In attempting, to begin life in Canada, newcomers face many barriers, one of the most important being access to meaningful employment. It is well known that many of our newcomers arrive with skills, but these skills often remain unrecognized, unaccepted. In a fairly short period of time, they find themselves losing appreciation for their pasts.
Most of their past education and employment experiences mean little. They begin work wherever possible, usually in jobs well below their capabilities. Doctors drive cabs. Lawyers serve donuts. Engineers and technicians sell fruit. It is not the idea that they must start at the bottom of the ladder that is troubling, it is that they remain at the bottom, without further access to their professions or trades that causes most frustration.
PLAR, for our clients, is not only a way to gain credit through institutional learning, it is a way to gain appreciation for past skills and set goals toward achieving meanings employment. Further education might be a goal, or their paths may lead elsewhere. PLAR, and portfolio development, in the future, could become a vehicle for connections with Canadian employers who can open that critical new door.
Employers face time and money barriers. They need skilled workers and need to trust credentials and qualifications. Portfolios could supply them with an alternative to certificates diplomas, ad other ready credentials from more familiar Canadian institutions.
Portfolios, produced to acceptable standards, can build confidence in approaching the Canadian marketplace. They can build appropriate language skills and a strong and reliable bridge between the job-seekers and the job market in Canada.
Some of the dangers regarding PLAR involve both the students and the future assessors. The students spend time and energy producing an honest summary of their work life. They search for standards with which to measure themselves. Then what? Who will understand and recognize their work? Is a portfolio the most effective way to present these skills? What are the current standards for each occupation? How can they convince a future employer that the time and effort involved in compiling their defined skills and providing validation may, in fact, be worth more than someone else's diploma from a local college or university?
In my field, the future assessors are Managers and Human Resources personnel, the Hiring Committee. They must be educated in the use and benefits of PLAR through portfolio development. They must have input into the process. They can inform us regarding their workplace needs, standards and accepted application procedures. To ensure a trusted method using PLAR as a basis, both applicant and employer must invest some time and energy. Through education and marketing, PLAR can provide many employers with well-trained employees, and with a higher ratio of successful job retention. Those who have gone through the PLAR process and have produced a portfolio, or prepared for a demonstration, may be more committed to the employment process. They may be better prepared to provide the flexibility and creativity involved in the new workplace.
Best practices have been developed to some degree through the institutions. Their commitment to time and process should continue and community-based trainers should provide no less. Whether in classes/programs, or by distance education through the use of new technologies, access should be available to all and the product should be standardized for universal acceptance in different fields.
What we need are the cultural standards particular to each employer and each occupation. We need to continue our research and pilot projects in order to cite examples of success and persuade our future assessors of the validity of PLAR, whether through educational institutions or employment preparation training.
A CASE STUDY
Two newcomers with English as a Second Language in Canada for approximately 10 years. One working for eight years in Canada as a bookkeeper for a large agency, providing full accounting services. The other, Vice President of a large corporation in Columbia, with years of international import/export with automobiles, working as a courier.
Both completed a PLAR process offered in a community-based training environment, tailored to their needs, developing portfolios using an Internet conferencing system facilitated by the author in partnership with Fanshawe College.
The first student gained credits through Fanshawe College towards her Accounting Diploma, leading to a further goal of gaining CGA credentials (4 courses completed to date) with the possibility of self-employment in the future.
The second has explored a new occupation
in computers, based on past skills and current interests and is preparing
to gain the necessary credentials for employment or to become self-employed.
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