Look no Further for the Best and the Brightest; The Solution to Canada’s Labour Shortage lies in Integrating its Skilled Newcomers

In today’s globalized economy, access to the best and the brightest from all corners of the world becomes pivotal for businesses’ success. However, many Canadian employers across the country have come to realize that most of the times, the best and the brightest are closer than one might think. Global electronic manufacturing services provider SMTC is living proof of that.

Countering the rising trend among manufacturers to move offshore in order to remain competitive, SMTC has decided to remain in Markham, a small city of the Regional Municipality of York that lies within the Greater Toronto Area. The reason given for this decision is simple: the region’s talent, whose large immigrant population offers the company the highly skilled and diverse staff that other competitors have been unable to find in their home cities.

According to Alex Walker, co-CEO and president of SMTC, skilled immigrants are essential to GTA’s economy, helping its companies stay afloat and succeed in an increasingly globalized economy. “To be globally competitive, you have to be competitive in different cultures. We don’t proactively go out and say, ‘Guys, we need to recruit from these communities.’ It is a given,” said Walker.

Today, one-third of SMTC’s senior management team is composed of skilled immigrants, and 95% of its employees on the production floor, as well as 50% of its headquarters’ staff are new to Canada. This approach has brought the company extraordinary success. The wide diversity found within SMTC has resulted in an unmatched flow of innovative ideas that have kept the company competitive. Its employees’ language skills and knowledge of various cultures has helped them better connect and negotiate with international suppliers, as well as serve a wide variety of international clientele. In the year 2012 alone, the company boasted $300 million in revenue.

SMTC’s nobel approach to skilled immigration takes place in the midst of a regional, large scale set of initiatives that the Regional Municipality of York has been putting in place in order to better integrate its rising immigrant population into the labour market.

In comparison to other major urban centers in North America, the Greater Toronto Area boasts a significantly larger immigrant population (46%), with other mega cities, such as New York (28%) and Chicago (18%), falling considerably behind. This is a trend worth maintaining in order for the country to retain its competitive edge on the global stage, especially given Canada’s current labor shortage on varying sectors of the economy and the country’s aging population.

However, in spite of the clear need to attract and retain skilled labour from abroad, the country’s labour market has found multiple barriers to fully integrating its immigrant workers. Unemployment rates among highly educated recent immigrants to Canada sits at 13%, a shocking number when considering that this rate falls to just 3% for Canadian-born university degree holders. According to CIBC, this staggering unemployment rate has proven to be highly detrimental to the Canadian economy. It is costing the country $20 billion in forgone earnings alone each year.

At the root of this issue is the labour market’s failure to effectively connect Canadian employers with prospective immigrant employees. More government action needs to be placed on familiarizing both employers and prospective employees with these resources. Given the highly educated immigrant population that Canada has been able to amass over the years, there is always a perfect fit for any labour need. The challenge is to find it. York has decided to rise to that challenge.

With a growing number of new immigrants calling this city home, York decided in 2009 to provide avenues for its immigrants to fully integrate into the region’s workforce. It soon became apparent that it was the difficulty in accurately evaluating foreign credentials what lessened these skilled population’s chances of being employed. In view of this shortcoming, York decided to create its own foreign credential process guide. The guide details when and how to assess foreign credentials, and has done so with unprecedented success. The regional government can now say that close to 30% of its workforce is foreign-born and happily employed.

“The guide [prevents] hiring managers passing over good, qualified candidates,” said Kyle Verrips, a human resources consulting manager of the York Region

Apart from the guide, York has also actively participated in various other internship and career bridge programs with numerous community groups in order to assist newcomers in obtaining Canadian work experience in their field of expertise. Among the beneficiaries is Filipino engineer Leany Moreno, who participated in a one-year paid internship through the region’s Professional Access and Integration Enhancement program in 2009. Upon her completion of this program, she was hired permanently.

“The work placement is tailored to our experience, so we don’t have to settle for careers not related to our education and training,” said Moreno, who works as an industrial treatment engineer at York. “I’m really proud of my employer.”

Amidst this wave of positive change taking place in the Greater Toronto Area, valuable lessons must be learnt and applied throughout the country. In the last few years, the federal government has been adamant at connecting Canadian employees with Canadian employers. Yet, little has been done to extend these resources to skilled non-Canadians who have not been able to find a way into the labour market in their field of expertise.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Economic Action Plan for 2013 highlights with great pride the creation of the Canada Job Grant, which will provide 130,000 Canadians each year with $15,000 or more per person, to help ensure that Canadian citizens have access to the needed training and apprenticeship programs with Canadian employers in order to obtain employment in high-demand fields. Yet, no counterpart of this project was outlined for the millions of skilled immigrants who are currently unemployed or underemployed as a result of their failure to connect with Canadian employers in their field.

The goal of fully integrate Canada’s immigrant skilled workforce and ripping the benefits of this integration depends on parties involved: the immigrant, the employer, and the Canadian government. These stakeholders must ensure the availability of resources, mentorship, networking opportunities, and foreign credential recognition in order to give skilled workers the opportunity to benefit both themselves and the country.

As Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) so accurately affirms, “we will not be able to attract the best and the brightest workers to this country if we waste their potential when they get here. Canada stands to prosper by fully engaging the contributions of skilled immigrants. It’s in our best interest to make that happen.”


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