Oakville Beaver
May 16, 2008

Hiba Kesebi
Special to the Beaver

A picture is worth a million numbers.

At least that was the case Tuesday at the Halton Regional Centre, where people from throughout the GTA gathered to view the 20 Journeys exhibit that tells the story of 20 immigrants, who have contributed to the Toronto region labour market.

The display also showcases the importance of including skilled immigrants into the labour market.

“With each picture, there is a story that details the individual’s journey to success, and the employers, organizations and programs that made this success possible,” said Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC)–the organization that created 20 Journeys.

“The exhibition makes you think ‘What are the stories behind those skilled immigrants that you hear about?” she continued.

“It puts a face behind numbers [like the 60 per cent of immigrants of working age who have a post secondary degree and the six-out-of-ten immigrants who pursue jobs outside of their professions] and makes you think of the ways that these numbers could change.”

Of those faces and stories, Dr. Robert Turner, Sheridan College President and CEO, was most touched by Vikram Ahluwali.

Ahluwali, an immigrant from India, struggled with employment, especially because of his Sikh faith.

“Interviewers were always asking me about my religion … after much consideration, I decided to shave off my beard and remove my turban. I got two job offers in two weeks,” Ahluwali wrote in his photo profile.

“It’s just heart breaking to know that we haven’t moved past that stage,” said Turner, in the crowded Rotunda room.

Turner also said Canada will be facing a huge shortage of skilled workers and thus, colleges and employers should recognize the importance of skilled immigrants because they are the ones that can “fill in these shortages.” That is why Sheridan College is partnered with TRIEC, he explained.

Kamran J.K Niazi is on TRIEC’s board of directors. He hopes that the event, along with other TRIEC programs, will help ensure that “the demand of Canadian experience becomes less important.”

“It’s a great exhibit. Unfortunately most immigrants can relate to their stories. They all went through what the people in 20 Journeys went through. Hopefully, the display will create more awareness of the problem,” said Niazi.

Niazi, a certified accountant who immigrated from the United Kingdom, was offered a $15 per hour rate at his first job interview in Canada because he didn’t have Canadian experience. He walked out and didn’t take the job. He is now the vice president of major accounts at Robert Half Canada Inc., a company that specializes in consulting and staffing services.

“Companies and businesses should focus on immigrant sills, not resumes and home nationalities,” he said.

The 20 Journeys exhibit will be displayed in the Halton Regional Centre until May 24. The display has been mounted in cities throughout the GTA, however, this is its first time in Oakville. Many of the speakers at the event believe it has launched at a very critical time, because the immigrant population is rapidly increasing in Halton, and the need to acknowledge diversity is becoming vital.

“Immigration is increasing, and the attitudes towards immigrants will change, and will continue to change to the better. That’s the story of Canada,” said McIsaac.

Reference: Oakville Beaver