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Spotlight on Success: An Alternative Path to Engineering

Friday | September 23, 2016 | by Beth Gallagher

An Alternative Path to Engineering

Abdul Kader Azzam came to Canada in 2015 with a degree in Architectural Engineering from Lebanon. He had extensive work experience from nine years living and working in Dubai. After completing the Engineering Connections program at ACCES Employment, Abdul got a job as a Civil Estimator with EllisDon.

Skilled newcomers to Canada often find success in alternative jobs and positions that utilize their skills and experience. In the engineering field, for example, many newcomers face the challenge of not yet having a license when searching for employment. Newcomers that have come to ACCES have found success in alternative positions within the sector, many of which do not require relicensing right away. These opportunities provide more options for a skilled newcomer as they gain employment experience in their field of work.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m originally from Lebanon. I went to school for six years to obtain my master’s in Architectural Engineering. I moved to Dubai in 2006 where I spent the next nine years working in the engineering field. However, I was searching for a more stable work and home environment for my family which ultimately led to our decision to move to Canada. We have family living in Montreal and they encouraged us to make the move. We arrived on June 26, 2015. By June 29, I was attending the Engineering Connections program at ACCES Employment.

Tell us about your career path before arriving in Canada.

I worked as an architect in Dubai. This was an exciting time in my career. In 2007, I had the opportunity to work with a leading-edge German company designing entirely fiber glass buildings. This was a new technology and I was involved in constructing the first building of its kind in Abu Dhabi. During my time with this company, I gained experience in project management. I eventually moved into this role. From there, I moved into a new role with a contracting company, working on interior finishes until I made the move to Canada in 2015.

What were your career expectations before arriving in Canada?

I felt that with my education and experience I wouldn’t have a problem finding a similar role in my field. I started to apply online but wasn’t hearing back from employers. Other than searching online for work, I had little planned. I was unsure where to start. I packed all of my woodworking tools with me and thought that if I was unable to find a job I could potentially make some money from designing wood pieces, sculptures, furniture, etc.

Before arriving did you consider pursuing alternative careers?

I had heard about new immigrants having to find survival jobs but I was hoping that with my education and skills I would be able to find an alternative role in the engineering field.

Through the Engineering Connections program at ACCES Employment, you received advice on how to find a job within your field. Were you surprised by the number of different career opportunities available within your sector that did not require relicensing?

I was aware of the number of roles in the field of engineering, but in Canada, the titles and descriptions of the positions are not the same. For example, a Project Engineer in Dubai is a Superintendent here in Canada. Also, architects have a different role and receive a different type of degree here. In my home country, architects learn all of the principles of engineering as well as architecture.

I also found out that an estimator in Canada is very different from what it is in Dubai. The role in Canada is similar to a Quantity Surveyor requiring both field engineer and superintendent experience. Given my education and experience, I was able to take on this role.

Through the program, I gained a better understanding of career progression as it pertains to engineering in Canada. Building your knowledge base about a company, their processes, and regulations within the industry is essential to advancing within the field. I saw more clearly that in order to have a project management role, I would need to start in a different position to learn all of these things before managing any aspect of engineering.

How did you find your current job?

ACCES taught me the importance of building connections and taking advantage of networking and learning opportunities. I worked with a mentor who provided great guidance and motivation for me in my job search.

It was through ACCES that I first learned of the site visit with EllisDon, a leading engineering employer in Mississauga. With my new employment outlook, I eagerly accepted the chance to meet and network with individuals in the industry.

I was selected as one of 24 individuals to participate in the site tour with the company. Little did I know, they were looking at this group as potential employees for four available interim positions. At the end of the tour, we were asked to speak for 30 seconds about ourselves. I had perfected my “elevator pitch” while at ACCES and I took this opportunity to use what I had learned. I spoke about my skills, my interest in the role, and finished with the sentence “I am ready to hit the ground running tomorrow.”

I was successful in the selection process and was very happy to be offered a position. Now, a year later, I am still with EllisDon working full time as a civil estimator.

How were you able to use your experience to get the position as estimator?

My degree taught me engineering principles, and it is through the implementation of these principles that I am able to work in different roles within the field of engineering. Understanding these principles allows me to have some flexibility within the industry in terms of the roles I apply for.

Although my current role is not as an engineer or an architect, the position of estimator requires me to draw on my past experience, my knowledge of engineering, and it requires me to continue my research and learning to complete new projects.

What would you tell newcomer professionals about pursuing alternative job positions?

Engineering is similar to a number of sectors. There are many different job opportunities within the field, and as a newcomer, it is important to explore alternative roles within your field of expertise. It is often through keeping an open mind and exploration of opportunities that you will find a great employment fit. Many alternative roles can lead to new career progression possibilities, or into a similar role previously held in your home country. Gaining Canadian work experience and learning about your industry through work is the best way to understand how different or similar it is to your background.

Beth Gallagher is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at ACCES Employment.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).