Sunil Rao

These are early days for Torontonians into the global economic slowdown, but residents are already being affected.

And, as the recession bites deeper, recent immigrants are bound to get hit even more acutely, acknowledged Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council).

“We therefore need to do everything we can to provide fair access and create economic opportunities for all Canadians,” McIsaac told SA Focus. “While newcomers should be open to innovation, Canadian businesses also need to understand the value they bring, and to tap into the opportunities immigrants bring.

“Businesses need to get the message they aren’t doing this as charity, but as a bottom-line business decision,” she added.

McIsaac was speaking on the sidelines of a free all-day workshop TRIEC had organized earlier this month in order to help sharpen the networking skills of new immigrants and to connect them to professional resources to help advance their job search in Canada.

Whether it was a case of the economic slowdown already exacting a toll, or whether it was due to good marketing- or, even, whether the free food on offer was the draw- the downtown Toronto event on a cold Saturday itself proved very popular: an estimated 500 skilled immigrants in the Toronto Region who had yet to gain entry into their field of choice attended.

“Attendees range right from those just a few weeks in Canada to those who’ve been here five, six, or even more years,” McIsaac said, indirectly admitting there were several there who were at least under-employed, despite having been here for an appreciable period.

She pointed out TRIEC itself works mainly with employers, and their HR professionals. “We try to ensure employers are looking through the right lens, and to see if work practices are changing even as our demographics change.”

Given the likelihood of newcomers facing a steeper climb out of the economic uncertainty ahead, what should un- and under-employed skilled professionals look for in the short to medium term future?

SA Focus spoke to four immigrants at the event from which we can draw lessons:

  • Mike Lipkin, a renowned motivational speaker who despite scaling the heights of success today feels the need to constantly reinvent himself and make himself relevant to his audience;
  • Jey Dharmaraj, who brought to bear his transferable skills to work in several business and marketing jobs in corporate Canada as well as in the public sector, and who is today a communications specialist;
  • Milind Joshi, an IT expert who came to Canada five years ago and “stayed lateral” without being “hung up on my earlier job (and designation) prior to Canada” and who today views opportunities in challenges; and
  • Rajiv, a 50-something scientist who came just three months ago to Canada “which gave me the opportunity to migrate even at this age” and is focused on making it here within his self-imposed timeline of 12 months.

Mike Lipkin

“Live every day as if it’s your last, and learn as if you’re gonna live forever,” inspirational speaker and fellow immigrant Mike Lipkin exhorts his 500-strong audience.

Lipkin, who was born in the UK and raised in South Africa, is today based in Toronto but has worked with over a million people in 43 countries, and has authored four best-sellers.

“I was a king in South Africaâ?¦ but when I came to Toronto I was just a newcomer here, same as everybody else,” he told participants. That’s when the realization hit, and his advice to newcomers- and to everyone- is: “The past is done- sure, it’s brought you to this stage, but we need to improve to be successful in future.

“All of us have many strengths, but have been trained in one strength (in our previous job, in our previous country). Well, we’ve to find another strength that we already have, and transform ourselves,” he said.

Lipkin had five tips for success:

  1. Ready ourselves every day mentally and physically for the challenge: “I myself start my day by going online to see other inspirational speakers like Jack Welch or Stephen Covey or Steve Jobs, to learn from them and inspire myself for the task ahead.”
  2. Identify 10 people you need to call to further yourself in life or your career.
  3. Try to give back to the community: “I don’t see this as my doing a favour to others; in fact, in giving, I get back more from you!”
  4. Find another partner to help me be more successful: “For instance, I may look for ways in which someone can provide me with another technological tool that can make my talk more interesting, or provide some fresh insight into my subject matterâ?¦ in other words, I’m really looking to align with someone who can help me.”
  5. Help transform and improve yourself through education as a continuous, ongoing process: “(Given the rapid technological strides and changing consumer requirements) I myself am working towards evolving from an in-person motivator to an online educator.”

Jey Dharmaraj

His is the typical immigrant story, as far as any immigrant story can be typical. For he’s worked in different fields, turned his hands to various trades, and been as flexible as the marketplace has demanded of him.

Jey Dharmaraj was sales and marketing manager for Sheraton Hotels, India, prior to his move to Canada in 1988.

“In those days immigration formalities didn’t take so much time, and we received our papers almost before we were ready to move,” he grins.

Things were a little different then, two decades ago- but immigrant values, hopes and aspirations were the same. “I perhaps had some unrealistic expectations then, but I was lucky in having some positive people around me who encouraged me to be more flexible and realistic in my career ambitions,” he says.

“I also learnt the power of networking.”

Dharmaraj first worked in the private sector, then set up his own consulting business serving a variety of client segments. Owing to personal circumstances- his daughter was involved in a serious accident- he could no longer devote enough time to his consultancy, and went back to corporate Canada, before yet another change led to his considering a job with a government agency.

Today he’s a communications specialist with Statistics Canada.

Right through, Dharmaraj has sought to keep upgrading his skills through academic programs: “It certainly helps to go for those three- and six-month certificate programs: they give us added perspective, and also makes us that much more acceptable to prospective employers.”

Milind Joshi

A software developer by training, Milind Joshi suddenly found himself in Toronto just like many of us do: “By sheer default.”

He is also one who has consistently capitalized on the challenges to gain his opportunity.

Originally hailing from Pune in India, Joshi made his way to Canada in 2003, after stints in Germany and Switzerland. “Initially I looked around for jobs, but I found nothing very promisingâ?¦ so I set myself up in business.”

He agrees it isn’t easy to run as an independent business owner. “It’s not very easy- but it’s very interesting. And the resources available here are incredible, simply mind-blowing. You also have mentorship, counselling that you can tap into.”

On the downside- and something that’s to be guarded against- Joshi feels there’s a great deal of negativity in the immigrant community, and that can draw you down. “The trick is to stay lateral, and look for the opportunity.”

So there must be plenty of opportunity in the IT industry, despite the economic downturn? “Not really, customers are slashing orders, they’re outsourcing big time to India.”

So it’s doom and gloom in IT as well? “Well, not necessarily,” he says, helping himself to the lunch buffet- and the opportunities- on offer. “Everyone’s looking for risk analyses, that’s going through the roof.”

Rajiv K.

Rajiv was prepared for Canada fully two years before his papers came through.

He’d applied for immigration in 2002.

“I quit my job as a research and development electronics expert in defence, based in New Delhi, in 2006, and started working in project managementâ?¦ you see, I was preparing myself for Canada,” he explained.

His papers came through in April 2008. “The doors opened for me, and I landed in short order on Aug. 1 this year.”

Rajiv is determinedly upbeat about his prospects here: “Sure there are plenty of opportunities; I’m confident I’ll be back in my field before the 12-month deadline I’ve set myself.”

Is he looking to leverage his transferable skills in allied fields? “That way lies labour jobs, which could result in my getting sidetracked, perhaps permanentlyâ?¦ No, I’d rather wait and focus on getting a job in my line as soon as possible.”

And in such behaviour, perhaps all of us can see a little of Rajiv in ourselves, when we first came to Canada?

Reference: South Asian Focus