Paving the way for international students to enter PEI’s workforce
by Ethan Paquet
The Atlantic Student Development Alliance (ASDA) is a not-for-profit organization that provides international post-secondary students and graduates with industry-based training, resources, and networks to help them start their careers in Atlantic Canada.
With a large clientele of international students from Holland College, Collège de l’Île and UPEI, as well as partnerships with companies working on PEI, they help bridge the gap between employers and job seekers.
“We want to redefine what the future of the workforce looks like for both Atlantic Canada and immigrants,” says Daniel Ohaegbu, Executive Director. “Our goal is to ensure that international students and graduates have the tools, resources, skills, and networks that make them valuable candidates in our job market.”
Providing training that matches industry needs
ASDA works directly with PEI employers to identify in-demand skills and competencies, as well as industry talent gaps and challenges. They use this information to develop their training programs, which are designed to meet current needs.
They connect directly with international students before they graduate. So far, 700-plus students and graduates have joined ASDA, Daniel says. “We bring students into our programming to start training, which is often done online. The training helps tailor their skills to match what our partner employers need.”
Helping employers with hiring and more
Daniel invites companies who have partnered with ASDA to reach out when they begin hiring for a new position. “We provide a full cycle of recruitment services, including talent preparation, sourcing, screening, selection, hiring, and onboarding. We can help employers draft a job description, and we can match them with candidates within our system who have the skills they are looking for, who are then trained specifically for that position.”
They also provide workshops for employers on the necessary knowledge, skills, resources, policies, and procedures to support a diverse workforce. “We provide training in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Anti-Racism (EDI-AR). We also provide internal and external organizational audits and reviews.
“When we identify challenges, we help employers find the best solutions and strategies so that they can be more inclusive on an ongoing basis.”
Addressing employment barriers
Daniel says international students are often at a disadvantage when looking for work on PEI.
“They are only allowed to work 20 hours per week, but most employers are looking to hire full-time staff. Many companies rely on wage subsidy programs, but most of these programs are not inclusive of international students and graduates.
“They are also often not eligible for upskilling or reskilling programs, which makes it hard for them to compete within the job market, limiting their opportunities.”
Another common barrier is transportation. “There might be an opportunity at an organization in Summerside, for example, but most international students do not have a car to travel to and from work.”
A lack of foreign credential recognition limits the possibilities for trained jobseekers, he says. “For example, if someone worked as a welder in Nigeria, there isn’t much of a difference in how that would be done here, so I don’t understand why we refuse to recognize their expertise and knowledge in that specific case.”
He hopes to find the solution to these problems through partnerships, he says. “I always say that the way we view a problem helps us to define the solution. We help employers see that the barriers international students face are not challenges, but rather opportunities to do something better.”
As ASDA grows, he hopes to access more funding opportunities to provide better solutions for clients. “We need more financial support to help PEI get the most out of the potential that international students bring to Canada’s workforce.”