cent of those who hold engineering degrees actually work as engineers or engineering managers. An additional 37 per cent of engineering-degree holders work in non-engineering-related professions where a university degree is required. This means that 33% of those with engineering degrees in Ontario are underemployed, working in positions that do not require a university degree of any kind.
The situation is even more dire for those who earned their engineering degrees outside Canada. As stated by the OSPE, “If we assume that individuals with degrees from outside Canada are immigrants and internationally trained engineers (ITEs), just over 20 per cent actually worked as engineers or engineering managers.“It is difficult for a newcomer to secure work as a professional engineer in Ontario and other parts of Canada. However, engineering education, skills, and experience are valued by such a wide spectrum of employers that newcomers who are ITEs should not be discouraged about finding employment within and outside of the professional engineering sector.
Helping Refugees immigrate to Canada as Skilled Workers
Some sponsors may be seeking to help a family member of already-settled, refugee newcomers also come to Canada. If such a family member has engineering expertise, consider an alternate admission route. Even if this person might be officially certified as a refugee, immigrating as a highly skilled worker may be much quicker.
Consider, for example, the program of the American non-profit, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB). Although this is a U.S.-based organization, it is helping skilled refugees come to Canada, as well as to Australia, and soon perhaps, the UK (but, ironically, not yet the USA, given the current political environment.) The program’s objective is to have refugees admitted as skilled workers in the “economic immigration” category, rather than under the much smaller, “refugee” category. However, given the current oversupply of engineers in Canada, prospective immigrants following this route would likely require very specialized and valuable skills and experience.
- Iraqi newcomer building bridges, fixing roads of Cape Breton. (The Chronicle Herald, Jul. 25/19)
- At 21, this aerospace engineering student, former refugee has created her first invention (Globe & Mail, Jan 3/19)
- Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers (The Star, Oct 12/18.)
- From a refugee fleeing persecution in Iran to an award-winning BCIT Civil Engineering student (BCIT News, June 22/18.)
- Eman Hammad’s journey from Jordanian refugee camp to U of T engineering PhD graduate (CBC, Jun 19/18).
- Made-in-Quebec skills test helps foreign engineers prove their worth in new job market (CBC, May 5/18).
- Engineer fled war and racism to find community in Canada (CBC, April 21/18.)
- Engineer Kuol Majak: a journey of loss, hope, learning and success (Canadian Fuels Association, Mar. 15/18).
- Syrian refugee thanks Canada for ‘amazing’ two years (CTV, Dec 11/17)
- Company that builds electrical transformers in Vaughan transforms refugees’ lives (CBC, Jun. 28/17).