Meghna Chawla is a 43-year-old civil engineer from India who immigrated to Canada with her husband and son in 2018. They live in Mississauga.
My husband works in the IT industry. He was going to be transferred, so we started looking at options for our family. In engineering, the basic principles remain the same around the world, but some aspects differ from country to country.
I have a few friends and family members who live here. The education is good, and the medical facilities are great. And, of course, Canada’s a mosaic of people of different nationalities, and people accept you for who you are.
When we arrived in Canada, it lived up to its reputation. Everybody was really helpful. When we entered the airport as newcomers, the man checking our passports handed us a bag full of information and pamphlets related to housing, education, childcare, and even grocery shopping. Everything was so easy. There was information for so many programs that the government was running.
I saw the pamphlet for Achēv in the packet of brochures and Googled it. Their bridging program has really good reviews and helps a lot of engineers and technical people who move to the country. The program was every day for two months.
As newcomers, we worry about acceptance. What people think of you is your major concern. In the Achēv program, everyone was a newcomer.
Achēv briefed us on the culture, how to prepare for interviews, how to update our resumes and cover letters, and how to negotiate our salaries. They let us know if any openings came up or if there were any job fairs and scheduled interviews. Even though it was a class of 20 students, everybody got individual attention.
RBC Foundation supports programming and initiatives like Achēv's Elevate program, which helps newcomer women participants (aged 18-45) who face significant barriers in establishing their careers in Canada.
Photo: Meghna Chawla and her family.
Entering the Canadian workforce
It took me a while to enter the workforce because I had some inhibitions, but Teresa from Achēv kept me motivated.
At first, I wasn’t getting calls for interviews, which is hard. You’ve left your country, come to a new country, and you wonder: what’s going on? You start questioning yourself. You know, anybody can come from anywhere and start working, but as a civil engineer, you must get a certificate and a license to work in Canada.
I really felt supported. I ended up getting a job but was let go during COVID. I didn’t have a job for a year and a half, but Teresa continued to help me even though the bridging program was over. I told her I was laid off, and she started sending me information on different programs, seminars, and job fairs.
I’m working towards my P. Eng, but I also have a management background, and I’m a PMP, EIT, and LEED certified professional. So I just started applying online, using all the keywords and everything they taught us in the program.
Then I was hired by the City of Oakville — without any work references. Getting a job without references is difficult, especially in a government organization. They said it was based on my abilities and resume.
Being a new Canadian
When we first arrived, we lived in a condo, and now we’ve moved to a house. We have a few friends from the same community and some from my office who are Canadian. Plus, there are many festivals and community centres in Mississauga.
My husband didn’t have the challenges I had with employment, but for him, the challenge was the weather. We come from a hot country, and here it’s much colder most of the time.
Photo: Meghna Chawla and her family.
Initially, my son wanted to return to India because he had all his friends there, but now he’s made friends, adjusted to school and loves it here.
I let Teresa know that if anybody was interested in mentoring, I could help. She sent me four youngsters — young girls who are interested in engineering. It’s so hard for girls to get into STEM fields. I think it can intimidate us because we come from other countries — and with the language difference. What if the other person doesn’t understand us?
They also talked about that in the bridging program. It was personal development as well as technical. You have to be confident and know your stuff, even if you don’t know the language well. I think that’s the major barrier I see with girls from other countries who want to get into a STEM program, engineering or any of the hardcore technical things.
As newcomers, we worry about acceptance. What people will think of you is your major concern. In the Achēv program, everyone was a newcomer. When entering the job force, I was worried … but people accept you! Obviously, there are different people, and everybody has their own outlook, but I really believe it now. I’m accepted.
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