How can I determine whether or not an Internationally Trained Individual has enough English to do the job?
Increasingly, employers are turning to ITIs to meet demands for highly-trained and skilled workers. Over 40% of immigrants arriving in the 1990s had at least one university degree, compared to 22% of Canadians. This is good news for Canada as our reliance on immigration grows. In fact, immigrants are expected to account for 100% of Canada’s net labour force growth by 2011 and 100% of net population growth by 2031.
There are credential assessment services available to help employers determine the Canadian-equivalent levels of an ITI’s education and training. A frequent question for employers is, “What about language proficiency?” How much English does one need for a particular job?
Language is one of the most significant challenges facing newcomers. Employers have limited means of practically and fairly determining language proficiency. “The tests used in the present system are often based on generic or academic content, and do not reflect the language demands of their professions or trades. Although internationally-educated professionals may have the language proficiency relevant to their specific profession or occupation, they may not be able to pass the required language tests. In other cases, candidates are set up for possible failure in the workplace, as they meet the language requirements but do not have the language skills needed in their specific professional context.”
There are two primary approaches that can be taken:
Option 1: A long-term solution is to have an expert in English as a Second Language (ESL) conduct a language benchmark analysis of key occupation(s) within the company, to determine the level of speaking, listening, reading and writing required to carry out the tasks related to the job. There are models for this using the Canadian Language Benchmarks, the national language standard for describing, measuring and recognizing language proficiency for adult immigrants. The ESL expert would typically analyze the position by:
Reviewing a detailed job description to identify key tasks and job activities
Examining samples of texts, documents and other materials used in the job
Job-shadowing to observe and record communication activities carried out over the course of a day
Meeting with the supervisor and those currently performing the job to seek information on the communication demands of the job
This analysis would result in a determination of the Canadian Language Benchmark levels required for the job. The expert could provide recommendations as to how a candidate’s CLB level could be determined (e.g. through an existing CLB assessment tool or through the development of an occupation or sector-specific assessment tool). An example of this would be the language benchmarking of the nursing profession in Canada and the development of the Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN). For more information, visit www.CELBAN.org.
An alternative methodology is to develop an Occupational Language Analysis (OLA), based on language benchmarking of occupation-specific Essential Skills profiles developed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). To see examples of OLAs for tourism occupations, visit www.itsessential.ca.
Option 2: A more immediate solution is careful planning and preparation for the interview process. It is important that ITIs are interviewed in ways similar to Canadian-born professionals. The following suggestions would apply equally to all applicants being considered for a position, whether internationally-educated or Canadian-born:
Carefully review the job description and identify key or primary tasks related to the position. What language skills are necessary to carry out these tasks—speaking, listening, reading or writing?
Determine what language skills are required to do the job well. Is it more important that the person have excellent speaking and listening skills in order to consult with clients or lead project team meetings? Will he or she be expected to write lengthy business proposals or reports? Does the job require referencing complex texts and documentation?
Plan to include questions that address key communication requirements in the interview. This will allow you to determine whether or not responses meet company standards or reasonable expectations. For example:
If writing plays a large part in carrying out the job duties, ask candidates to provide samples of the types of texts that may be required, or develop an activity for them, such as writing a memo or an executive summary of a report.
If spoken language is most important to successful performance on the job, include a role play or scenario. For example, if the position involves leading a project team, candidates could be asked what they would say to a member of the team who was repeatedly missing deadlines. Or they might be asked to role play talking to a supervisor to explain what is wrong with a piece of equipment, and the time and cost involved in repairing it.
For more information, read Tips for Working with ITIs by Nancy Mark
 Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks. Developing an Occupation-Specific Language Assessment Tool using the Canadian Language Benchmarks – A Guide for Trades and Professional Organizations. (2004). Page 4.