As Canada boosts immigration, skills mismatch ‘discouraging’ newcomers

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When Tanya Raizada immigrated to Canada as a permanent resident this summer, she was hoping that her resume with over a decade of work experience would be good enough to help land her a job in her field.

Before moving to Toronto in June, the 34-year-old Indian professional quit her job as a senior human resources manager in Mumbai, in hopes of taking her career to the next level and gaining international exposure.

Over a span of three and half months, Raizada applied for 600 positions, out of which she got 20 interview calls, but wasn’t given a single job offer.

She was living alone with no family around for support, while the rent and daily expenses were eating up her savings.

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It was a “heartbreaking” and discouraging experience, she said, that made Raizada decide to move back to India in September.

“I was personally feeling like a failure there,” Raizada told Global News.

“It demotivated a professional like me to … have second thoughts about my experience and to actually understand whether I was capable enough or whether I was competent enough …. that anybody would hire me.”

Tanya Raizada quit her Mumbai-based job working as a senior HR manager to move to Toronto in June 2022. Photo supplied

Immigrants make up nearly a quarter of all people in Canada, and the majority are coming from India, according to the latest 2021 census data.

But as the federal government plans to boost immigration to fill critical labour gaps and offset Canada’s aging workforce, experts point to an underlying issue of skills mismatch that could dissuade newcomers.

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“The mismatch that’s happening is when immigrants come here, they’re traditionally underemployed and so we end up devaluing the same skills that we appreciated and considered,” said Nita Chhinzer, a human resources management expert at the University of Guelph.

The problem, according to Chhinzer, arises because employers have “biases” that discount foreign education and international work experience and make assumptions about language skills.

“I think this completely discourages immigrants from feeling that their skills are valued and we see this consistently when they’re applying for jobs,” she said.

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Sherri Rabinovitch, an HR expert in Montreal, said she has also noticed a similar trend where employers are not prepared to pay immigrants as they would someone with local experience.

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She says it’s not reasonable to “devalue” candidates because they don’t have “Canadian experience.”

“Experience is experience,” Rabinovitch said.

“It’s because we know where they’re coming from that we tend to have these biases, unfortunately.”

New immigration plan

Immigration accounts for 90 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth and approximately 75 per cent of population growth, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

On Nov. 1, the federal government announced its 2023-25 immigration plan, with the target of welcoming 1.45 million new immigrants over the next three years.

Out of these, 848,595 people will come under different economic streams for skilled workers to help industries struggling with acute labour shortages, according to the government.

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The aim is to tap into talent required in key sectors, such as health, skilled trades, manufacturing and technology, IRCC said in its announcement.

The move has been widely welcomed by industry experts who say this will benefit the economy, but a more strategic and skills-based approach is needed to better integrate newcomers into the Canadian job market.

“We need to have more targeted approaches based on our needs across provinces and across trades to get more of these folks into Canada,” said Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Union (CBTU).

Strickland said the construction sector, which comprises 20 per cent new immigrants, is working with the government and unions to find out exactly which trades are needed and where to address the “misalignment.”

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Over the past six months, the manufacturing sector employed an average of 1.76 million workers, out of which nearly one-third were immigrants, according to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

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Dennis Darby, president and CEO of CME, said there are about 80,000 vacancies in the manufacturing sector, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, and an increased influx of immigrants will be crucial in filling those jobs.

The sector is looking for workers over a wide range of skills, including general labour, factory work, engineering, maintenance, repair, automation and robotics, he said.

“We need to make sure that the federal government and the provincial governments work together to make sure that we’re bringing in the people that we need,” Darby said.

Gaps in the Canadian workforce

Canada’s health-care system is in crisis with staffing shortages, long emergency room wait times and surgical backlogs.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said the recruitment of internationally educated health professionals can “play an important role in addressing the workforce challenges” but Canada cannot solely rely on foreign nurses and doctors.

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A comprehensive approach to mitigating health worker shortages should also include retaining the existing workforce and increasing the capacity to train new health workers within Canada, said CMA president Dr. Alika Lafontaine.

“We cannot merely recruit away other countries’ health workforces,” he told Global News.

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As for the technology sector, 34 per cent of people working in scientific research and development services across Canada are foreign-born, according to the IRCC.

Benjamin Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), said besides the classic IT jobs of developers, designers and coders, there are also some real gaps in senior leadership and management positions in Canada.

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Immigration programs allow a niche focus on specific foreign individuals that can help these companies rise, he told Global News.

“Often, you actually need to bring in highly skilled workers who have that unique skill set to be, let’s say, a CFO or a CTO, from another jurisdiction,” he said.

Click to play video: 'The immigration experience in Canada'
The immigration experience in Canada

Currently unemployed and living in Chandigarh, India, Raizada is continuing to apply for jobs in Canada so she can come back next year and settle in the country.

She wants to see more opportunities for immigrants in senior-level positions and free training programs.

Despite being discouraged by her last visit, Raizada told Global News she is hopeful.

“I still haven’t given up and I really want to try out and stay there and I’m hoping that it will be good.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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