May 4, 2021 - Int'l Construction Career? Here Is my 4-step Journey to Canada

Want an International Construction Career? Here Is my 4-step Journey to Canada…

Earlier this year, the AACE Toronto section invited me to be a panelist at their March 18, 2021 event “Women in Project Controls – Reflection on Career Development”. At the event, I was asked about my journey into immigrating to Canada and breaking into the job market as a construction professional. For me, the opportunity to immigrate to Canada arose from having the profile that a Canadian company was looking for but couldn’t find in Canada. In this article, I reflect further on my answer... and hope to inspire some of you to look at the experiences and skills you already have, or need to work on, if you’re interested in an international career.

How Did I First Enter Canada?

The short answer to that question is that I actually came to Canada with a signed permanent employment contract in hand, together with all the required documentation for a work permit. This means that my new employer had to demonstrate that they couldn’t find anyone available and with the required skills in Canada. And this, in turns, means that I already had to have a fairly unique set of experience and skills at that time, together with having found a way to be at the right place at the right time.

But before looking at how I managed to have the relevant experience and skills, I want to highlight that:

  • I didn’t start my career thinking about the professional profile I needed to immigrate to Canada. I always wanted to work and live abroad, and to have different professional experiences, but moving to Canada wasn’t a goal in itself – I was only thinking of travelling and seeing the world…
  • And not each and every one of my experiences and skills helped me in being offered the position in Canada!

But I did spend my whole working life building up my own fairly unique profile, although without having a specific path and professional goals in mind – except for wanting to work and live abroad, and to have different professional experiences…

And the relevant elements of this fairly unique profile that helped me immigrate to Canada are: professional experience, education, languages, networking and speaking up for myself. So let’s look at each of these elements in more details:

1 Professional Experience

The role that allowed me to come to Canada was a claim manager position on high voltage transformer construction projects, working for the main contractor and equipment provider, on an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) type contract.

Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to:

  • Work on a wide range of project types, including a few combined cycle power plants construction projects. It is this experience in energy production type of projects that provided me with the most relevant experience for the position in Canada, as their organization was similar to the organization for the construction of high voltage transformers.
  • Work with different types of contracts, including on large EPC type contracts. Again, this experience was key for the position in Canada. Although the projects were different, and in different locations (the power plant projects were in India), the structure of these EPC type contracts tend to be similar.
  • Have held multiple positions throughout my career, from project coordinator to project manager, followed by claim consultant and finally contract manager. My 2 last experiences were the most relevant to the position in Canada: having already worked on reviewing claims prepared by others, having prepared some claims, having undertaken independent analyses and reviews, but also being able to read and understand how an EPC type contract works, how to assist the engineers in understanding the relevant parts of the contract, etc.
  • Have a general knowledge and understanding of construction project, earned throughout my career, such as: general understanding of the technical side of a construction project, ability to read drawings, schedules and budgets, ability to communicate with the different members of a construction project (engineers, finance people, schedulers, project management, in-house lawyers) who either had little contractual understanding or little technical knowledge.

In summary, the key elements of my career that very much helped me get the position in Canada are:

  • The type of projects I had previously worked on;
  • The type of contracts I was experienced with and understood;
  • The positions I held;
  • A general technical understanding of construction projects; and
  • Being able to communicate with the different members of a construction project.

2 Education

I believe that my education also played an important role:

  • I hold a BSc (Eng.) Building Technology and Management and a MSc (Eng.) International Construction Management, both from British universities, making my higher education easily recognizable in Canada;
  • As stated above, my education relates to both construction technology and project management, which are key to have a general technical understanding of construction projects; and finally
  • I had also furthered my education with a MSc in Construction Law & Dispute Resolution, from a well-known British university, which formerly supported my experience in claims and contract management and my ability to communicate with lawyers.

3 Languages

With Canada having both English and French as official languages, companies with offices and projects throughout the country value fluency in these languages. In my case, the employer was not only interested in someone fluently speaking the languages, but also in someone able to write and read formal documents as well as understanding contractual and legal terminologies.

But it took more than the above professional experiences and skills to be noticed for that position in Canada…

4 Networking and Speaking Up

I also relied on some networking and speaking up for myself, even though I very much consider myself an introvert… and no, I did not attend many events, speak to many people, “brag” about my education and language skills, my multiple experiences on different types of projects, working with different types of contracts, in different countries…

Instead, I managed to make the best of my professional circumstances:

  • The senior manager heading our contract management team was promoted to take over the American team, which included Canada. I didn’t have a close relationship with that senior manager but had had opportunities to have lunch and coffee with him and other contract managers.
  • Shortly before his departure for the US, a group of us were having coffee with him, some trying to highlight their interest in moving to the US. At some point in the conversation, I managed to say that, me, I was interested in Canada… I was the “dissident” voice, and that probably helped me… even if, at the time, I had absolutely no expectation.
  • However, some months later, there was an opening for a new claim manager position on an energy project in Canada. This is when he mentioned my name…
  • Of course, I still had to go through interviews and to provide the relevant confirmations for my qualifications and experiences before getting the offer. But without this little step in networking and speaking up for myself, I would never have heard of the position…


So, for me, my immigration journey to Canada started a long time before I ever thought of moving to Canada. I would say that my immigration journey started the day I decided to further my higher education in the UK, even though my knowledge of English was very basic at the time… And it continued through my multiple and varied professional experiences, further education and “daring” to put myself forward through some networking and voicing my interests…

In conclusion, it is my fairly unique combination of experiences and skills, together with putting myself at the right place at the right time, that allowed me to immigrate to Canada.

Of course, this is only one journey amongst many others, some like mine through obtaining employment before arriving in Canada, some through other means such as studying, obtaining a Permanent Resident card from abroad, being transferred within a company, via some employment programs…

In any event, if you’re interested in an international career, think about your unique profile (education, experiences, languages, other skills…), whether you already have it or you’re still building it, and see how you can highlight it to facilitate your immigration journey!

And for those of you who have immigrated in similar circumstances to mine, I would love to know what, in your opinion, were the key elements that helped you in your journey!