Need to embrace newcomers — Fairness Commissioner

By Jasminee Sahoye
An assessment by the Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC) of regulators’ assessment of internationally trained professionals shows that while some improvements have been made, there are still a number of issues that need streamlining.

In its 75page report A Fair Way to Go: Access to Ontario’s Regulated Professions and the Need to Embrace Newcomers in the Global Economy which culminates five years of research and observation about Ontario’s professional licensing system, the OFC identified 12 areas for improvements for registration practices among the various regulatory bodies.

These include providing clear rationales for requirements, recognizing acceptable alternatives for meeting registration requirements, identifying exemptible requirements and strengthening assessment criteria and methods.

The OFC report states that in order to ensure no one is excluded unfairly, regulators must be able to explain why requirements are necessary and relevant for safe and competent professional practice.

“Assessment needs to be more flexible, going beyond a narrow focus on academic credentials to recognize the variety of ways individuals develop professional knowledge and skills.”

Among other areas for improvements identified are improve information for applicants, addressing the burden of fees, ensuring reasonable and transparent timelines and facilitating opportunities to start the registration process outside Canada. “More accessible information and efficient processes would help all qualified professionals both begin and complete the registration process without unnecessary expense or delay,” The OFC report further states.

“Five years into the job, I am pleased to be able to point to many improvements in the licensing process. Most of these changes are relatively small. But they are incremental, adding up to systemic, institutional improvements,” Commissioner Jean Augustine said.

“These improvements make a difference far beyond the affected individuals. They impact our communities, our economy, our society. They open doors – for people to bring their skills and talents to Ontario, and for Ontario to connect to markets and ideas around the world.”

According to the OFC, Ontario’s Ministry of Finance has projected that 100 per cent of the province’s net labour market growth will come from immigration by 2016 – A Fair Way to Go emphasizes the need to embrace professionals trained in other places.

“What I am really hoping is that today marks the beginning of a discussion: a dialogue we must have to ensure we are all making the most of the resources – the human resources – available to us,” Augustine said. “Yes, we talk like we welcome the world with open arms. We need to make sure we act like it.”

While reporting satisfactory progress among individual organizations in improving the licensing process, the report raises questions about collective attitudes.

The report also highlights the need for a fair access agenda for regulatory bodies and their members. These include streamlining the registration process, widening the reach of international mutual recognition agreements, identifying acceptable alternatives for meeting the competencies embedded in academic and experience requirements and collecting applicant input on registration requirements and processes. “Measure the impact of fair-access initiatives on the experience of applicants.”

The government was also included in the fair access agenda. The OFC states that the government needs to “project a clear and compelling vision for our province and country that values diversity and mobilizes the full potential of all residents. Ensure policy coherence, integrating fair-access considerations into the development and implementation of related legislation and policies, particularly in the area of professional regulation, global labour mobility, and immigration. Continue to fill resource gaps by addressing applicant needs for financial aid and by funding bridging programs and foreign-credential-recognition initiatives.”

The OFC also identified a fair-access agenda for research noting the need “to conduct evaluation research on emerging fair-access developments, such as bridging programs and competency assessment. Conduct academic research on access to the professions and how access has changed over time. Identify promising practices and recommend priorities for further action. Contribute to the development of an evidence-based understanding of the promise and challenges of diversity for the regulated professions and the public they serve.”