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April 12, 2023

Pathways to Success: Building Support Infrastructures for Internationally Trained Planning Professionals

Pathways to Success: Building Support Infrastructures for Internationally Trained Planning Professionals

Dr. Zhixi Zhuang, MCIP, RPP
Associate Professor, Graduate Program Director,
School of Urban and Regional Planning
Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University)


Immigration has long been a key contributor to Canadian population growth, economic prosperity, and social vitality and innovation. Economically, the benefit of the ‘brain gain’ — the acquisition of knowledge workers from the rest of the world has given Canada significant advantages by attracting global talents to not only fill the labour shortages, but also contribute to advancing human capital, innovation, and global exchange.

However, internationally trained professionals often face significant challenges after immigrating to Canada, such as a lack of Canadian work experience, inadequate social and professional networks, and difficulty in obtaining foreign credential recognition for professional licensing and certification. In the planning profession, an accredited planning degree is critical to obtain a full membership with the governing body in order to practice as a Registered Professional Planner in Canada.

Despite the fact that internationally trained planning professionals (ITPPs) can bring us a wealth of planning knowledge and experience from global planning practices, it has become imperative to provide them with the needed skills and hands-on training to transition and advance their planning careers in the Canadian context. Accredited planning schools can play a pivotal role in creating career-focused curriculum and programs to pave a pathway to success for highly qualified ITPPs. At the School of Urban and Regional Planning, Toronto Metropolitan University, our accredited Master of Planning (MPl) in Urban Development program[1] provides an accelerated stream that recognizes international education and experiences and supports ITPPs to obtain much needed training, skills development, and networking opportunities.

I had the great pleasure working with three ITPPs who recently graduated from our MPl accelerated stream program. I spoke with them about their life stories and professional experiences and aspirations, and found their perspectives shed light on how planning schools can play an important role in developing support infrastructures along with the commitment and investment from employers and accrediting and regulatory professional bodies. The following are the highlights of their backgrounds and responses to four interview questions.


Professional Backgrounds:

Eno Udoh-Orok used to work as a registered architect with over 10 years of experience with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Lagos, Nigeria. She’s now a Senior Planner within the City Planning Division of the City of Toronto. Prior to that, she worked as an urban designer in other Canadian municipalities.

Mohsen Alavi obtained his Master’s and PhD degrees in urban and regional planning from Iran where he was a registered professional planner working in the sectors of urban design, land use planning, and transportation for over five years. ​​He’s currently working as a planner in Toronto, conducting research related to transportation and the impacts of shared mobility on travel behavior and urban infrastructures.

Holding an MBA and a PhD degree, Parvesh Kumar had dedicated his earlier planning career to active transportation, energy efficiency, and climate resiliency with about 10 years of experience as a professional planner in India, working in the fields of real estate, urban reform, data-driven urban regeneration policy and applied research in various planning consultancies and think tanks. Currently, he is working as a planner with the City of Ottawa on affordable housing and community improvement plans, especially on budgets and financial feasibility of development incentives.


1.     How did the accelerated MPl program play a role in developing your planning career in Canada?

Parvesh: The program helped me kick-start my career in Canada. One of the big challenges I was facing before I attended the program was Canadian credentials. While my credentials were valid for the immigration program they were not recognized in the job market. I attended various settlement services programs before making the MPl decision but they did not yield much success. The MPl program provided me not only an accredited degree, but also insight into planning work in Canada. I really benefited from the mentorship and structured learning. Much of the content was familiar and so the courses were a refresher, while it was useful to study specific Ontario legislation and governance structure.

Mohsen: The MPl program played a significant role in developing my planning career in Canada. The courses provided at the program were exceptional and helped me to update my knowledge and understand Canadian planning policies, which were different from my previous experience. The program's mentorship opportunities were very helpful, and I found that the faculty members not only had great knowledge in this field but they also continued to provide assistance even after graduation whenever I had a professional question. Overall, the MPl program provided me with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed as a planner in Canada, and the faculty members' ongoing support has been invaluable in my professional growth.

Eno: Skills learned through the MPl coursework included, among others, design and development, community consultation, critical analysis, and networking. They are skills I still utilize today.


2.     What was one of the highlights of your MPl experience that helped transition your planning career in Canada?

Eno: The MPl program included a rich blend of coursework that opened my eyes to my role as a planner in a vastly multicultural city.

Mohsen: One of the highlights was taking the Professional Practice and Ethics and the Legal Context of Planning courses. These courses helped me understand important aspects of planning in Canada that are crucial to working in this field, such as legal and ethical considerations. Additionally, the Multicultural Cities course practically helped me understand diversity and inclusion in urban planning, which has been extremely beneficial in my professional job. Overall, these courses provided me with valuable insights and knowledge that have been instrumental in my success as a planner in Canada.

Parvesh: Rebuilding my self-confidence as a professional, and the acknowledgment of my previous knowledge and experience through the program was the biggest help to start my Canadian planning career journey.


3.     What would you say to other ITPPs who’re seeking opportunities to contribute their knowledge and expertise to Canada’s planning profession?

Eno: I would say to attend networking events. Also to get a mentor to guide you through the career path you have chosen.

Parvesh: I would suggest that other ITTPs come prepared to learn and appreciate the similarities and differences in planning professional practice in your home country and newly chosen home in Canada. The difference gives us the opportunity to learn and evolve as professional planners and the similarities make that journey easier to some extent. However, there is an upfront cost in terms of taking junior positions to get your career started in Canada, especially for a planner with 10 years-plus of experience like myself.

Mohsen: I highly encourage other ITPPs to consider enrolling in the MPl program at TMU. This program offers both practical and academic knowledge, as well as great networking opportunities that can be instrumental in advancing one's planning career. Overall, I believe that the MPl program at TMU provides a solid foundation for success in the planning industry in Canada, and I highly recommend it to those looking to continue working in this field.


4.     For ITPPs, what kind of support do you think is most needed from local planning employers and professional bodies such as OPPI?

Eno: Mentorship is key. I had strong mentors who guided me through my MPl program. Mentors also provided strong support after graduation until I found a job. I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

Mohsen: For ITPPs, local planning employers and OPPI can provide support by offering legal context of planning courses and seminars, connecting ITPPs with potential employers and mentors, providing webinars and resources to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, and facilitating better connections with universities for further education and research opportunities.

Parvesh: First and foremost, an effort to recognize the university credentials that are already acknowledged in the immigration process, like World Education Services (WES) accreditation. The recognition of foreign credentials and experience in the job application process is essential.  Second, creating learning and training opportunities for professionals on the job. Such opportunities can pair up professionals based on experience level with other planners to expedite career growth. Employers can capitalize on the experience of ITPPs instead of seeing it as a lack of Canadian credentials, since we all have valuable and varying experiences from our countries of origin. OPPI can provide a platform like an online forum or quarterly events for ITPPs to share experiences on a wide variety of topics.


Major Takeaways:

Amplifying the stories and voices from these three MPl alumni is important, as it offers valuable insights for employers, planning schools, and accrediting and regulatory professional bodies to revisit, revise, and improve current policies and practices. Immediate action items can include but not limited to, an improved system to recognize foreign credentials, curriculum (re)development to support ITPPs’ career transition and advancement, and continuous mentorship, professional training, and networking opportunities. In the long run, it requires collaborations between these key players to continue developing support infrastructures that can help maximize the potential contributions of ITPPs to the Canadian planning profession and advance its competitiveness in international markets. Ultimately, it calls for system-wide changes to achieve a “more accessible and inclusive profession and Institute” (CIP, 2020, p. 2) as outlined in the Canadian Institute of Planners’ Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Roadmap.



Canadian Institute of Planners (2020). Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Roadmap.

[1] See program website: A virtual information session about the program is scheduled on April 20, 2023. Register at:

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Dr. Zhixi Zhuang, MCIP, RPP

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