By Bamidele Salako
There are seven groups of people who shouldn’t bother to consider a move to Canada.
Category 1: Those without a strong reason for wanting to move. Please bear with me on this one. You will have to get used to me saying this a lot in this series so much so I may start to sound like a broken record, but it’s a point that cannot be overemphasised.
That said, you must have a motivation that’s compelling enough to YOU and not one that others think to be so. For instance, I may consider your “why” to be flimsy, but what really counts is that YOU-the one making the move-consider it to be a strong enough driving force.
And this is especially important for individuals for whom moving to Canada might not necessarily mean an instant upgrade of their economic status.
There are those reading now who will have to forgo the financial security and stability of well-paid jobs in Nigeria when relocating. And most times, they must do this without the assurances of immediately finding commensurate employment in Canada. For this set of people, moving to Canada amounts to a downgrade of their status and lifestyle – even if only for a season. And they will have to be earning A LOT now for this to be the case.
Whereas they occupied managerial positions in Nigeria that provided juicy add-ons like a chauffeur-driven official vehicle and an official residence, they might find themselves having to start off their professional life in Canada from an entry level position that offers no perks. That can rankle you a bit especially if it’s in an industry in which you have amassed more than a decade of valuable work experience.
To make matters worse, it may take longer than anticipated to find even those entry level positions.
If you take the time to sort out your why, it becomes easier to face whatever obstacles Canada may throw at you. Your why will help you to firmly set your sights on your goal as you make the tough choice of accepting a smaller role or lower pay than you’re used to.
Bear in mind that a lower pay may not necessarily be in terms of amount but value. An annual salary of five million naira in Nigeria may be a lot, but a household that earns the dollar equivalent of the same amount as annual income in Canada will be considered low income/poor.
Category 2: Those who consider themselves bigger than small jobs
If you’re the kind of person who does not see the dignity in labour, and you have no regard for people who do what we Nigerians derogatorily refer to as “menial jobs,” then, Canada may just not be for you.
I’d like to think that we have established over the course of the series that Canada can throw you some major curveballs. And one of those curveballs is that you may find yourself needing to do “survival jobs” if, after a period of job hunting, you fail to land your desired job.
You will need to make ends meet. You will need to pay your bills – rent, utilities, childcare, auto insurance, groceries, etc. And so, if you didn’t come to Canada with a lot of money, and you don’t have the backing of a wealthy family that can keep footing your bills until you start to earn Canadian income, then at some point, you will need to take that Walmart cashier job, or that McDonald’s attendant job, or that Warehouse shipper job, or that security guard job, or that data entry clerk job, or that Uber driving job.
In fact, there may be more immigrants who travel this route to securing their Canadian dream than those who don’t.
At least six of ten immigrants I know who are now settled and doing well had to work a survival job at some point. What you will find is that what we call survival jobs are actually full-fledged careers for many Canadians.
You will find a Canadian who has worked as a cashier for thirty years with Walmart and they’re living happy, contented lives. You will find another who has been working as a warehouse associate and doing backbreaking work for twenty years with FedEx Supply Chain and they’re doing just fine – even going abroad on vacations in summer.
You cannot afford to go to work with the “survival job” orientation in these same places where people have built lifetime careers. You will be resented and will eventually be fired!
There will be no one to sympathise with you that you were a manager in your home country and now must work in a warehouse to make ends meet. You who once issued orders back home will now be ordered around by someone younger and less educated than you. You will find yourself having to do thankless jobs that you never imagined you would do, and in the company of people whom you may never have had cause to cross paths with, in your high-flying career back home. And you will be required to put your heart and soul into the cleaning job just as you would a job paying a six or seven figure salary. You will earn every dollar you’re paid. Nonchalance will be punished with dismissal.
Again, not everyone experiences this, but many do. Be mindful and be prepared for this possibility.
I recently read the story of an immigrant lawyer from the Middle East who has a thriving private law practice in Ontario. When he moved to Canada, he could not find any white-collar jobs. Obviously, he couldn’t practice law because that is a regulated occupation in Canada. He had to work at a warehouse for two years while going to school and writing his qualifying exams. Once he passed the Canadian Bar, he set off on a totally different direction and went on to start what would become a successful practice.
I was speaking with a fellow Nigerian at an event my office organised in December. This great guy works as a business analyst with one of the prominent telecommunications companies here in Canada. When he first arrived in Calgary, he had to work on a minimum wage job as a customer service operator. At the time that he was hired for the customer service job, he was the first Nigerian to work in that department in that company. By the time he was leaving to resume at his current job, the department was 70% Nigerian. Because of his commitment and resourcefulness doing a low-paying job, his departmental head requested that he recommend people for vacancies within the department. He simply kept referring other Nigerians who had newly arrived and were finding transitional jobs. The guy’s boss from the minimum wage job became one of his references for his high paying business analysis job – providing glowing recommendations on his behalf to his new employer.
If you are not open to the possibility of taking a minimum wage job IF the need arises, and to replicate the kind of attitude I just referenced in the preceding paragraph, it’s best you hold on to the comforts of your current job in Nigeria.
Category 3: Those who are not adaptable and open to change
Now, this is a crucial point. If you are an individual without a nimble disposition in terms of career options, moving to Canada might prove to be a frustrating experience for you.
You will have to be realistic and flexible, not just with your general short-term expectations, but with your long-term professional aspirations and goals.
In Canada, like any other First World country, you will be hard-pressed to find a young professional who has worked in the same occupation or held the same role doing the exact same things for more than ten years. Technological disruptions and market forces mean a lot of jobs are either becoming extinct quicker or becoming less secure. The fact is more pronounced in First World countries where recessions bite the hardest and job security, for the large part, has become a mirage.
Have you considered the possibility that there may be no demand for your current skill set in your destination city/province? Also, there is the possibility that the market is saturated with experienced professionals like you which will make finding a job in your field ultra-competitive.
This is where you will need to get creative and start weighing your career options to determine if you need to change cities, change strategies, or make a career switch altogether.
I spoke with a lady late last year who had moved to Alberta from Nigeria where she worked as a petroleum engineer. Alberta is Canada’s oil and gas capital. A slump in oil prices and a restricted access to market by Albertan oil resulted in an awful recession in 2015-16. Lots of oil and gas jobs were lost and even till now, the economy has yet to make a full recovery. This made Alberta a challenging market to find jobs for oil and gas workers – Canadian and foreign-trained alike.
The Nigerian lady I am referencing searched for jobs for over six months with no success, and it was becoming frustrating. She instantly made the decision to switch to a technology career. She signed up for a government-funded IT program – these resources are available to newcomers for free – and got trained in web development and programming. The program also offered the participants work placements so they could gain work experience related to their training. It was a long and arduous process, but she successfully made the switch to IT and she’s currently employed in a high paying job. She was telling me when we spoke that that was the best career decision she had ever made.
Recently, I called to congratulate a friend who secured a well-paying job as an IT Business Analyst. His is one of the interviews I will be featuring in this series. He was on a six-million-naira annual basic salary with Diamond Bank before moving to Canada in 2017. He worked for a while with Best Buy as a warehouse associate before eventually securing his first banking job in Canada – at a level much lower than the position he occupied in Nigeria – even though with more pay but then the value question comes into play. While working at the warehouse, he wrote and passed his first banking certification exam. Once he started to work at the bank, he proceeded to secure his PMP and CBAP designations in preparation for transitioning into a business analysis role. He also took a string of online IT courses. Not ago, he was hired by a tech company as a business analyst.
The fact that you currently work as an engineer in Nigeria doesn’t mean this is the profession that will bring you success in Canada. You must be perceptive and open to making career transitions as required. It won’t be easy, but it may well be worth it. And you will find a lot of immigrants who have made successful career transitions into fields offering them the most opportunities for professional and financial success.
Another area of adaptability is in cultural differences. You cannot afford to be stuck in your ways here. Canadian culture differs vastly from Nigeria’s multifarious cultures.
For example, workplace bullying! There are workplace protections in most Canadian workplaces to safeguard employees against such behaviour. A lot of what passes off as normal at several Nigerian workplaces will be rightly labelled as workplace bullying or harassment in Canada.
One needs to acquaint oneself with these cultural differences and adjust as appropriate. There are gender-based jokes that would elicit laughter in Nigeria but lead to a sanction or sack in Canada.
A friend’s friend who was one of the lucky ones because he was hired shortly after arrival into a supervisory position that was equivalent to the role he held in Nigeria, did not last long on the job. He was fired! Why? Not because he wasn’t competent. He was fired because of the stream of negative feedback his co-workers and teammates kept providing his company’s HR. He had gone into the workplace with the discourteous, uncomplimentary and uncharitable way of giving feedback that he inherited and brought from Nigeria. This didn’t sit well with the Canadians on staff and he was relieved of his duties as several employees insisted that they could no longer work with him.
Canadians typically use the sandwich approach to provide feedback or criticism: a compliment, a soft reprimand and a compliment.
For instance, in giving you feedback, your boss might say: “I like the initiative you showed on this task although, if I were you, I might reconsider doing XYZ this other way. That said, good effort!”
To the uninitiated, it is important to note that when your Canadian boss or team uses the phrases, “Don’t you think you should…,” or “You might want to reconsider…,” when providing feedback or instructions, they are actually telling you to do that thing that they have suggested!
One is also expected to give feedback this way in the workplace.
What that means is one must be open to unlearning, relearning and learning. One must be willing to shed ingrained attitudes and behaviours that rank as unacceptable in the Canadian workplace. If you’re given to verbally harassing your subordinates at work in Nigeria, that’s a behaviour that will not be tolerated in most Canadian workplaces. There are labour laws and standards that protect the rights of workers and no company wants a brush with the law because of one senior employee’s continuous violations of other workers’ rights.
It typically won’t matter how good you are at your job. Canadian employers mostly hire for cultural fit and place a premium on your soft skills up and above your technical skills. How well do you get along with others? How well do you give and receive criticism? How well do you manage conflict? It’s why at least 70% of a job interviews would focus on asking behavioural and situational questions aimed at assessing your soft skills.
One must be willing to adapt to these differences in culture or one will inevitably struggle.
Category 4: Those who have a negative outlook on life
If you’re the kind to always complain about everything – how unfair life is, how hopeless things are – and never see good in any situation but what’s wrong, you’ve already set yourself up to fail in Canada.
Because once you get here, apply for jobs and don’t get a callback, you’ll start to see racism and discrimination, and slip into a hellhole of negativity and depression.
You will also find a band of naysayers who will feed your negativity.
I have found that many Nigerians love to complain. It’s an awful behaviour we have that we learned and perfected in Nigeria. We complain a lot. So, many, by default, are not solution focused.
Indians and Chinese come here, some even face a language barrier because they don’t speak the English Language like we Nigerians do; they face the same odds that we Nigerians face, yet go on to make resounding successes of their lives, while Nigerians take to social media to lament their lot in Canada.
I am not saying that there aren’t Indians or Chinese who have complaints or regrets. But I have seen way more Nigerians get in the complaining habit than anyone from any of those other nationalities.
Not to be insensitive about the obstacles or barriers that newcomers typically face with integrating into Canadian society, but negativity won’t serve you much here. People pick on vibes and energy easily here. Once you slip into negativity, it has a way of showing up in your words, attitudes and comportment. Canadians, by nature, tend to love people who bring a healthy bust of energy, enthusiasm and passion to a conversation or a job.
One of my colleagues who recruits foreign-trained IT professionals for a training program that is designed to help IT professionals who are out of work gain cutting edge skills and Canadian experience, recently refused to select a Nigerian candidate for the program. Why? My colleague said the lady had all sorts of negative vibes about her which was evident in the way she spoke and responded to questions. Now, this is a lady who must have been frustrated with her lack of success in finding a job. Finally, she gets a silver lining that will be her inroad to the Canadian IT industry, and she flops it with an awful attitude.
I tell people – in making this move, your education, experience and expertise do not constitute your biggest asset. Your mindset does!
The way some Nigerians sound online when describing Canada, you will think every Nigerian in Canada is washing dead bodies for a living or driving Uber, when of a truth, there are many Nigerians doing excellently well, and I mean, excellently well in different professions.
I know of an individual who was a regional manager with one the telecommunication companies in Nigeria who moved here in 2018 and shortly after arrival was hired into a similar position by a top telco here. Didn’t have to do a survival job or anything.
Others struggle, but not everyone will give you the back story of their struggles here.
I tell fellow newcomers to Canada, “You can learn from the experience and stories of others, but you cannot use what you hear or read as a benchmark for, or predictor of, how your life will turn out. Your personal choices, decisions and actions will largely determine your outcomes.”
When I moved here in 2018, I decided not to associate with any who had nothing but stories of woe to tell me about Canada. In fact, I blocked a lady on Facebook who was a friend for consistently asking me why I left a good job in Nigeria to move to Canada when those in Canada are running back to Nigeria. And she kept pounding on the issue. I blocked her off without batting a lid.
For me, the mindset issue was long resolved. When my friend, Jegede Samuel, was driving my wife and me to the airport in Lagos, I told him that as far as I was concerned, my future in Canada was not an uncertain one. I had accepted that it might be challenging at first, but Canada would work for me. I had an unbending conviction that the land would favour me – and it has – and it will even more. And I worked on a survival job for two months.
It’s not every Nigerian you see driving an Uber in Canada or working in McDonald’s who has reached their destination. Many of them are on a journey. And they are doing what they can now to make ends meet for themselves and their families as they work towards achieving their goals. Many of them work in regulated occupations; therefore, they have to work in transitional jobs until they’re relicensed to practice in Canada. Once they’re able to practice, many in Nigeria won’t be able to match their income.
A friend was telling me the other day of his uncle who moved here with his family many years ago leaving behind a lucrative job in Nigeria. His uncle struggled to find a job and had do a string of survival jobs to keep body and soul firing. If someone visiting from Nigeria had seen him working a menial job at that time, they would have ridiculed him and gone back home to spread derogatory information about this man. But do you know that the same man, a few years down the line, now works as a project manager with one of the municipal governments in Alberta managing multi million-dollar projects for the government! A Nigerian!
If you’re in bed with negativity, this place will frustrate you, especially in those times when things do not go according to plan. Negativity is a luxury anyone moving to Canada cannot afford. You may get away with it in Nigeria because of the systemic dysfunctions that characterise our society, but it will catch up with you here and the impact will be more pronounced.
In Canada, there are times you can say that you have not become all you aspired to because of the system’s shortcomings…and you will be right. It’s not a perfect system.
But ultimately, there are more instances when you will look at your situation, and if you’re true to yourself, you will honestly declare that you are not where you want to be because of your own shortcomings – the things that you have left undone or the things that you could have done better.
(Bamidele Salako is Intake Counsellor – Settlement Online Pre-Arrival, SOPA, at Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Canada)