Immigrants are and will continue to be a critical source of talent for all Canadian employers. Yet the great majority of Canadian employers are not yet taking full advantage of immigrants’ talents to enhance performance and growth. The Conference Board of Canada’s research has led us to conclude that without an effective, immediate push by employers and their public sector partners in government to address the issues of immigration through improved policies and practices, our economic performance at the firm, city, province and national levels will suffer severely.
Taking action so that immigrants can make the maximum possible contribution to firm-level productivity and performance—and to our nation’s global competitiveness—is imperative. Leaders need to be engaged in developing and implementing effective strategies for attracting, integrating and retaining immigrants in order to ensure sustainable competitiveness. The Conference Board latest research on issues relating to immigration shows how business leaders working together, in cooperation with government officials and experts, can have a powerful impact on immigration outcomes.
Why Immigration is Critical to Canada’s Prosperity
Canadians tend to see immigration as an issue for the federal government to handle. But the worldwide war for talent requires a wholesale change of attitude, one that brings action on immigration into corporate offices, large and small. Why so? Because immigration is much more than a matter of visas and residency; it is an invaluable opportunity for innovation, new markets and global competitive edge. One of the most important contributions that newcomers can make is creativity. When business leaders and managers provide opportunities for immigrants to improve processes and create new products and services, they can grow their businesses. For this reason, immigration as a corporate issue goes far beyond the job-filling portfolio of human resource managers; it’s a matter of core business development.
The stakes are high. In 2006, Canada welcomed 251,511 immigrants, most of them highly skilled, through its doors. Almost 70 per cent of them landed in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver, the urban engines of our economy (with Toronto alone accounting for 39 per cent of the total). Yet there is a pressing need for more immigration. The Conference Board estimates that we need 375,000 new immigrants annually in order to stabilize the workforce and ensure economic growth. Finding and attracting them is the first challenge facing this country. A second major challenge is improving Canada’s poor record in recent years at matching immigrants with the jobs that their skills warrant.
Business leaders must take a stronger lead in addressing these challenges. Employers can start by conveying a strong message to new Canadians that they value them as creators, innovators and highly skilled workers whose performance improves results. They should also take advantage of the fact that immigrants can open doors to investment opportunities overseas and help attract foreign investment in Canada. Through provincial nominee and guest worker programs, employers can play a larger role in selecting immigrants and potential immigrants to fill jobs in their firms. They can get involved in settling workers and their families, and help them gain vital English or French language skills needed to perform jobs at a high level. They can also implement integration programs within the workplace that enable immigrants from diverse backgrounds to learn how to fit into Canadian workplaces. And crucially, employers can do much more to provide the initial Canadian work experience that is vital for immigrants to qualify for many jobs in Canada. That said, business cannot address these issues alone. Working in partnership with federal and provincial governments will be essential. Canada has a strong reputation as a country welcoming immigrants; it is time for business to join forces with government to ensure that Canada’s reality lives up to its reputation.
The Conference Board is working to:
1. Increase the visibility of government commitment to multi-stakeholder dialogue on immigration issues
Demonstrated leadership and commitment to continuous improvement for immigration policies and programs must happen given an increasingly competitive environment where:
- we will be dramatically increasing the flow of immigrants to Canada;
- employers require immigrants to contribute their full potential quickly to ensure that business has the capacity to operate productively and grow.
2. Strengthen engagement with business on what business can do to improve immigrant employment outcomes
Governments and communities can improve their strategies for immigrant attraction, retention, settlement and integration by listening to businesses about:
- emerging skills and labour requirements;
- employer-friendly processes for work integration of immigrants and foreign workers;
- the need for clear and consistent processes;
- additional commitments and actions employers are willing to take.
3. Expedite integration of immigrants into the work force
Throughout the process, from application abroad to optimal employment, there are opportunities for developing or refining mechanisms to expedite:
- advanced language training;
- foreign credential and experience recognition;
- essential skill enhancement;
- linkages with sector council and employers.
Much of this can be done during the interim between identification of talent and relocation to future employment.
4. Deepen understanding of employers needs in relation to immigration
The capacity of business to put immigrant talent to work for Canada is dependent upon:
- Improved awareness of the volume of immigrants needed and kinds of skills required;
- Information on urgent needs in order for the wheels of commerce to keep turning;
- Better understanding of what processes are needed to help Canadian firms hire more immigrants, retain them, and assist with settlement and integration.
5. Broaden cross-jurisdictional collaboration among government—federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal
Broader dialogue among all levels of government is essential, recognizing that regions and cities are significant front-line players in supporting settlement and integration.
For More Information Contact
Executive Director, Education, Skills & Immigration, The Saskatchewan Institute