Are we ready to support newcomers/ Immigrants in Canada?
A plan to welcome a record number of immigrants to Canada includes bringing in needed workers, but experts and employers say more could be done to help newcomers arrive and thrive in their new home as per CBC News.
Opinion piece outlining shortcomings of non-profit employment services for newcomers, with suggestions for improvement.
It was 2001 when we landed in Canada after my husband was laid off from an IT role at a Fortune 500 company in the United States. He had a degree from the US, and experience with a top company and we were hopeful.
My husband ended up working in a factory for a couple of months, alongside many other internationally trained professionals. Trying to find work that was more aligned with his skills, he visited employment agencies, including non-profit agencies that only had bridge jobs. He later found a contract IT role through a recruitment agency.
His experience is not uncommon. In Canada, we met many internationally trained professionals who were well-qualified under the immigration system but couldn’t secure work that aligned with their backgrounds. Often, they blamed the “no Canadian experience” barrier. This continues to be a massive problem for many newcomers to Canada. Read more on our journey as an immigrant and No Canadian Experience rejections.
To this day, the struggle to find the right support for newcomers in Canada is real. While employer perceptions of internationally trained professionals present a significant barrier to employment, in my experience, we also need to consider where employment services and free-funded newcomer's programs may be falling short.
Employment services and career services for newcomer bridging programs may be falling short.
In 2017, I was laid off, therefore, I took services with outplacement services offered in my severance. After the service got expired, I wanted to take advantage of our funded free employment services as a taxpayer. I reached out to a couple of reputed non-profit employment agencies and signed up for a few free webinars to understand their job search strategy training. I was disappointed by what I found.
I had leadership and hiring experience from the award-winning company for over a decade. From my perspective, there were major gaps in training and support for Canadians. Employment consultants who had never been on the hiring side or had not been certified in coaching were delivering training to job seekers. People who have never recruited by using Applicant Tracking System (ATS) were invited to these webinars to talk about ATS-friendly resumes. I often saw people drawing on fear-mongering stats, such as the myth that 80% of jobs are never posted. While networking can be a powerful tool, I saw agencies telling immigrant career professionals that online applications do not work, which is not true. The hidden jobs market might not apply to all the roles. Here are my insights into why the hidden job market is a myth.
I also found that non-profit employment agencies were not well-equipped to speak to current hiring trends. The resume world had changed, and employment agencies were still teaching outdated resume tips with objective statements and references available upon request. For example, jobseekers were not being advised on how to boost their chances of being seen by recruiters on LinkedIn. Many of the trainers didn’t even have a branded profile on LinkedIn themselves. They had never used the LinkedIn Recruiters tools. Trainers also did not seem to be incorporating the latest information about AI recruiting tools, including personality-based assessments which were being used by employers for a specific types of roles. I firmly believe that if you want to teach anyone, you need to learn about the tools or invite those to the webinars who know about the current recruiting trends.
Recruiting has moved to the virtual world and not knowing the current trends hurt jobseekers. Additionally, I was also concerned that the jobs being advertised through non-profit agencies were mostly bridge/entry-level jobs. The employers during career fairs didn’t have jobs for mid-level professionals. I assumed may be the type of role, I was targeting is not their expertise and moved on.
After identifying the gap in employment service centers, I wanted to pivot to non-profit employment services as my skills were transferable to employment services.
While there are many factors influencing immigrant professionals’ job search, I questioned whether employment services – which may be an individual’s first line of job search support in a new country – were doing everything they could to set job seekers up for success. I targeted the roles at employment services to understand the internal system.
I was offered a job in employment services and was excited to bring my background as a hiring manager to support job seekers. I didn’t blame the individual career professionals, but rather the system they work within, which was not equipping them with appropriate training. The job descriptions for many of the employment consultants were solely focused on counselling, rather than having experience in the hiring world. This is a disservice to immigrants. I witnessed that outdated templates were being used in the resources center. I didn’t find that agency was equipped to support career professionals, especially newcomers and mid-level career professionals. The city has an active newcomer immigration pilot program running and I don’t think they are well equipped to handle it in my opinion. There was no action plan including Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for handling the newcomer pilot program in the remote. There were limited people of colour working in the agencies in the remote. Most people knew each other due to the small town.
I offered to teach for free but was told that it was not part of my job description. I spoke out about the gaps in service during a team meeting, such as templates and training for Resumes being outdated, but ultimately, I decided to resign from employment services and start my own business. I didn’t feel my voice was heard when I brought my concern to the management. Looked like career strategy wasn’t their priority at that time. The funding seemed to be mishandled. This is when I resigned on the spot, said goodbye and started full-time career consulting.
I get many clients who go through funding programs for newcomers and group bridging programs. They all have a similar concern about training delivery. My concern is who is auditing the service delivery on the ground. I would like to offer an option for those who can’t hire me for 1:1 mentoring as I only work with a few selected career professionals.
Here is an example of my recent client who took free funded services and as per her it was a “waste of her time” . She was bold enough to speak out because she was frustrated.
How can we better support newcomer professionals?
Recently, I was interviewed by CBC news on Canada is planning to get 1.24 million immigrants to fill the labour shortage. My client was featured alongside me to talk about her journey as an immigrant and bridging program. Canada is running immigration pilots one after another, which brings many qualified immigrants to this country. This presents a major opportunity for Canada to address skills and labour gaps – but only if newcomers are adequately supported. Here are several suggestions to improve support for internationally trained professionals through non-profit employment agencies.
Adjust qualifications and training
Non-profit employment agencies need to hire the right type of consultant to train internationally trained professionals with up-to-date tools. Either require a hiring background or provide employees with adequate training delivered by experts. Employment service professionals need to be able to offer customized job search training based on each client’s experience. Where possible, agencies should be able to connect newcomers with industry-specific mentors.
Collaborate with experts and pay them
Employment services are running free webinars by inviting experts. I dedicate volunteer hours yearly to give back to the newcomers' community. Once, I asked why they haven't partnered with a career expert to teach job strategy to newcomers. The answer from the director was it is a conflict of interest. I am still rethinking about conflict of interest, why is it that when it comes to free webinars these agencies don't hesitate to reach out to experts but when it comes to paid partnerships/ sessions there is a conflict of interest? There is funding available for the newcomer's pilot program, why not allocate the budget for guest speakers/ training?
It would be ideal to collaborate with experts in their field, but these experts need to be compensated. Outsource the job search strategy for newcomers to a reputed business/career consultant who specializes in working with internationally trained professionals. Agencies could also bring in a consultant to provide training to staff or to offer workshops for newcomer clients. What is stopping employment agencies from inviting experts to run cohort programs for internationally trained professionals and utilize the funding the best way? it is definitely not a conflict of interest but poor execution.
Challenge employer biases
Lastly, immigrants face many biases from employers when job searching in Canada. Agencies could partner with the top employers and refer the right candidates after identifying the fit. Employment agencies need to prepare newcomers for this reality while also advocating for change with employers. Non-profit career services can support employers to create inclusive job descriptions – for instance, by advocating for the removal of “local experience” requirements, unless absolutely necessary. They can encourage businesses looking to connect with newcomers to access equity, diversity and inclusion training, to mitigate bias in their hiring practices. They can also advocate for hiring newcomers, highlighting the many strengths their international experience can bring to the Canadian workforce.
To sum up, I have noticed gaps in funded services which are costing taxpayers overall. If we want immigrants to succeed, we need to fix the gaps. Immigrants are qualified but need the right direction and tools. Telling newcomers to gain Canadian experience by doing a bridge job or starting from ground zero is not the right career strategy. Immigrants left home not their skills and brain behind. Train the employment services agents with the right tool and resources before running any cohorts/ bridging programs. Invite the right experts based on the niche roles/ industry to deliver training. One Size Doesn't Fit All.
Sweta Regmi is a hiring manager from award-winning companies turned into Founder and CEO at Teachndo, a Certified Career & Résumé Strategist and was named the Top 25 Job Search Expert to follow on LinkedIn in 2021. Her insights have been featured in CBC National News, City News, CTV, National Post, Yahoo, MSN, The Globe and Mail, Forbes, The Sun, The Toronto Sun, LinkedIn News, Indeed, Colleges, Career Conferences, and many more. She is the Amazon Best Seller of 21 Resilient Women.