People with Jobs – Jobs with People

In this article, Ratna Omidvar, comments on how the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program presents an opportunity and a challenge for all stakeholders involved in immigrant employment.

By Ratna Omidvar, Maytree

The recent and relentless coverage of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has focused national attention on an issue that has silently crept up on us. The truth is that the program has grown at a rapid and exponential rate over the last few years without much public dialogue or consultation. At the same time as employers are looking overseas for talent that they believe they cannot find at home in Canada, we know that there are many thousands of immigrants, refugees and other Canadians who cannot find a job suitable to their skills and experience. As Rick Miner noted in his landmark 2010 study (PDF), it is the classic conundrum of “People Without Jobs; Jobs Without People.”

The changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program that the federal government announced on April 29 will make it more difficult and more expensive for Canadian employers to overlook talent on the ground.

This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the ALLIES community.

The opportunity

It calls on us, employers, community agencies, government, and post-secondary institutions, to strengthen our relationships. It calls on us to understand employers’ hiring needs and realities, to identify local talent and showcase it to employers in different ways. Minister Kenney urged employers to “triple” their efforts to find local talent. Let’s make sure we triple our own efforts in serving and connecting our local communities of employers and immigrants.

The challenge

Some habits are hard to break. The affinity for the easy route of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program may have become just such a habit. But the larger community of trainers, educators, NGOs and immigrant-serving agencies may also have fallen into some bad habits by failing to correctly identify the skills, competencies and attributes that today’s labour market demands, or to appropriately prepare, train and coach our job seekers to demonstrate these to employers. Here, too, we must triple our efforts to bridge whatever gaps exist.

Are we up to the challenge? I believe we are. ALLIES’ partners in cities across Canada have their ears to the ground and are connected with both local employers and with immigrant talent. These excellent relationships have brought us solutions such as the Internationally Educated Engineers Qualification program in Winnipeg, along with many other successful bridging programs.

Employers, too, have taken great strides in immigrant employment. Some of these leading employers have been recognized with RISE Awards in Edmonton, Immigrant Success Awards in Toronto, Employer Excellence Awards in Ottawa, and the Best Employers for New Canadiansaward among others. In addition, the hireimmigrants.ca website highlights promising practices from employers across the country.

We have the opportunity and responsibility to turn the situation around to “People with Jobs; Jobswith People.” If we continue to open the lines of communication and develop trust between us, ultimately, we will reap the results.

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