When Mudassara Anwar immigrated from Pakistan to Canada over a decade ago, she was proud of being instrumental in setting up a shelter for women fleeing abuse in her home country.
Once she was in Canada, she found the social environment alienating, “I had no extended family or friends to rely on or socialize with. I also had no professional networks,” she said. “I thought I had a lot of strengths and experience, yet I struggled to find the right place to apply them in Canada.”
Even though Mudassara had her Master’s degree in social work and experience working with individuals experiencing barriers in accessing health services and/or stable housing, she soon realized that it was not going to be easy to get the same type of job she had left behind.
After sending her resume to a few organizations to no reply and hearing from acquaintances that her university degree and prior work experience would not count in Canada — later she would find out her Master’s degree would be accepted — Mudassara felt her situation had hit a dead end.
“The thought of having to do a Master’s degree again and take an entry-level job left me feeling sad and frustrated.”Mudassara Anwar
Mudassara is not alone in feeling alienated, sad, and frustrated. In 2019, Canada’s population grew by about 580,000 people (or 1.6 percent), with immigrants accounting for more than 80% of the increase, according to RBC. Like Mudassara, two-thirds of immigrants are in the prime working ages between 25 and 54. Nearly all of Canada’s largest cities have seen GDP grow faster than the national average, reflecting their large immigrant populations.
Despite this, many Canadians like Mudassara face challenges having their learning and education recognized. According to the Conference Board of Canada, 844,000 Canadians in 2015 (up from 540,000 in 2001) faced such challenges. Not only does this hurt individuals but also the Canadian economy: unrecognized skills and education cost an estimated $13.4 to $17 billion in 2015 in lost earnings.
It took Mudassara time to begin working again in her field after graduating from the Internationally Educated Social Work Professionals (IESW) Bridging Program at Ryerson University. After 10 years out of the paid workforce raising her family in Canada, Mudassara pursued her career aspirations and enrolled in the IESW Bridging Program. It wasn’t easy but Mudassara had the support of family and program staff to deal with the challenges of going back to school.
Mudassara credits the IESW Bridging Program with helping her enhance her theoretical and practical social work skills through courses, client simulations, and placement in a social work setting. Her placement with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) helped her become familiar with Canadian work culture and learn to incorporate social work competencies in verbal and written communication. At CMHA, she worked with individuals who are underhoused, homeless, or at imminent risk of homelessness.
Pre-pandemic, social work was a growing field and during COVID-19, the need for social workers has become even more acute. According to the Government of Canada,pre-pandemic outlook, employment growth in social work is expected to be strong, fueled by the social needs and issues of unemployment, poverty, substance use, violence and mental health. During COVID-19, these issues have come to the forefront and government measures and increased support from social workers is expected to help in Canada’s social and economic recovery in the future.
Mudassara began working as a crisis support worker with Punjabi Community Health Services in Brampton t 10 days after graduating from the program. Apart from her previous knowledge and experience, Mudassara credits Canadian Social Work Practice Certificate at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, for its comprehensive curriculum as well as job search support and placement in helping her land this role and quickly rise to a supervisor role.
But the program staff also gave her something less tangible but invaluable: their support.
“The program staff were always available to buoy my spirits when I felt frustrated or confused,” she said. “This program is my love.”
Going forward, Mudassara hopes to work with the provincial government to help bring about positive change in the social services sector. She likens her entire experience of securing employment to a car that hasn’t been driven. “If a car has been idle for a long time, it takes time to start it again. But once it’s ignited, it’s good to go.”
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