September 20, 2009

Patrick Gossage

Soon more than half of the population of the GTA will consist of people not born in Canada.These newcomers represent an enormous pool of skills and talent, which to our shame is still not finding its rightful place in the workforce.

Unlike earlier generations of immigrants, a large number now come with high skills and are well educated thanks to the point system, which got them landed immigrant status in the first place. Yet during this recession, likely because of the lower levels of jobs many are forced to take, StatsCan reports that they lost work at more than three times the rate of Canadian born workers.

Much of the problem of matching skills to jobs has to do with the fear among employers of the validity of experience and qualifications of immigrants. The other day I met a man with no such fears who has built a loyal, talented and well-paid workforce by taking immigrants at their word and training them for highly skilled manufacturing jobs in his plant in Vaughan. The man is George Gavrilidis, the president of Sherwood Electromotion, a successful rebuilder of the huge electric motors that power street and subway cars and locomotives.

Wish that there were more of him. Certainly, Corporate Canada is starting to talk the talk. Last Friday, Gord Nixon, CEO of RBC and Dominic D’Alessandro, former CEO of Manulife, penned a remarkable pitch in the Globe and Mail arguing forcefully that hiring skilled immigrants is the key to business success, and a critical factor in pulling us out of a recession.

Both companies have mentoring partnerships or resource groups to help cultivate an inclusive work force. They support the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, which has matched more than 4,000 skilled immigrants with established professionals. Maytree is a wonderful organization focused on immigrant employment issues. The Maytree-Alterna Savings Immigrant Employment Loan Program provides loans of up to $5,000 for newcomers to pay for short-term training (up to one year) to enhance skills/qualifications within their field and pay for professional examination and/or association fees.

Things are happening – but the yearly loss of tens of thousands of immigrants who return home disappointed in the jobs they can access here is a damning fact of how far the system is out of kilter.

More employers have to realize that tapping this language and cultural diversity is simply good business in a globalized world where language skills can be deal makers for companies working abroad, and in fostering more creative and productive workplaces at home.

TD Canada Trust CEO Ed Clark says, “By embracing people with a wide range of unique experiences, backgrounds and abilities, we open the door to innovation and cultivate positive change. We make our business stronger.”

More important for our overall prosperity, an RBC study quoted in the Globe article found that if immigrants had the same levels of employment and livelihood as native-born Canadians, personal incomes would be $13 billion higher.

It’s surprising, given the difficulty of matching employers with skilled immigrants, that nobody has mounted an Internet job board targeted at our diverse population that is driven by immigrants looking for work, not by employers. That may soon change as the company that publishes this paper, Multimedia Nova has an ambitious plan to do just that. Stay tuned.

Diversity has brought so many positive changes to this city. It is high time newer immigrants occupied their rightful place in its workforce.

Patrick Gossage is Pierre Trudeau’s former Press Secretary and a frequent political commentator in print and on television. This article represents his personal views only.

Reference: Canadian business leaders say hiring skilled workers will lead to success