Paving the Way for Internationally Educated Early Childhood Educators in Nova Scotia

Monday June 27, 2022

In 2020, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) approached the WES Mariam Assefa Fund with a project idea to help internationally educated early childhood educators (ECEs) and primary school teachers better access jobs as ECEs in the province. ECEs are trained to support the social, emotional, and physical development of children under the age of 12. This project seeks to build a bench of qualified individuals to address the large labour shortages in the ECE sector in Nova Scotia by tapping into the potential of internationally educated ECEs and immigrants seeking jobs in this field.

“We have been trying to find funding to develop this program for five years,” said Mohja Alia, employment and bridging manager at ISANS. “There is provincial funding available for competency assessment programs in the sector, however, it was quite difficult to find the resources to design this entirely new program.”

With support from the Fund, ISANS launched Bridging the Gap for Internationally Educated Early Childhood Educators, a pilot project designed to provide clients with competency-based training and language skills needed to excel as an ECE.

ISANS provides a full range of support to more than 10,000 immigrant clients annually. However, the organization noticed that it was not able to fully support clients who were internationally educated ECEs, internationally educated primary school teachers, or immigrants interested in working as ECEs. Despite having many pathways to licensure, these clients still faced barriers entering the field or becoming fully licensed. Barriers include a lack of ECE-specific communication skills and opportunities for newcomers to demonstrate their skills, lack of opportunity to build their networks, limited financial resources, and lack of language proficiency required for ECE certification. As a result, many clients could not invest the time and resources needed to complete certification. This often meant that clients, who were mainly women, needed to rely on “survival jobs” that offered neither benefits nor job security.

To address these gaps and better support internationally educated ECEs, ISANS took a holistic approach that comprised four main components. First, ECEs learn about the specific competencies they need in order to work in Canadian childcare centres. Then, they complete a 12-week, occupation-specific language training course. Next, they participate in a 4-week job search workshop to prepare to enter the field. Finally, they complete a paid, 12-week, on-the-job competency assessment to demonstrate what they’ve learned, develop their interpersonal skills, and ascertain any training gaps.

Now, two years after launching the program, 19 clients have already successfully graduated from the pilot. Four of them are enrolled at the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education (NSCECE) for further training and are working toward receiving Level 1 certification upon graduating. Fifteen participants are already working in childcare centres and public schools while they pursue their certification.

Anna McBeth, employment specialist and supervisor at ISANS, believes that much of its clients’ success is owed to the collaborative nature of the project. The ISANS team worked closely with numerous external stakeholders, including NSCECE, the Association of Early Childhood Educators Nova Scotia (AECENS), and the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, as well as employers, to design a program that would meet the sector’s standards and needs.

This early, close collaboration with stakeholders helped ISANS secure provincial funding to expand the program for another year and support an additional cohort of 30. ISANS is also using lessons learned from this pilot to develop another program that will provide occupation-specific language skills and other competencies for immigrants interested in becoming accountants.

ISANS hopes to continue working with the government of Nova Scotia and NSCECE to make systemic changes in the ECE licensure process and remove additional barriers. Based on its research and discussions with employers, ISANS is recommending that the CLB 7 writing requirement be reduced to CLB 6, as ECEs are not likely to be engaging in complex writing on the job.

ISANS is also engaged in fair pay advocacy. As the province of Nova Scotia moves to add 9,500 new childcare spaces by 2025, fair wages will be key to retaining existing talent and attracting new talent. To address such issues, the province has pledged $10.9 million on a new childcare workforce strategy with the aim of improving ECE wages and attracting trainees.

ISANS’ pilot demonstrates the effectiveness of profession-specific career pathways programs that help immigrants overcome barriers to licensing by providing on-the-job assessments and training. This program provides internationally educated ECEs with a more equitable opportunity to work. At the same time, it helps address labour shortages in childcare. With the success of this pilot, the ISANS team hopes that similar programs can be developed in other provinces, such as Ontario, where there are also labour shortages in childcare.

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