Methods: This study is part of a larger research project informed by a constructivist grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006). In collaboration with local community agencies serving immigrants who helped with recruitment of participants, the research team has conducted (1) 15 key informant interviews with service providers and human resource personnel working with immigrants, (2) seven arts-informed focus groups with 37 participants including job-seeking skilled immigrants and their mentors; 5 of these groups had two successive sessions for richer analysis and member checking, for a total of 12 focus group sessions, and (3) participant observation in employment-related programs for immigrants. After multiple waves of coding aided by NVivo and a series of analytic meetings among the research team members, core themes were identified, which then were contrasted to existing literature.
Results: The idea of “Canadian (work) experience” is elusive; however, the persistence of this construct also suggests the existence of shared values that support it. The authors argue that communities of practice theory is useful for understanding this phenomenon. Communities of practice are defined as groups of people who have a common concern or passion about a topic and deepen their knowledge by interacting with each other on an ongoing basis (Wenger et al., 2002). Newcomers are by default, not part of communities of practice in Canadian workplaces, but may become members through “legitimate peripheral participation (LPP)”. LPP involves the learning of knowledgeable skills (Lave & Wenger, 1991) in a complex process combining doing, talking, thinking, feeling and belonging (Wenger, 1998). Immigrant specific employment programs such as internships and mentoring promote the process of LPP to some degree. Through meaningful participation, newcomers acquire not only cultural norms or rules in Canadian society, but also social recognition from more dominant members of society (e.g., Canadian employers). Having “Canadian (work) experience” then demonstrates immigrant job candidate's readiness to be part of the community of practice in Canadian workplaces through continued processes of LPP (e.g., on the job training, buddy system, mentoring).
Conclusions and Implications: Government-funded immigrant employment services attempt to facilitate newcomers' LPP to assist their smooth economic and social integration. However, the assumptions behind these services are rarely challenged; instead of facilitating the acquisition of “Canadian (work) experience” for newcomers, it is important to question the problematic nature of this requirement in the first place. In order not to inadvertently promote assimilation as the only viable option for immigrants, social workers need to employ an anti-oppressive, structural perspective when designing and delivering services.