Ontario’s Clarion Call for Putting Diversity to Work

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration makes the case for why hiring skilled immigrants is essential to business.

By Ranjit Bhaskar, Maytree

When Steam Whistle set up business in downtown Toronto in 1998, the brewery wanted a brew master with a master’s degree in the field. As no such post-secondary education program existed in North America then, it was forced to look afar for talent. It found the right person in the Czech Republic.

“If you’re going to [produce] a pilsner that competes internationally, you need to have people capable of bringing that to the table,” Steam Whistle co-founder Greg Taylor told the Globe and Mail in an interview. “[Also, immigrants] take their jobs very seriously and are very passionate, and at the end of the day that helps your bottom line.”

The need for global talent to remain competitive has only intensified in the years since. And that’s the message Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was driving home at the [email protected] conference held by Skills for Change in Toronto at the end of February 2014.

“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world to Ontario and the situation is not like before. Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Minister Coteau. “The mayor of Calgary [Naheed Nenshi] was in town the other day to attract talent to his city.”

The minister said Ontario wanted to implement a new immigration strategy and intended to fully maximize the advantages newcomers and diversity bring. He pointed out that globally, seven out of the top ten brands were founded by immigrants and together these companies now employed 10 million people world-wide. “Same is the case with Fortune 100 companies and nearer home. A Bank of Montreal study found that half of Ontario’s rich are immigrants.”

The good and the bad

With one-third of Ontario’s ruling Liberal caucus being born outside the country and a quarter of them being visible minorities, “the good news is that people in government share the same stories as the immigrant population of the province,” said the minister.

But he also mentioned some bad news, namely the province and Canada underutilizing the skills of internationally-trained immigrants. A 2004 Conference Board of Canada study estimated the cost to Canada as between $3.4 – 5 billion per year in lost productivity. According to Statistics Canada, among those employed in 2006 only 24% of foreign-educated immigrants were working in the regulated profession for which they trained compared to 62% among Canadian-born.

A 2012 TD Economics study says simply closing the gap in employment rates between newcomers and native-born Canadians would mean approximately 370,000 additional people working. It is estimated that the potential increased personal income if newcomers’ skills were rewarded on par with that of native-born Canadians would top $30 billion or 2% of GDP.

Most importantly, Minister Coteau said immigration is not a one-way ticket. Newcomers to Ontario arrive with vital ties and connections to their former homelands that can be leveraged to produce economic growth and prosperity for Ontario. “We want to tap into global trade as at present only 7% of our companies are looking out for opportunities outside of the U.S. One of the keys to realizing this two-way benefit is to quickly integrate immigrants into our economy. Another key is to get the internationally trained working in their fields as soon as possible.”

He pointed to the TD Economics study that said “Newcomers complement the skills of the domestic labour force, bring new investments and innovative practices, help to open trade routes with their countries of origin and enhance cultural diversity.” Indeed, building stronger and inclusive communities that promote and value diversity would help all Ontario businesses and municipalities grow and succeed.

You don’t have to convince Steam Whistle. Since its first hiring experience 16 years ago proved to be a good one, the brewery has been proactive in employing new immigrants without Canadian training and experience. Today, its staff reflect Toronto’s much acclaimed diversity. In 2007, Steam Whistle’s inclusive hiring was recognized when it won the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Immigrant Success Award for leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.

The business case for diversity couldn’t be clearer. Listed below are a few more Good Ideas from far and near:

Find Your Way