Switching careers in Canada

Many Canadian immigrants have had to switch careers for many reasons, whether temporarily or permanently. While some do this by choice, others transition out of necessity.

I had to temporarily switch careers for few months to personal care worker prior to getting a job in my occupation of choice. Despite the switch, I don’t consider myself a good example of an immigrant who had to switch careers, so my personal experience is not a good fit for this post. However, I will be sharing the experiences of three immigrants who have switched careers in Canada.

While changing careers for some might signify a new beginning in a career they are truly passionate about, others change due to entry barriers into their original career. Such barriers can range from limited job opportunities or licensing requirement, among others.

Switching due to limited job opportunities

For Martha, who has switched careers twice in Canada, the first time was due to limited job opportunities while the second was a new beginning in a career she was passionate about.

Martha was a Quantity Surveyor when she moved from Nigeria to the UK and then eventually from the UK to Canada in 2005.

She initially transitioned into Project Cost Management before again switching careers to Personal Finance after 7 years in Project Cost Management.

When Martha arrived Canada in 2005, there weren’t very many opportunities for Quantity Surveying in Calgary, Alberta. She observed that Quantity Surveyors coming from the UK and other countries were transitioning to either Contract Administration or Project Cost Management, so Martha opted to switch to Project Cost Management. “I went to the University of Greenwich in London, UK for my masters in Project Management and came back to Canada thereafter,” she reveals.

Shortly after returning to Canada, Martha got a job in the oil and gas sector in Calgary. Martha progressed at her career in Project Cost Management and enjoyed her job despite the challenges posed by one of her roles which entailed resuming work earlier than usual and often working extra hours without pay, just to meet her deadlines. She worked with the team that was building a refinery in Canada and her unit of two Cost Controllers managed a budget of over $1Billion and liaised with the Engineering Design team in Germany to work on the gasifier. At a point, she had to leave her family for a time to go work in Germany.

However, in 2015 the oil and gas sector had begun to suffer financial loss and the company decided to soft pedal since they had completed phase one of the project at the time. Consequently, the company began to shut down units and in time, Martha’s unit was shut down as well.

While Martha was still thinking of her next career options, “Personal Finance found me”, she discloses.

By happenstance, “someone approached me and said she started a new business that she wanted to share with me in case I was interested or knew someone that might benefit from the information. When she shared it with me, it made so much sense that I was surprised that I had been in Canada for that long and never had such information”, Martha added. At this time, Martha had been in Canada for about 11 years. “I was a Cost Specialist in Project Management and wasn’t looking to switch careers but I loved what I had learned about Personal Finance so much so that I was willing to give the business opportunity a try,” She said. More importantly, Martha saw that applying what she was learning personally had improved her family’s finances tremendously. This motivated her to register for her license and she began attending classes. “What I learned during the classes was so mind-blowing and made such a huge difference for my own family that I felt everyone had to know what I was learning”, Martha said.

She was surprised by the fact that despite being in Canada for 11 years, she had never had this information. “My life would have been much better if I had had this information earlier. I didn’t want other immigrants to make the same mistakes that I had made due to lack of information”, she expressed. “I realize that I found more fulfillment as a Personal Finance Advisor, not just because it pays well but also because I get to help many people make sound financial decisions”, she added.

Shortly after Martha began her career in personal finance, tragedy struck her family with the loss of her husband due to cancer.

Today, she is grateful that she has left the corporate world, as she has more time for her children since she can run her business around her schedules without worrying about rigid work hours. She reminisces on the times when she had to leave her kids alone with her nanny to work abroad while in the oil and gas sector and maintains “if you’re going to work hard for any company, why not work hard for yourself?

I’m so grateful that I had this transition and I can work within my own time frame – it is definitely more rewarding financially too.”

Martha is glad that she can spend more time with her kids, a luxury she most likely would not have had if she was still in the corporate world. “My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier”, she uttered.

Martha advises anyone who wants to successfully transition to another career to “find transferable skills that are needed in the career they’re looking to transition to. Skills such as diligence and great work ethics. No matter the technical skills needed, if you’re diligent and you keep at it, you’ll learn it. Also, it’s important to be open-minded. It was being open-minded that brought this opportunity my way because you never know what God has in store for you until you are open-minded to heed the call. You may find yourself struggling in other areas until you find that career that was meant for you and you start to flourish”.

Be willing to learn, be teachable, go the extra mile as well as be open-minded and you’ll thrive in whatever career you’re switching to.

Switching due to barriers to entry

In July 2019, Frieda immigrated from Nigeria to Canada. She had been an architect for 11 years before this move and knew that she had to be accredited by the Canadian body to practice in Canada but the accreditation process was quite expensive and she wasn’t financially ready to bear that cost without an income in Canada. More so, “there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a good job in architecture after spending all that money, time and energy on accreditation”, she posits. Frieda considered taking a course in architecture to see if that could give her an edge in the labor market but the fee was too expensive and she did not want to take a student loan.

Thankfully, someone persuaded her to apply for a job in a bank even though she confessed that she had never liked banking jobs, she agreed to apply and got called for an interview. “During the interview, the interviewer said it was a good thing that I had no banking work experience because it will be easier for me to learn the Canadian banking system without struggling to unlearn the Nigerian banking system”, Frieda states. What was more important was that Frieda had transferable skills that will help her perform her duties as a banker. Frieda believes that soft skills such as good communication skills, empathy, teamwork, and active listening are key in every career and most importantly, during a career transition.

In October 2019, Frieda began working as a banker and she loves it so far. According to Frieda, “it has given me an understanding of the financial system in Canada, especially with the credit system in Canada. I love the knowledge I’m gaining so far and I believe that it will get better. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying it because I am also learning how to manage my finances”.

Does Frieda miss being an architect? “Yes, I do. There is joy in design but my focus right now is to get income”, she maintains. Although Frieda still consults occasionally for some engineers in Nigeria, it’s not quite the same as working full time in the profession. Will she go back? “If I have the choice I will, but I am not bored with my current career”, she said. “I know I may likely get bored with banking in the future, so I would love to switch back to architecture sometime in the future but not at the moment. Architecture has a lot to do with creativity and it changes a lot. I plan to go back to architecture”, she added.

To everyone who may have to switch careers, Frieda advises to “have an open mind and know the essence of coming to Canada. Do you want joy or money? Put your mind to the bigger picture. I have colleagues whose primary occupation is regulated in Canada and they have to temporarily switch careers to raise the money needed for their licensing. Sometimes, we can get stuck in the new occupation and not be able to switch and some eventually can go back to their original occupation”.

Whether Frieda’s transition is temporary or permanent, the future will tell but she has 11 years of experience in architecture that will forever be with her. In the meantime, she is learning as much as she can in her new career and she’s enjoying it.

Switching to pursue a new passion

Temitope migrated to Canada in February 2019 with a degree in Agricultural Economics and Farm Management, and a Masters degree in Agricultural extension and rural development. Prior to coming to Canada, she had worked across various industries in Nigeria, the most recent of which was as a technical field specialist in a leading agricultural technology company where she was in charge of the poultry projects and managed the production of about 1.5million broiler birds.

However, when Temitope got to Canada, she wanted to switch careers to one that had more human interactions. “I wanted to do something I would love and was passionate about. The reason I opted for a masters in rural development as against agricultural economics was because I prefer roles that are centred around human interactions”, she admitted.  Temitope knew from the onset that she wanted to work for social services, however, there weren’t many job opportunities in Winnipeg that interested her and the few ones that caught her attention required Canadian work experience. While waiting to get the right opportunity, she took some other program coordination jobs and continued applying for her desired roles, until she got what she wanted, even though it was in a smaller city in Ontario- she didn’t mind relocating.

While some people are privileged to get their desired job immediately,  others have to keep trying. “The most important factor is that I persisted and that was what helped me in this successful transition”, she admitted.

Currently, Temitope works in the social services industry as a community consultant with a focus on individual and family services. “Switching careers helped me to fully utilize my soft skills. I have all the background knowledge I need to be successful in this role and all I have to do now is to get acquainted with the communities here in Canada and the people that are in these communities. I would say I leveraged on the skills I also acquired during my graduate degree such as creative problem-solving abilities, relationship building, and customer service.”, she said.

Thankfully, Temitope did not have to go back to school to excel in this role. In fact, she said “I think I am overqualified for my current role as they only needed a bachelors degree in any of the social sciences program along with other technical and soft skills to deliver on the job”.

Although she does not work in agriculture anymore, she doesn’t miss it because “I have been able to incorporate some part of agriculture in my current job. We have clients who love gardening and animal keeping so I use some of my knowledge in agriculture in engaging and helping them get through with their interests. Social services encompass livelihood and existence of individuals, agriculture is one of such ways” she admitted.

Temi feels fulfilled in her new career and looks forward to growth and career progression in the same career. “I did not mind relocating from Winnipeg, Manitoba to a small city called Kenora in Ontario. I just wanted this opportunity and I would not allow a location to deprive me of it” she confessed.

To those who wish to switch careers, Temitope says “If you want it, go for it. Nothing beats being passionate about a job that takes 8 hours of your day. You want to like that job. Ask questions, do your research and most importantly connect with people in that space. If you have to ‘stalk’ people on LinkedIn to see what their job roles entail or what qualifications they have that got them to the point they are at, then do it.”

As for what the future holds for Temitope, she says “I will just keep on developing myself in readiness for future opportunities”.

Tips for a career switch

  1. Do your research: when you’re switching permanently to a new career, you want to know as much as you can in the new career and also include people in the new career in your network. This might not be very important if you’re switching temporarily with the aim of going back to your original career, especially if the new career is just a means to end. Ensure to include LinkedIn in your network building channel. Like Temitope says, connect with people in the career you’re looking to switch to and have meaningful conversations with them.
  2. Examine you transferable skills: while technical skills needed in the new career can be developed on the job if you’re diligent as Martha says, it’s your soft skills that will most likely get your foot in. Examine the soft skills required to excel in the new career and let those skills shine in your resume. The toolkit I provided in the job search in Canada post shows you how to market your transferable skills in your resume.
  3. Consult a career counselor: while this step can be skipped, it is important if you have a number of choices and you’re not quite sure which route to take. A career counsellor can help you put things in perspective and help you gain clarity to make the ultimate decision. As an immigrant, you have access to free career counselling through various settlement organizations. Take advantage of what’s available to you.
  4. Keep an open and positive mindset: your mindset goes a long way in helping your achieve your dream and dealing with setbacks. And during a career switch, there will likely be a number of setbacks and disappointments. Keeping a positive mind will help you overcome such until your achieve your ultimate goal.

Whether you choose to switch careers temporarily or the switch is permanent, being open-minded is a quality that all immigrants need to see opportunities and thrive at whatever they are doing at any point in time.

Cheers to growth!

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