Stories of doctors driving cabs and engineers delivering pizza aren't new to Winnipeg's newcomer community.
So, when a non-profit organization can get 92 per cent of the foreign-trained professionals it sees into jobs in their field, that's new.
It's been around for 28 years but this past fiscal year was Success Skills Centre's most successful ever. Of the 826 clients the centre received in 2012-13, 551 were ready for placement and 506 -- 91.8 per cent -- found work in their related field.
One of them is Egyptian civil engineer Mervat Sefin. She and her husband, a doctor, came to Canada as skilled workers in 2003 through the provincial nominee program with their two children. When they lived in Thompson, she worked as a construction planner with Vale Inco while studying for challenging exams to have her professional engineering credentials recognized here.
When the family moved to Winnipeg in 2009, Sefin had her qualifications.
"I wanted to work at the same level with a big-name company," she said. A family friend told her about Success Skills Centre, she said. She went there for help finding the right job match for her skills, qualifications and experience.
She said the centre's labour market specialist, Rany Jeyaratnam, counselled her and helped her get her current job at Lafarge Canada as a special- project engineer.
"We have quite a bit of experience," said Jeyaratnam, who's been with the Centre for 15 years. "We're a niche program." The centre has developed a range of programs for foreign-trained professionals, including a hands-on practicum, job placement, mentorship, job search and community outreach. It's worked with close to 200 employers, she said. This past year, there was decrease in their client numbers so they could devote more time to helping each of them get work in their field, said Jeyaratnam.
Getting foreign credentials recognized here often takes more time and money than immigrants struggling to get settled can invest, said Asia Siddiq. She was a teacher before coming to Canada from Pakistan in 2001 with her husband, an engineer.
"When you're a professional, you come with the expectation that you had a job back home and you will get the same kind of job here," she said. "Then you search... and you learn that's not the thing."
To teach here, she'd have to return to university and take more courses. "In the meantime, I had three kids and it was not possible."
When her youngest was nine months old, she decided to take another career path. "I went to Red River College for business administration. After that, for a year, I was looking for a job."
Even with Canadian credentials, she still had a hard time landing work in her field, she said.
"I went for many interviews and they all said 'You don't have experience.' " Siddiq knew her fellow grads from the Red River program were finding jobs. "Why not me? Nobody gave me the job."
She looked online and found out about Success Skills Centre. Centre staff helped her market herself and sent out applications to employers for a volunteer job placement so she could gain experience.
She went to Manitoba Hydro and stayed on as a volunteer after her three-month placement until an opening became available in accounts payable and she was offered -- and accepted -- the job.
"Until I went to Success Skills Centre, nobody was giving me a chance."