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Thursday, December 2, 2021
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Diversity

Breaking down barriers to newcomers’ success is key to Canada’s recovery

The Canadian government has pledged to welcome 400,000+ new immigrants over the next three years, beginning in 2021, and is on track to achieve this goal. This policy is essential to support Canada’s continued economic growth.

Ottawa’s decision to increase the level of immigration provides Canada with an infusion of skilled talent, supports the increase demands for goods and services, and builds investments in our economy. It is a protective step to safeguard our economy, while reducing the labour shortages linked to retirement and strengthening Canada’s gross domestic product.

While I am excited about the commitment, the recent Conference Board of Canada report, Counting on Immigration: Assessing COVID-19’s Impact and Planning for the Future, emphasizes that more urgently needs to be done to create an environment of success for these newcomers. The report points out that the cohort of immigrants who arrived during the COVID-19 pandemic face unique challenges – challenges Canada is not yet prepared to support. Our economic resurgence is still precarious, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a longer than expected recovery timeframe.

A 2014 report funded by Social Services and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) states, “Because the Canadian-born work force is aging, baby boomers are retiring, and the number of young workers entering the work force is declining, there is also a growing skills and labour shortage amidst global competition for talent.” The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the labour market pressures from Canada’s aging population, which will require immigrants to play a more significant role in Canada’s labour force. However, immigrants continue to face barriers to employment that are both institutional and systemic, including inadequate resources, services and inflexible schedules, as well as lack of credentials.

Immigrants arriving to Canada post-pandemic will face difficult labour market integration, discrimination related to race and credentialism, and economic uncertainty. Therefore, these immigrants will require additional support through policies and funding. The Conference Board report calls for matching increased immigration with more support for newcomers, urging the government to “Increase regionalization efforts to make up lost ground; Improve economic outcomes with deliberate policy choices; and Consider a different mix of immigrants.”

“Immigrants continue to face barriers to employment that are both institutional and systemic, including inadequate resources, services and inflexible schedules, as well as lack of credentials.”

Newcomers represent a motivated, skilled and dedicated workforce; however, many employers struggle to integrate newcomer employees into their businesses due to barriers to hiring newcomers such as information regarding international experience and training, lack of resources for both employees and newly hired newcomers to support workplace integration, lack of resources to develop career paths for newcomers and regional-specific barriers. More investment will be required through new academic bridging programs to provide skills building and upskilling to prepare newcomer jobseekers for the Canadian workplace.

Another major issue is soaring housing costs. The fact remains that discrimination affects immigrants’ ability to land well-paying jobs commensurate with their education and experience levels, which severely reduces their earning potential for many years. This affects their ability to afford decent housing.

In 2017, the Government of Canada rolled-out a 10-year National Housing Strategy to make sure more Canadians gain access to reasonably priced housing. Racialized individuals and new immigrants were recognized as priority groups under this scheme. Though immigration levels plunged during the COVID-19 pandemic, housing prices skyrocketed. This is an urgent policy problem that needs to be resolved quickly to make Canada an attractive and affordable place for newcomers. Obtaining consistent employment and getting access to sufficient and affordable housing are crucial initial steps in the newcomer immigration settlement process in Canada. A report by the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of British Columbia (2011) summarized that “newcomers who had been in Canada for five years or less were almost three times more likely to be in ‘core housing need’ (29.6%) than non-immigrants (11%).” Today, the housing-affordability gap has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and housing market dynamics.

The government must take steps to tackle the rising cost of housing in order that the 400,000 permanent residents invited to come in Canada annually can access decent, cost-effective housing. In preparation for the increase in immigrants, all levels of government across Canada must take lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic on equitable and fair housing needs of the population. The crucial requirement for secure, respectable, and reasonably priced housing demands to be recognized as a social determinant of health required for the integration and success of newcomers.

Skills for Change has developed specific bridge-to-work programming and extensive employer resources to support newcomer integration. However, we also recommend specific investments from all levels of government to support employers in hiring and better integrating newcomers. For almost 40 years, Skills for Change has developed and implemented responsive programs for employment, entrepreneurship, language training, mental health counselling and academic bridging, geared toward improving the labour market attachment rates for immigrants. As such, we are excited about this increase in newcomers and have designed new upskilling and reskilling Bridge2Work programs to support their easier labour market integration, strengthening outcomes in job retention. But as the Conference Board report indicates, more urgent focus and support are needed to build equitable and welcoming communities across Canada for newcomers.

Surranna Sandy, BA, MA, MBA, is the CEO of Skills for Change (SfC), a multi-service registered charity helping 20,000+ immigrants and refugees with learning and training opportunities to access and fully participate in the workplace and community, in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton (GTHA) area. She leads government relations/advocacy, strategy and operations, while championing SfC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives around Immigrants and Refugees in Canadian workplace through the Agency’s conferences, research, and employer engagement. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Global Development Practice (Sustainable Development) at Harvard University and a Graduate Diploma in Public Administration at The University of Western Ontario.
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Surranna Sandy, BA, MA, MBA, is the CEO of Skills for Change (SfC), a multi-service registered charity helping 20,000+ immigrants and refugees with learning and training opportunities to access and fully participate in the workplace and community, in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton (GTHA) area. She leads government relations/advocacy, strategy and operations, while championing SfC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives around Immigrants and Refugees in Canadian workplace through the Agency’s conferences, research, and employer engagement. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Global Development Practice (Sustainable Development) at Harvard University and a Graduate Diploma in Public Administration at The University of Western Ontario.
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