Meet Isempower, a Success Platform for International Students in Canada
As a former international student from Thailand, Pat Chaisang’s wish is to support other international students as they begin to pursue fulfilling careers in Canada. This desire ultimately led her to found Isempower – an all-in-one technology platform that helps international students bridge the gap between education and employment.
According to Isempower, 70 percent of international students do not get a job in their area of study, and those that do secure employment earn 20 percent less than Canadian-born workers.
“The issue of international student employability doesn’t arise from the students themselves but rather from an ‘infrastructure’ problem,” Pat says. “We are addressing this infrastructure problem with technology.”
Ten years ago, Pat was one of 265,000 international students choosing to study in Canada. Since then, the country has become a top destination for international students because of its widespread support for immigration to fill skill shortages and bolster the labour market. In 2022, Canada hosted nearly 808,000 international student permit holders.
Yet many of these students lack a professional network and struggle to find fulfilling jobs where they can put their skills to work. International students typically take longer to secure employment than their Canadian-born peers. They also often face barriers in the recruitment process, such as discrimination due to their immigration status, cultural differences, language barriers, and lack of local work experience. Because of these barriers, international students often resort to applying for lower-paying jobs outside their field of study to survive in their new home.
“Your dreams have no borders. You could dream big in your home country, and you can dream even bigger in a foreign land.”
Pat Chaisang, Isempower founder
During Pat’s first week in Canada, in 2013, she applied for a part-time job at a Thai restaurant in Vancouver where the restaurant owner required a résumé.
“I vividly recall looking at him with the most clueless face and responding, ‘What is a résumé?’ I didn’t get the job,” she says.
Despite the disadvantage of being an international student, Pat had an impressive work ethic and maintained minimum wage retail jobs. To this day, she keeps her first paycheck from her first job in Canada stored in her drawer.
Throughout her educational journey, Pat remained steadfast and dedicated. She completed four internships in two years which led to post-graduation roles in e-commerce at Best Buy Canada and product management at TELUS International. In her last year of university, Pat transitioned to social entrepreneurship.
In 2019, she began leading résumé and cover letter workshops for international students. These events were held in her apartment, where she and her associates created a close-knit community that would eventually become Isempower.
“At Isempower, everyone on our team is an immigrant. We never have to explain the problem to any of our team members or remind anyone of our mission,” Pat says.
The Isempower team in 2023, including Pat Chaisang (center).
Although it started as a local charitable effort, Isempower is now incorporated and has launched as a for-profit social enterprise, and recently received an impact investment from the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. Its team has grown to include members from across the country who are working to provide an all-in-one technology platform that meets the needs of both students and employers.
Isempower not only provides a community of support through its free online platform but also bridges the employment gap through career development, mentorship, settlement assistance, and immigration insights. Isempower’s core service matches international students to job opportunities with employers that recognize the competitive advantage of hiring talented and diverse international students. Employers are also provided with support regarding best practices for hiring international students and increasing equity in the workplace.
Since the new platform launch in January 2023, 170 employer profiles have been added, and 9,651 job applications have been facilitated through the platform as of September 19.
As an investee partner, Isempower will use the WES funding to expand its platform to meet the needs of Canada’s growing international student population. The organization has an end-of-year goal as well. By the end of 2023, Isempower plans to launch its new higher education software that will help post-secondary institutions provide scalable support for their growing population of international students and alumni.
The new software will provide a personalized plan derived from employment and engagement metrics that will meet the needs of the institution, students, and alumni from Day One to beyond graduation. It also aims to boost the international student admission and retention rates of the universities that purchase the software.
For Pat, Isempower is a testament to the fact that hiring international students helps companies do both good and well. Isempower is on a mission to embrace the diversity, adaptability, and resilience of these students, and help translate their unique perspectives and skills into gratifying careers.