Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It's a privilege to be here with you today.
Given that my colleague Mr. Allen was so succinct, I will try to be the same.
I've been in the business of helping immigrants attach to the labour market for longer than I usually care to admit publicly, almost 20 years. I helped to found the Immigrant Employment Council of B.C., and before that I was the director of employment and language programs for MOSAIC, which is one of the largest settlement agencies in B.C.
Our province predicts that 265,000 international workers will be necessary to meet its human capital needs by 2020, yet we continue to experience the ongoing issue of immigrant unemployment and underemployment, just as Mr. Allen mentioned. It's a complete waste of talent, a waste of the people who we bring to Canada.
In creating IEC-BC, our primary objective was and continues to be addressing this issue. Our mission is integrating immigrants into the labour force, which builds B.C.'s community and its economy. With that, we all win. Our role is to work directly with employers.
As our country moves and refines our immigration system to become more demand driven, so too must we refine our settlement services to engage more employers in the system. Express entry and the Canada jobs bank are key tools in the new system, but in order for employers to use these tools, they have to be informed, educated, and supported. Ultimately, they have to be willing to hire more immigrants into meaningful employment.
In my brief time with you today, I'll speak a little bit more about the Immigrant Employment Council and our work. I'll touch briefly on the ways we're making a difference. Finally, I'll conclude with talking about going forward.
I was going to use the story about a taxi cab being the best place to have a heart attack, but I think Mr. Allen pre-empted me on that one.
While part of this issue is about qualifications recognition, there's more to it. For me, a lot of the issue—and again, I date myself by going back to my many years in this field—is that Canada's employers are not hiring immigrants to the extent they could be. They're still not.
That's why the IEC-BC came into being. Our roots date back to 1997, when a group of us in the field recognized that many immigrants, many professionals, just weren't getting good jobs and that often when they got a job, they were radically underemployed. Upon closer examination, it was clear that a significant gap existed. While there were many organizations working directly with immigrants, there was no organization devoted solely to working with employers to help them connect with skilled immigrant talent and to build their capacity for an immigrant workforce.
Fast-forward to October 2008. At a summit on immigrant employment held in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation and the City of Vancouver, IEC-BC came into being.
Our first and immediate call to action was clear: we needed to engage employers.
We also knew three things from the outset. Our scope and reach needed to be provincial. Immigrants to B.C., as is true across Canada, tend to land and stay in the large urban areas, so labour and skill shortages are typically outside this region. Interestingly enough, in the work we've done, we've found far more appetite in the smaller communities to develop strategies to attract and retain immigrants than what we've often found within greater Vancouver.
We also knew that we needed to work with employers, industry, and business associations to develop initiatives that were employer focused, not just immigrant focused, and that were based on best practices. We also needed to continue to engage policy-makers on why this issue continued, why immigrant unemployment and underemployment remained, and that evidence-based strategies and programs were the way forward.
Our focus is threefold: ensuring that employers across B.C. understand the changes and opportunities available to them as Canada moves to a more demand-driven immigration system; working with smaller communities, as I mentioned, so they're ready to meet the needs of the businesses in their communities in finding skilled talent; and continuing to work with our partners, which is how we really focus our work. We work with those such as the BC Chamber of Commerce and the Human Resources Management Association to develop new strategic initiatives.
What are some of the ways we do this? Much of our work is about understanding immigrant employment through the employers' eyes. Only by understanding their needs can we connect them to skilled immigrant talent.
In 2012 we realized, as IEC-BC had first launched, that we needed to really get a better grasp of what was happening around our province. In partnership with local chambers, boards of trade, and economic development organizations, we embarked on what we call the B.C. employer consultation. This included 15 focus groups across seven communities and eight industry sectors with more than 150 participating employers. What did we learn?
We heard first-hand about the challenges that employers, particularly those in smaller regions, face in hiring immigrants. Many we knew, but some were new to us. We gained an understanding of the overall employment picture in B.C., and we achieved a clear understanding of the human resources practices and workplace culture that impact immigrant employment. We engaged industry and business associations. For us, those are key partners who remain champions of immigrant employment today. We discovered promising practices already being used by some employers, and those we're now sharing across the province.
The one thing we heard repeatedly from mostly small and medium-sized business owners, to which over 95% of B.C. businesses belong, is that small business feels overwhelmed when it comes to hiring immigrants. What we learned from this was critical in helping us move forward.
Over the years, another way we've come to better understand the needs of B.C. employers is by convening stakeholders. From 2012 to 2014, IEC-BC and its partner organizations in northern B.C. convened three community forums on immigrant employment. These were strategically targeted in communities facing skill shortages, communities that identified that they want to attract more people to live in their towns. There were also regions where major economic development initiatives were either proposed or already under way, including the B.C. government's plans to develop an LNG industry, B.C. Hydro's site C clean energy project, and other large resource projects.
There are many outcomes from the forums, but a key one that I'd like to share is the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, along with Initiatives Prince George, the city's economic development arm, that implemented an ongoing campaign to attract immigrants to their region, called Welcome PG. They combined this with engaging their business members in a virtual career fair targeted at unemployed immigrants in the Lower Mainland. Today these two business organizations remain champions for immigrant employment and continue to engage and influence their members.
These are the types of local place-based solutions that IEC-BC strives to influence.
Beyond consulting with and bringing stakeholders together in opportunities like these forums, we've been bridging connections and building partnerships to realize our work. How do we do this? We connect immigrants to employers in smaller communities. We build partnerships with business and industry associations and grow their capacity to work with their members. We engage in partnerships with settlement organizations and broker connections to the business community. We broaden the immigrant talent pool for employers by connecting them to professional immigrant networks, and we expand the professional networks of newcomers through our programs.