By Lolade Odeyemi
Are you a skilled migrant in Canada having a hard time securing gainful employment? Well, you are not alone. A large percentage of foreign professionals in Canada, especially Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour (BIPOC) are continuously struggling to find their place in the country’s labour market year in year out. With each new set of immigrants, comes different tales of rigorous job search accompanied by a slew of rejections due to inherent factors like foreign work experiences, educational backgrounds, and subtle racism, among others.
While skilled migrants have for several years formed a larger part of the Canadian migrant population, the persistent job market prejudice and bias against this group has left the majority jobless, and others taking up survival jobs outside their original field of expertise just to make ends meet in the land they now call home. This discrimination against skilled migrants in the Canadian job market has remained a tough riddle to solve, and here is why. The skills and educational qualifications that made these expatriates eligible to migrate to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker program become inadequate for them to secure jobs in their occupation when they arrive in Canada. As such, many of them are barely surviving rather than thriving.
As a result of these growing pains, some immigrants have creatively mapped out strategies to maneuver the apparent hurdles in hiring processes. These strategies have so far proven to be effective.
Networking is an indispensable tool for navigating both social and professional spheres, especially for migrants. It is important to leverage online and in-person networking to build profitable relationships with fellow migrants and other groups, as this widens migrants’ pool of resources. In Canada, workplaces are big on referrals; in fact, many companies have referral systems that reward employees for referring other employees to the company. As such, employees of different organizations eagerly inform people in their network of different positions; and a lot of migrants have secured gainful employment through this means. Also, career progression requires specific and focused networking; something new immigrants may not quite understand initially, but become more attuned to as they make their way up the corporate ladder. For tips on how to strategically network as a migrant in Canada, look out for our next issue.
Some Canadian employers make hiring decisions just by spotting foreign names on a resume. They make assumptions about an applicant’s English language proficiency because of their non-English names. While this is unprofessional, it is the sad reality of migrants in the Canadian job market. So, getting past this obstacle would require you shortening your native name or altogether swapping it for an English name on your resume to boost your chances of advancing in the recruitment process. Many skilled workers have attested to the fact that they got more call-backs after they swapped their native names with their English-sounding names or the short versions of their native names, thus eliminating the graveyard silence that usually accompanies job applications. According to them, all they need is an opportunity to get in front of the employer to prove their skills. Fun fact; once the job is secured, you are at liberty to revert to your native name for the purpose of workplace interactions.
Take Short Courses
One major advantage of migrating to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker program is that permanent residency status avails expatriates’ access to government grants and loans for educational purposes. Taking advantage of short courses, bridging courses, advanced degrees, among others, would make you more marketable to employers, and further boost your chances of snagging great jobs in your field of specialization, as well as opening you even more to the Canadian system. While the speed in securing jobs after these courses isn’t a given, getting more attention on the job market is a certainty. Many skilled migrants have benefitted greatly from this route.
Volunteering in different capacities opens more doors of opportunities to skilled migrants struggling to secure gainful employment due to lack of Canadian work experience. So, if you are looking to get a foot in the door in your field, volunteering would benefit you. Although not many organizations have positions to absorb volunteers who have worked with them for a specific period of time, the experience grows your portfolio and positions you better in the job market. Just as strategic networking is important, strategic volunteering is equally important. Find opportunities to volunteer in your field or those that align well with your expertise. Remember your resume is your spokesperson before you meet any potential employer, so you must ensure that every experience acquired and added to your resume are attention-grabbing. Finding volunteering roles are not hard, there are many opportunities advertised on professional networks like LinkedIn and other job sites like Indeed; or through your local United Way website or other local community organizations. You can also use a Google search to find volunteering roles that best fit your purpose.
Improving Skilled Workers Experience in the Canadian Job Market
After all is said and done, there is only so much skilled migrants can do to scale through the hurdles of raging systemic discrimination plaguing the Canadian job market. The onus ultimately lies with the major players in Canada to ensure that expatriates especially members of the BIPOC community have equal opportunities in the labour market like their counterparts with similar Canadian qualifications and experience.
The Role of the Canadian Government
Admittedly, there are many federal and provincial programs designed to help immigrants get started in Canada, but a vast majority are designed to help refugees specifically, while expatriates tend to slip through the cracks. Job readiness programs don’t offer much by way of training or information beyond the basics of resume styling, personality development, and personal grooming, none of which really help an expatriate with significant experience in their home country to navigate career-related challenges such as networking, salary negotiation, or generally handling the peculiarities of the North American everyday work life.
Aside from forming partnerships with settlement agencies to execute programs that are practical for the settlement and integration of skilled immigrants, one of the major ways by which the government can help curb the persistent systemic discrimination present in the Canadian job market is by updating and enforcing the Employment Equity Act (EEA). The act, which was established to guide employment processes and practices to promote diversity and equal opportunity in workplaces has its limitations. The act is limited in legislation at the federal level, which implies that it can only enforce diversity and inclusion in industries federally regulated by the Canadian constitution. Some of these industries are financial services, broadcasting, transportation, and telecommunications among others. To this end, migrants in professions that are not regulated by the Canadian constitution are at the mercy of biased employers. However, a revision of this Act to allow its legislation to cover all sectors of the economy could nix job market discrimination.
The Role of Canadian Employers
A lot of organizations stress their equal opportunities and diverse workplace policies; however, many organizations lack systems to maintain checks and balances and ascertain efforts in implementing such policies. While companies’ management might be sincere about their efforts to enforce policies on fair employment practices, individuals in recruitment teams with personal bias against migrants, especially persons of color, might thwart such efforts. It is for this reason that organizations should put in place competency-based methods to assess applicants’ skills and capabilities regardless of skin color, country of education, and work experience. Hiring teams should be held accountable as regards upholding the company’s recruitment standards and policies through continuous audits. Canadian employers can also do more with their inclusion policies by providing short training, support, and resources to newcomers that are potentially a great fit for their organizations, bridging any knowledge gap, rather than shutting the door on great potentials that could be assets to the company.
Some of the gaps have however been fixed to a relatively large extent in big cities like Toronto, but a lot of migrants in cities across Canada still struggle with the issue. According to one source who works in the corporate office of a large grocery chain, companies in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are largely meritocratic and he attributes this to the multicultural composition of the workforce. Such enforced inclusivity in hiring policies and implementation of meritocratic performance assessments need to find their way to all parts of the country to truly bridge the gap between generous economic immigration policies and actual assimilation. This would, in turn, eliminate the raging discrimination that has existed in the country’s labor market for decades.