By Deepak Mathew
All life transitions can be challenging, and when the meaning attached to these transitions has personal, social, and cultural significance, they can be overwhelming, either in a positive or negative way (Bridges, 2009). Most transitions are successfully navigated when the internal resources of the person making the transition are supported by social and systemic factors such a family, friends and other environmental factors (Hayes, 2000). The potential change in careers for many skilled immigrants to Canada quite accurately describes this life transition, which may or may not be supported by internal and external resources.
With respect to career development, several transitions are expected in the course of one’s life. However, with regards to skilled immigrants coming to Canada, the focus is on multiple transitions and the associated adjustments that are expected (Schultheiss & Davis, 2015). Since immigrants are expected to adapt at multiple levels, such as negotiating new cultural norms, overcoming the loss of close family ties, learning a new language, and exploring possible career avenues, the prioritizing of these adaptations is partly determined by the immediate need of the immigrant. Most often, while career seems to be on the forefront of the transition agenda, it is slowly pushed to the back, when other demands of transition press hard. This is likely to negatively impact the career development of immigrants, and the transition process might be confronted with unforeseen obstacles.
Therefore, there is a growing need to propose and empirically validate interventions that are particularly targeted towards supporting the career development of skilled immigrants. The uncertainty and the unpredictability of the transition process need to be supported. There is much that can be gleaned from the existing theories in career development to identify common conceptual patterns that best suit immigrants making a transition (Neault, 2011). For example, Chen (2003) proposed an integration of several threads in existing theories to help explain career development of immigrant professionals. Similarly, it would be valuable, as an initial step, to obtain first hand reports of the transition experience of recent immigrants as relating to changing careers. This will help examine the process of change in career identity and how recent skilled immigrants find their way through the arduous job market scenario in Canada along with the challenges associated with meeting all the requirements. Not much research in the field of careers has been devoted to understanding the immigrant experience of transition.
Another important intervention is to equip immigrant-serving agencies to specifically cater to the psychological and emotional needs of recent immigrants with respect to career transition. When empirically validated and psychology based interventions are made available to immigrants, the result can extend beyond employment assistance (Fouad & Bynner, 2008). A recent example of such intervention is a project sponsored by Health Canada titled “hope-centered career development for internationally educated health professionals,” led by Amber Clarke with the Saskatchewan Pathways Project in collaboration with Amundson, Niles, and Yoon in 2014. The features of this project, which was presented at Cannexus15, can serve as guide to integrate theory and practice in supporting the transition of skilled immigrants.
Finally, conceptualizing immigrant experiences from a transition standpoint helps research, policy, training and intervention to focus on understanding the career challenges of skilled immigrants beyond the occupational and vocational sphere to a broader life perspective. This is consistent with the literature, which affirms that career development is nothing but life designing (Savickas, 2012) and that events or transitions experienced in one area of a person’s life impact other areas as well (Borgen, Butterfield & Amundson, 2010).
Deepak Mathew is a University of British Columbia doctoral student in counselling psychology. His research interest is in the area of immigrant career development. Other areas of interest include lifelong learning, career counselling, and psychological assessment.
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