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Evidence of meeting #7 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was employers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jonathan Beddoes  Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Manitoba
Peter Idahosa  President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association
Pam Nordstrom  Director, School of Nursing, Mount Royal University
Joan Atlin  Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
Thomas Tam  Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Jonathan Beddoes

Registered professional engineers, yes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Our time is almost up. A short response from Ms. Nordstrom.

4:25 p.m.

Director, School of Nursing, Mount Royal University

Dr. Pam Nordstrom

We had an opportunity to take two trips offshore to try to create our assessment centres in a variety of countries, the U.K., Qatar, U.A.E., and India, and the challenge was you needed to be assessed against Canadian standards and in a Canadian context. It's very hard to create that offshore and to do your assessments offshore.

We gave it a couple of rounds. We were always questioning whether or not we were creating the same kind of atmosphere in which to do our assessments.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you. Your time is up. We appreciate your presentation.

We will suspend to allow our next panel to come to the table.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

We will recommence our hearing. We have with us Joan Atlin from the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, and Mr. Tam from SUCCESS.

Mr. Tam, you testified earlier today, I understand, before the immigration committee, so this is the second round for you.

We will start with your presentations and then we will have five-minute rounds of questions.

Ms. Atlin, are you going to start first? Go ahead.

October 25th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.

Joan Atlin Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

I'm sorry, we had a bit of a late invitation, so I wasn't able to provide the presentation in advance for translation. We will send it on.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

If you present it to the clerk, we'll get it translated and circulated to the members of the committee.

4:35 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Joan Atlin

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members. My name is Joan Atlin and I'm the director of programs for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, or TRIEC.

TRIEC is a multi-stakerholder council that brings together employers, community organizations, colleges, universities, occupational regulatory bodies, and all three orders of government to seek practical solutions to connect skilled immigrants with appropriate employment.

At TRIEC our understanding of foreign credential recognition is cast broadly. In an effort to maximize our reach and impact, we have focused on those highly skilled immigrants who are seeking employment in non-regulated professions, which actually represents the majority of immigrants to Canada. They are people like sales managers, financial analysts, software developers, project managers, HR professionals, etc. Whether and how their credentials, experience, and qualifications are recognized is up to the employer. So our work with regard to foreign credential recognition has been focused largely on reaching out to employers to build their capacity to recognize immigrants' skills, experience, and qualifications.

For many employers, concerns about hiring skilled immigrants include not understanding their experience, not being familiar with their credentials or previous employers, and concerns about communication skills. Often the requirement for Canadian experience, which we hear so much about, is in fact a kind of euphemism for not knowing how to interpret the immigrant's qualifications.

This lack of familiarity, and the perceived risk that goes along with it, leads to widespread non-recognition of qualifications by employers in non-regulated professions. This has been our focus since TRIEC was established in 2003. We think it's important to recognize that some programs, initiatives, and practices have met with success and that future directions should build on this success. So the remainder of my comments will focus on the opportunities we think the federal government should consider in order to facilitate immigrant attachment to the workforce and opportunities delivered by third-party organizations.

The first is internships, or work-experience programs. They have been successful employment interventions because they directly connect employers and skilled immigrants. Internships can provide immigrants with their flrst job in Canada as well as professional references, both of which reassure risk-averse employers. On average, about 80% of participants find full-time work in their field upon completion of a work-experience program—a highly successful outcome, both for the individual and for the economy.

However, the demand for internships from immigrants far exceeds the number of participating employers and positions. There are also employers and communities across the country that would welcome an internship program but lack the capacity to establish one. There is a need for a national internship program that could leverage the participation of employers across the country.

The federal government has the opportunity to set an example as an employer by taking the lead in offering targeted internships for skilled immigrants. In 2010, the federal internship for newcomers program was established. The program was initially piloted by CIC and HRSDC and has now expanded to a number of other departments. According to the government's 2010 annual report on foreign credential recognition, there were 65 internships offered through the program in 2010.

There's considerable scope to expand this program across the federal government. The Ontario Public Service has a similar internship program that has placed nearly 600 newcomers in internships between 2006 and 2011 in Ontario alone.

The second intervention I want to talk about is mentoring programs. They have been successful because they connect skilled immigrants with a mentor who is an established colleague in their occupation. The mentor shares professional networks and helps navigate the job search. The mentee, a skilled immigrant job-seeker, gains a greater understanding of the occupational context and expectations in Canada.

In 2004, TRIEC launched our mentoring partnership. To date, more than 6,000 immigrants in the greater Toronto area have been matched through this program and 70% of them are employed in their field or a related one within six months after the end of their mentoring relationship. While many smaller-scale mentoring programs are currently offered across the country, they often have difficulty recruiting mentors and they lack the marketing resources they need to build a profile for their programs.

CIC is currently supporting ALLIES, which is a national project of the Maytree and McConnell foundations, to share this mentoring model nationally. ALLIES is building on the experience of TRIEC to support other immigrant employment councils across the country. Together, we have provided advice and supported the start-up of similar mentoring initiatives in Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. There's a strong role for the federal government to play as an employer-partner in these local mentoring initiatives.

TRIEC is currently working with the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, the FCRO, to launch a mentoring pilot in the Ontario region of CIC. Pilots will also be launched with our sister employment councils in Calgary and Ottawa. This pilot should pave the way to national involvement of the federal public service in mentoring programs for skilled immigrants. However, beyond the role of supporting the dissemination of the model and participating as an employer, there is a need for a funded national mentoring program to ensure the ongoing delivery of this successful intervention. Creating a national mentoring program would allow for enhanced program quality and coordination, increased employer participation, and reliable and sustained funding for these programs.

Third, I will talk about bridging programs, which you heard quite a bit about with the previous panels. They were initially piloted in regulated professions. They bring together key stakeholders—employers, occupational regulatory bodies, and educational institutions—to assess immigrant skills and competencies, deliver training to fill gaps, and provide mentoring and workplace or required clinical experience. The objective of these programs is to fill gaps that may exist in knowledge or skills while avoiding duplication in the immigrants' education and training so that they can be bridged quickly to licensure and/or employment in their fields. To date, there are many successful examples of bridging programs in various sectors, both regulated and non-regulated sectors. Most bridging programs have been funded by provincial ministries and while the outcomes of the bridging programs have been very promising, they are only accessible to a limited number of participants and are difficult to sustain. The FCRO is currently developing a website called the International Qualifications Network as a vehicle to disseminate best practices on bridging programs and other initiatives. Beyond this promising initiative, there may be an opportunity for the federal government to invest in a nationally-coordinated bridge-training strategy as well as to create a loan program for participants to cover their living costs. You heard about that from the previous panel as well.

The fourth element I want to talk about is employer engagement, which is key to immigrant employment success. While there has been a significant investment in the development of labour market programs for immigrants, there has not yet been a parallel investment in programs targeted directly at employers. Ultimately, it's employers who either recognize or reject the credentials of skilled immigrants. We and our immigrant employment council partners across the country have seen a strong and growing demand from employers for support in recruiting, assessing, integrating, and promoting skilled immigrants, and we need a national strategy to respond to this demand. Of the three key elements of employer engagement needing support, the first is awareness.

There is still a need to increase employer awareness of the value of immigrant skills, and of how including this talent pool can make Canada more productive and competitive in the global marketplace. Despite an uncertain economic outlook, the evidence is unequivocal that immigrant skills will play a key role in the Canadian labour force in the upcoming years. With support from CIC and HRSDC's FCR program, TRIEC has been successful in running awareness campaigns to engage employers, and an employer awards program to recognize innovative and leading employer practices.

Second, employers need tools and resources to support organizational change. There's a wide array of assessment tools for language, for credentials, for competencies, and HR practices that employers need to learn about and be able to implement. Hireimmigrants.ca, a website originally developed by TRIEC and now managed by the national ALLIES project, is a key national resource for employers. It houses a wealth of resources for employers, including best practices and case studies from around the country. There is an opportunity for the federal government to fully endorse hireimmigrants.ca as the go-to place for employers and to support extensive marketing for this resource.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Are you about to conclude? You're reaching the end of your time.

4:45 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Joan Atlin

Yes. I have one more.

The last element is that employers need to be able to connect efficiently with a range of services and programs that prepare skilled immigrant candidates for the Canadian labour market. Employers are often overwhelmed by the numerous service providers approaching them and the vast array of program information available. Often the effect is employer disengagement rather than engagement. The back end of employment services systems needs to be better coordinated so that the front-end experience for employers is as seamless as possible. TRIEC is currently working with the employment services arm of the government of the city of Toronto to pilot new strategies to coordinate outreach to employers by TRIEC, the city, and various employment service networks. While these gateways for employers must be built locally, there's an opportunity for the federal government to encourage and support their development across the country so that services available to employers to access candidates are better coordinated.

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

We'll now turn to Mr. Tam.

4:45 p.m.

Thomas Tam Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Honourable members of the standing committee, my name is Thomas Tam. I'm the CEO of SUCCESS, which is a multicultural organization serving new Canadians in British Columbia. We serve over 180,000 people a year through our offices in greater Vancouver, northern B.C., and three overseas offices in China, Korea, and Taiwan.

Today my focus will be on the foreign credentials recognition process. As an immigrant-serving agency, we have been working with internationally educated skilled workers, or IEPs, since 2001. Of course, we have a lot of partners. We partner with employers, sector councils, regulatory bodies, and government departments. Details of our involvement and services are attached for your reference.

Today I will focus on our recommendations to overcome the systematic challenges faced by internationally trained professionals. They face four major challenges, but recently we identified an additional fifth one.

The first four challenges are lack of Canadian work experience, lack of Canadian cultural exposure, lack of language proficiency, and lack of a Canadian network. The recent fifth challenge we have identified is the financial barriers. I think in the previous session, there was also some discussion on the financial barriers facing foreign-trained professionals.

In terms of recommendations, we recommend a six-point strategy. There are six areas that we would like the committee, as well as the federal government, to consider. We suggest a specialized foreign credential recognition case management service. At this time, most new immigrants can only get employment services at a provincial level in a very piecemeal manner. It's short term and when the funding contract is finished, there's no continuity of service for the internationally educated professionals. As you know, the whole process is very lengthy, costly, and sometimes insulting, so a lot of immigrants end up just getting survival-type jobs. They may not be able to afford the long battle without a very supportive case management system.

Second, we recommend a new and separate language and communication proficiency to replace cultural competency training. Language and workplace culture are always very big hurdles for foreign-trained professionals entering the different professions. This is what we call a soft skill. We have a lot of experience working with sector councils and employers, and this proved to be a very effective way to speed up the whole foreign credentials recognition process.

Third, we recommend an effective bridging mechanism between the internationally educated professionals and the regulatory bodies. This bridging program would be different from what we just discussed; it's not a technical bridging program. We find that many internationally trained professionals group together, but they don't have very good communication with the regulatory bodies. We tried a couple of projects. One was working with foreign-trained nurses in B.C., in partnership with the nurses' union of the province, to develop some support groups among the nurses. Then the nurses grouped together to support each other, and we also organized activities between the support groups, the nurses' union, and some regulatory bodies. People can sustain the struggle with the support of their peers on the same journey toward the foreign credentials recognition process. We would like to see more support for these support groups so that they can sustain the whole journey.

Fourth, we recommend extensive work placement services for IEPs. I think Joan also mentioned that. Mentoring and placement opportunities are very important. In B.C. we've been working closely with both the local organizations as well as some sector councils. We work with ICTC, the Information Communication and Technology Council, to run some pilot projects in Vancouver to help to recruit foreign-trained professionals to get into some placement and mentoring services.

The fifth one is the service support to employers. In the last ten years we never overlooked the importance of employers accepting and understanding the challenges and the benefits of hiring foreign-trained professionals. So the support to employers is very important. We have a website providing the tools for the HR departments of the business owners in terms of hiring and retaining immigrant workers. We also provide training for employers in understanding the challenges of internationally trained professionals.

Finally, we would like this document to support regionalization initiatives. What I mean here is to connect the immigrants to areas of more opportunities, especially in some smaller communities that are industry-based, like our project now at Fort St. John, which is the oil- and gas-based small town in northern B.C. We need more resources and support to encourage internationally trained professionals to go there and to help resolve the skill and labour shortage over there. We've been working very well with the community, with the energy companies, and also with people in Vancouver encouraging immigrants to relocate to the smaller communities.

Honourable members of the standing committee, I respectfully submit my report for your deliberation.

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much, Mr. Tam. I appreciate that presentation.

Ms. Crowder.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I want to thank Ms. Atlin and Mr. Tam for coming and for providing so succinctly some concrete recommendations for the committee's consideration.

I think most of us here can tell stories in our own ridings about people who have come to Canada specifically because of their professional designation or work experience in their country of origin, and yet can't work in their field.

You may not have these numbers, but do you have any sense among clients you deal with how many actually find work in their field, and within what timeframe?

4:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS

Thomas Tam

There are two kinds of experiences. One is a generic service, say for someone with a support group with all those workshops and seminars. It's difficult to track the results.

On the other hand, we also have very specific programs of a pilot nature. For example, three years ago we worked with Spectra Energy, a very big energy company in Fort St. John, and we recruited twelve Chinese engineers, all of whom were new immigrants in Vancouver. We worked with the company to develop a six-month training program, half in Vancouver and half in Fort St. John, including the placement. After that program, 100% of this group of twelve people were hired by the company. Of course, they may not be licensed engineers, but they were all hired entering into the junior engineering profession.

So for some specific programs of a very confined scope, we can track the success of the result. For another example I just mentioned, the work with ICTC, we also got close to a 100% success rate.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Ms. Atlin, this seems to be coming up fairly consistently. Witnesses are often saying that they can't give us accurate numbers simply because there's no way of tracking people, but it sounds like anecdotally people feel there's a significant number of people not working in their profession.

Ms. Atlin, do you have any sense of numbers?

4:55 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Joan Atlin

Actually, I did bring some numbers with me. I have a StatsCan report that 80% of working-age skilled immigrants found work during their first year in Canada; however, only 42% found work in their intended occupation.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

So less than half.

4:55 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Joan Atlin

It's less than half.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

It's a significant loss when we're talking about productivity in Canada. We're talking about all those kinds of things. With the previous presenters, we heard—

4:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS

Thomas Tam

It's what we call survival jobs.

4:55 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Joan Atlin

There are certainly stats. There was a study by RBC a couple of years ago. I can't remember the number off the top of my head, but it's in the billions, the money lost to the Canadian economy through the under-recognition of—

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Sorry, who did that study?

4:55 p.m.

Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

RBC.

The matter of Canadian work experience is coming up consistently. A number of witnesses have raised this, and you certainly raised it. You've talked about the internship and the mentoring role that the federal government could play. Are there other things the federal government could do to create Canadian work experience in people's designated fields?