Metropolis Conference 2017: Workshop Highlights

Metropolis ConferenceOn March 16-18th 2017, the City of Montreal hosted the 19th National Metropolis Conference, the annual forum for researchers, policy makers, and representatives from community and settlement organizations to share and exchange knowledge and experience in the field of immigration and settlement. This year’s theme, Looking Forward: Migration and Mobility in 2017 and Beyond, included rich and diverse plenaries, workshops and roundtable discussions that delved deep into topics that ranged from Syrian refugees’ employment outcomes to the increasingly important role of international students as a growing immigration category, and much more. The discussions were as much a reflection of the diverse Metropolis attendees as they were of the Canadian immigration landscape.

Our Global Diversity Exchange colleague at Cities of Migration hosted a timely and engaging workshop on Inclusive City Building: Striving to Create a City with Room for Diversity and Inclusion. Focusing on cities as central to the integration and inclusion of immigrants, experts examined local, national and international models and practical strategies designed to help build open, welcoming communities. Human rights experts, immigration specialists and city leaders from Canada, the United Sates, and Australia shared insights, best practices and made a compelling case for inclusive city building.

Session Highlights:

  • Cities matter – Immigration is a matter of national policy but the success or failure of the immigrant experience happens at the local level.
  • Unusual suspects – Multi-stakeholder strategies are needed to build inclusive cities: local government; non-profit organizations; community organizations; and employers.
  • Shared prosperity – The path from integration to inclusion to shared prosperity involves everyone; both newcomer and receiving community.
  • Measure results – When trying to build a culture of inclusion in your city, the old adage holds true: ‘what gets measured, gets done’. Cities can look to creative tools such as standards, benchmarks and programs that have been created by Welcoming America, Welcoming Cities, The City of Toronto, the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, The City of Calgary, and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Hire Immigrants’ workshop, Disrupting the Hiring Bias: The Role of the Private, Public and Nonprofit Sector, focused on immigrant employment as a priority involving three key stakeholders: public sector, private sector, and the nonprofit sector. Dr. Linda Manning, an Intercultural Economist and Founder of Leadership Mosaic., who opts to use ‘unexamined assumptions’ instead of ‘unconscious bias’ to explain employer behavior, explained that employers will not change unless they have to or unless it is in their best interest. Organizations, agencies and advocates that work to create employment pathways for skilled immigrants must build relationships with employers to help them realize why it’s in their best interest to invest in immigrants as a talent pipeline. Dr. Manning believes that to change attitudes, behaviors and practice requires four key principles: Trust and Mutual Benefits; Experience; Practice; and Successful Outcomes.

Continuing the strong focus on employer engagement and behavior, Aamna Ashraf, Director of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group (PNSG), presented Economic Integration Starts with Employers: Exploring Bias, Behaviours, and Barriers. Sharing findings from a PNSG working group on Economic Inclusion, Aamna explained that employment programs that ensure alignment between funder requirements and newcomers’ needs often lead to favourable employment outcomes for newcomers. But what role do employers have in impacting these outcomes? Findings from a 2015 survey conducted by PNSG highlighted that, for employers, soft skills are very critical, and more and more employers are using this hard-to-define skill set as a determinant of employability.

PNSG’s findings demonstrate a new layer of complexity that newcomer and immigrant job seekers face, and often, soft skills are a requirement that are hard to demonstrate. Soft skills, Ashraf explained, “are an elusive concept referring to unspoken, tacit, and taken-for granted cultural knowledge that is neither easy to acquire or demonstrate on one’s resume…”. Soft skills, then, are often used as a means to screen candidates, impact job retention or lead to unsuccessful interview outcomes, because they are used to assess whether someone is “Canadian enough”.

Our final panelist shared successful examples of public-private partnerships that work, are sustainable, and positively impact both employer and job seeker. Nicole Pereira, Manager, Government Contracts & Training Services at Seneca College, presented on Collaborative Synergies Between the Public, Private and Not for Profit. Seneca’s models of collaboration engage employers from the very beginning of program design, to ensure that programs such as Alternative Career Pathways for IEHPs/IMGs are created with employer needs and skills demand in mind. Web Programming for Priority & Newcomer Youth is another successful initiative that directly involved labour market data to inform the design, training and delivery of the Program. With many more successful examples like these, Nicole explained that Seneca’s partnership model is successful because each partner is given a key role in the overall design, delivery and post-program outcomes. Immigration Serving Organization’s (ISO) help to recruit and provide soft skills and job readiness training. Seneca College provides labour market research, vocational and academic training and co-op placement. Employers are advisors: they customize curricula, provide guest speakers from industry/sector, mentor students, and provide work placement and employment opportunities.

Session Highlights:

  • Building relationships with employers is key to fostering immigrant-friendly behaviors and practices
  • Moving beyond a single hire is always the goal – building trusting relationships between employers and immigrant employment agencies is the first step
  • Engaging SMEs requires relationship building through ISOs/community organizations, understanding employer needs and developing programming and activities that are inclusive of employers and immigrant job seekers.
  • SMEs are more agile and open to change that enhances performance and productivity- to influence change, employer and community partner agencies must invest time and resources.

Magnet, Ryerson University in partnership with Hire Immigrants produced this article. The article is made possible with the funding from the Government of Ontario.