On February 27, 2024, TRIEC’s Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) program hosted its annual Talent Xchange event – Underemployment: Impact on Immigrants and the Canadian Economy. Leaders of professional immigrant associations, along with employers, service providers, immigrant leaders, and government representatives, and immigrant professionals, gathered at Toronto’s YMCA Auditorium to discuss the persistent issue of underemployment immigrant professionals in Canada continue to face.

Studies consistently show that underemployment is one of the most significant problems. Partly due to systemic bias and discrimination embedded in organizational cultures, highly skilled individuals often find themselves in low paying jobs, regardless of their qualifications and experience.

TRIEC’s 2022 Bridging the Gap report found that two in five newcomers stated they were in lower-level jobs since immigrating to Canada. The report also determined that immigrant professionals were less likely to advance in their roles as quickly as their Canadian-born counterparts. This not only affects the livelihoods and mental health of immigrant professionals, but ripples outwards to further impact their families and loved ones.

Craig Alexander, former Chief Economist for Deloitte, the Conference Board of Canada and TD Bank, delivered the keynote presentation at the Talent Xchange, in which he shared key data and insights on underemployment and its wide-ranging impact. Craig also highlighted that, while progress has been made in employment outcomes for immigrants, there are still many areas of improvement to address.

  1. Changing demographics: 47% of Toronto’s population consists of immigrants, and that number is increasing—immigration accounts for approximately 80% of the population’s growth in the last 5 years. Nearly 66% of recent immigrants are of working age (between 25 to 55 years old).
  2. Cost to the Canadian economy: Underemployment costs Canada up to $50 billion annually, and contributes to income inequality. Resolving underemployment not only benefits immigrant professionals, but also the economy.
  3. Income inequality: On average, newcomers earn anywhere between $9,000 to $11,000 less than Canadian-born workers. While the wage gap has decreased over the last few years, there is still significant room for improvement. In addition, there is also a substantial divide in salary between Canadian-born employees and immigrant men and women.
  4. Addressing barriers to labour market entry: In general, employers have failed to properly recognize the value of international education and work experience. Employers also often have unrealistic expectations in terms of appropriate skills or experience needed for certain roles. Yet, while immigrant professionals are often more educated, they are more likely to hold jobs in Canada that do not require a degree.

Following Craig’s keynote was an interactive Fireside Chat featuring Loretta Lam, Karen Johnson and Karen Peraza, immigrant leaders from International Association of Business Communicators Toronto, Black Female Accountants Network and Hispanotech, respectively. The presenters shared very powerful messages while discussing their own experiences in dealing with underemployment, and offered insights as to how it can be addressed.

  1. Building workplace inclusion: Inclusion should be a critical step in the employer’s core values. Underemployment doesn’t stop at the act of hiring immigrant professionals—it’s imperative to make newcomers feel welcome in their work environment, and to create a safe and comfortable space for employees to integrate and share experiences.
  2. Provide feedback to immigrant employees: Constructive feedback helps immigrant professionals learn more about the Canadian work culture, supports their professional growth, and, in turn, benefits the overall quality of everyone’s work and positions them to make a fuller contribution.
  3. Connect with the right people: It’s important for immigrant professionals to find a sense of community, and  surround themselves with people that can uplift them—starting over in a new country is not easy.  Mentorship and sponsorship, as well as joining networks such as a PINs association, can help provide a needed sense of belonging and also instill confidence.

Other highlights of the event included former and current and past members of the PINs Advisory Committee and Women’s Working Group being recognized their successful contributions to the program, and networking opportunities for attendees where they learned more about the resources and services offered by some of the exhibiting PINs associations and immigrant-serving agencies.

This year’s Talent Xchange event was a huge success, and highlighted the urgent need for a collaborative approach between employers and organizations working across the sector to address immigrant underemployment. As the data and first-hand accounts proves, it’s vital not only to help newcomers thrive and achieve their full potential in Canada, but also to support the growth of our economy and, in turn, our country.

For more information about the PINs Talent Xchange, or to learn more about TRIEC’s work, please email Rohit Singh at rsingh@triec.ca.