Making the Move From Guatemala to Canada's Environmental Workforce

Janelle Pagnucco | June-07-12




ECO Success Stories

Tommy Meza, Safety Inspector
Tommy Meza


Calgary, AB

Quality Health & Safety Coordinator, INOVA


There are many challenges to entering the workforce and for immigrants a primary roadblock can be the lack of Canadian qualifications.

Tommy Meza arrived in Canada nearly 5 years ago from Guatemala armed with a university degree in Agricultural Engineering. Despite his educational background, it became quickly evident that securing a job in his desired line of work would take both time and money in order to improve his qualifications and gain recognition for his foreign credentials.

Thankfully Tommy became aware of and enrolled in ECO Canada’s Environmental Immigrant Bridging (EIB) Program offered through the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS). At the time, the EIB program was in a pilot phase thanks to funding provided by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). The goal of the EIB program is to assist internationally trained professionals to succeed in the Canadian environmental sector.

The EIB program did indeed help Tommy bridge the gap and land a job that matched his career goals. Below is our interview with Tommy where we caught up with him on his background and how he finally arrived to working within Canada’s environment industry.

Why the Environment & Why Canada

What (or who) first interested you about the environment?

My major in university was Agriculture and back home I worked on several projects including those with an environmental focus. I grew up on a small farm and every day we used to go to the field and I discovered that one of my passions was working in the outdoors. 

What did you take in college or university and why?

Back home (in Guatemala) I studied Agricultural Engineering and Environment. I chose that field because agriculture, environment and safety are my passions. Here in Canada, I upgraded my education by taking the Occupational Health and Safety Certificate at the University of Calgary and I’m planning to take the Environmental Management certificate as well.  In the near future, I will obtain the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) accreditation and possibly the Environmental Professional (EP) designation.

Did you work in the environment industry before coming to Canada and if so, what was your job?

I’m an Agricultural Engineer and also a Spanish Teacher. I worked for several years in Agriculture, forestry, livestock, nutrition and Environment. Early in my career, I worked for a non-governmental organization where I gained agricultural and environment experience as an Agronomist. Later I worked as an Agronomist for international organizations such as the UN (FAO, WFP) and USAID (MFEWS). The last job I had there was working in disaster relief for the Guatemalan government for the Secretary of Food Security and Nutrition after Hurricane Stan. 

When did you come to Canada and why did you choose Canada?

I came on June 11, 2007 and in some ways Canada chose me because my wife is Canadian. I met her in Guatemala in 2001 when she was taking Spanish class; we were married in 2006 and I came to Canada in 2007. I also heard that Canada is a safe and nice country to live with a lot of work opportunities as well. 

Landing a Job in the Canadian Environmental Workforce

What is your current title and what are your job responsibilities?

Currently I’m working as Quality Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator for a company called INOVA which manufactures seismic equipment and software.
My responsibilities are quite varied and include the following: to provide training, employee safety orientation, work with a committee to resolve issues, and address any hazard concerns.

What has been your most important learning in the past year?

Being new to a position is always challenging. My current role is diverse and I’m busy learning a lot about safety issues, occupational health and safety systems, and working on audits.

How do you think your journey to finding a job in the environmental sector compares to other people (both Canadians and immigrants) that you have talked to?

It depends on the personality of the person, their network and ability to network, as well as the skills they have to offer. I do think that it is who you know, more than what you can do that first opens doors.

What specific skills/knowledge did you gain from the Environmental Immigrant Bridging Program that you feel helped you find your environmental job?

The EIB program was one of the best programs I came across through an immigrant services agency. Through it I learn about Canadian culture and the Canadian work environment, attended workshops on how to apply for a job, interviewing, etc., and also gained experience when I did my practicum with EHS Partnerships.

Looking back, how important was the EIB Program, ECO Canada, and the host immigrant serving agency in helping you get your foot in the door?

When I first started looking for a job I had no Canadian experience and my luck stopped there. The program helped me get my foot in the door and provided Canadian experience with a (temporary) placement. After that I got more interest from employers and more confidence.

Environemental Immigrant BridgingIf you could refer someone to the EIB Program, would you?

Yes, I definitely would refer others to the EIB program. Like I said, it really helped me get my foot in the door, build a professional network and build confidence. Even without a work placement the program would be useful but the placement for me was crucial for finding a job in Canada.

What advice do you have for other newcomers looking for an environmental job in Canada?

It’s not easy to get a job in Canada as a newcomer but it’s also not impossible!

Keep applying, keep networking and meeting people, keep your LinkedIn profile updated, and keep business cards with you all the time. Volunteer and join clubs, especially those that relate to your professional background. Above all, keep a good attitude and that will overcome any language difficulties with employers.

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We thank Tommy for sharing his story with us. The success he drew from the Environmental Immigrant Bridging program is the greatest compliment. ECO Canada is pleased to be offering the EIB program on a continual basis across Canada.

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