Evidence of meeting #40 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kim Allen  Chief Executive Officer, Engineers Canada
Kelly Pollack  Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia
Kristyn Frank  As an Individual
Robert Henderson  President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada
Margaret Eaton  Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

You don't know how the express entry system works, do you?

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Kristyn Frank

I'm not a policy evaluation person. I'm kind of in a situation where I can't speak specifically about policy recommendations. I'm sorry.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Let me ask this, then. You mentioned that for people who have higher degrees like a master's or a Ph.D., it's easier for them to get jobs. But obviously in many jobs the immigrant feels they are underemployed when they come in with a higher degree and what they're allowed to participate in. Certainly I would say that was one of my feelings when I returned to Canada in the early eighties.

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Kristyn Frank

Yes, in the research I've done it's very broad in terms of looking at skill levels, looking at whether somebody is employed in the same skill level as what they intended. It's basically a university degree in terms of how the national occupational classification defines it.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

In your research did you find a reason that international experience especially is not as highly valued here as it is internationally?

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Kristyn Frank

The only thing I can point to is that I know there has been some work in Australia where they did some foreign credential recognition prior to arrival. I know there is a program in place there that's been successful where people had their credentials assessed prior to arriving in the country and they were more successful. They had higher success rates after that was implemented. I know that's something that goes on in some other countries.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Leung.

We started late, so I think, Mr. Sandhu, we'll give you five minutes.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Great, thank you very much.

Witnesses, welcome to the committee. Thank you for being here.

I want to follow up on the question regarding child care. You talked about child care at programs where women could come in and take these various language programs and all that. Ms. Pollack, you probably have more experience in regard to if there is a hindrance to women's ability to find a job after they've gone through the training. Would child care programs help them in order to access employment?

9:45 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia

Kelly Pollack

I think that issue is true across the country, unfortunately. Lack of child care or the ability to access child care is a hindrance. Sometimes, though, I'd have to add that there are cultural implications to that. There may be women from cultures where it isn't appropriate for them to leave their children in “public” child care. Maybe it's more of a culture where you're used to leaving your children with family, and if you don't have family or a more extended network in your new community, that becomes a very difficult obstacle to overcome.

Layered onto that, though, is also transportation. Sometimes getting transportation to the language classes or to the child care space—hopefully they're together—is also a barrier particularly for many of the refugee women who we'd see at our language centre.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

You haven't talked about what role racism plays for immigrants to access the job market.

9:50 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia

Kelly Pollack

Wow, that's a big question. I am not going to give a long, involved answer to that. What I would say to you is that we do know that in hiring practices there is systemic bias, not in all businesses, of course, not with all employers, but there is systemic bias built into many hiring practices.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Ms. Frank, do you have a comment on that?

9:50 a.m.

As an Individual

Kristyn Frank

I did look generally at visible minority status in my research, and yes, even after controlling for education and all sorts of different characteristics, there does seem to be a disadvantage for visible minorities in the labour market. As Kelly pointed out, it's often entangled in other things. There are a lot of different factors: region of origin, quality of education, or perceived quality of education from region of origin. There's a very complex thing that goes on, I think, and it's difficult to disentangle, but yes, I have found evidence for that, though.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Ms. Pollack, you mentioned that the best place to have a heart attack is in a taxi cab, and I actually know a number of doctors who drove taxis in British Columbia, especially in the Vancouver area. How can the federal government help with that situation?

9:50 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia

Kelly Pollack

Again, that's another complex question, sir, but one that I will try to answer.

Mr. Allen spoke to the process of regulation and foreign qualification recognition. It is an extraordinarily complex one in this country. We have hundreds of regulators across Canada who are provincially regulated, who have different practices in terms of assessing qualifications. For newcomers, it is a challenge. There are many progressive regulators, and not just because he's sitting here, but I will say that engineers have been one of the most progressive regulators in our country; the medical profession from my experience, and I've done a fair bit of work looking at foreign qualification recognition, perhaps not so much.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Should maybe the federal government take a lead in uniting the provinces to come up with a national standard?

9:50 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia

Kelly Pollack

That goes back a little bit to what I spoke to earlier today when I talked about in my perfect world, yes.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

That's it. Thank you, sir.

I want to thank the three of you for your presentations to the committee. They've been very helpful in preparing our report. Thank you for coming.

We will suspend.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We'll call the meeting back to order.

I'd like to welcome Robert Henderson, who is the president and chief executive officer of BioTalent Canada, and Margaret Eaton, who is the executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Good morning to you both.

Mr. Henderson, we'll start with you. You have up to eight minutes to make your presentation, followed by Ms. Eaton, and then we'll enter into a dialogue with members of the committee.

March 10th, 2015 / 9:50 a.m.

Robert Henderson President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Wonderful. Thanks.

On behalf of BioTalent Canada and its network of members and partners, I'd like to thank the members of the committee for the invitation and the opportunity to present to you today.

BioTalent Canada is a national non-profit association that strives to ensure that Canada's bioeconomy has access to the most skilled people available. Through labour market research that we perform, we work with federal government programs and our network of corporate industry partners to identify and address skill deficits which left unchecked could stall Canada's biotech industry as a key driver of the national economy.

As you know, we define Canada's bioeconomy as the invention, development, production, and use of products and processes that are based primarily on biological resources. As such, the bioeconomy cuts across health, energy, agriculture, and chemical and materials industries. An industry that has evolved rapidly due to scientific innovation, the Canadian biotech sector can be divided into four broad subsectors: biohealth, which includes medical devices and biopharmaceuticals; agri-biotech; bioenergy; and bioindustrial. Under this definition, the bioeconomy is responsible for roughly 7% of Canada's current GDP.

In terms of labour, 80% of Canadian biotech companies land in the SME or small to mid-size range, with fewer than 50 employees, and it is here that most of the jobs are created. Certainly biotech includes the widely known large pharmaceutical firms, but SMEs, growing contract research facilities, and academic partnerships also form important components.

In our most recent labour market research intelligence report, the majority of biotech CEOs surveyed stated as their two greatest barriers to success access to capital, which comes out strongly as number one, and access to talent.

I cannot stress enough how vociferous BioTalent Canada's national and provincial industry association partners are in their view that the single greatest barrier for biotech companies to overcome in becoming an employer of choice for immigrants is access to capital. Any improvement in Canadian policy that alleviates this pain point is universally and strongly recommended. Investment burn rates are inordinately high for biotech firms, causing CEOs to spend the bulk of their time seeking investment to sustain their operations instead of seeking talent to grow their business.

The bioeconomy is among the most educated industries, meaning that most individuals are late in their youth when they enter the workforce. In addition, new biotech products can take as long as 10 years to reach commercialization. This fact alone is hugely disadvantageous in attracting investors.

While the products made by the industry are highly regulated, you should know that the majority of jobs within the bioeconomy are not, with the exception of pharmacists and some of the medical professions. As a result, the bioeconomy could be a fertile landing place for immigrants with scientific backgrounds looking for primary or alternative scientific career paths.

The challenge is to expose those career paths to them early enough, at the right time, to give them access to the tools to enter, and to introduce them as viable options to the SMEs that are hiring. Newcomers with science backgrounds who are forced to wait or who fail in obtaining licensure in a regulated profession must be presented with alternative careers within a year at most, so that their science skills remain current and marketable.

Our research indicates that biotech employers who employ newcomers experience enhanced innovation, productivity, and even enhanced access to new markets and new investors. These competitive advantages can form compelling arguments why biotech companies should actively pursue newcomers as a strategic employment market.

Having been named to the ESDC panel on employment challenges of new Canadians by Minister Jason Kenney last fall, I was privileged to hear from regulators, immigrant-serving agencies, and newcomers across Canada about the major hurdles they face in their endeavours. Many of these have been echoed by BioTalent Canada in the past. They include that Canadian regulators currently have no incentive or mandate to present failed licensee candidates with alternative career paths. BioTalent Canada has a model skill transfer program that could introduce health professionals into the bioeconomy, but the regulators we have approached will not refer candidates to our resources.

Immigrant-serving agencies, especially in larger urban areas, do not coordinate efforts to place newcomers, meaning that access to networks and resources is not shared effectively.

Accurate and timely labour market information is not centralized, or even easily accessible to newcomers pre- and post-arrival.

Finally, smaller urban centres, many of which house viable biotech clusters, suffer from retention difficulties in which acclimatizing efforts for newcomers that would be taken on by cultural communities in larger urban centres fall to small employers, who are ill-equipped to take these on.

The biotech community also has a very large youth unemployment rate. Our partner, Life Sciences Ontario, in their study released this month cites it to be 18.9% for Ontario alone. This serves as direct competition for newcomers. Combined with the perceived risk that a small company takes in hiring any employee, the perception that newcomers and their employers will have to overcome linguistic or cultural barriers also serves to heighten the perceived risk.

This is the landscape in which the Canadian bioeconomy finds itself; a proud industry with a strong history of Canadian innovation disadvantaged by its own business cycle. It's need for capital investment trumps all else. It has clearly identified skills gaps where newcomers are recognized as a competitively advantageous market, but where systemic and policy limitations impede their introduction to productive and valuable jobs.

Thank you very much.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Henderson.

Ms. Eaton.

10 a.m.

Margaret Eaton Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here before you today.

I'm the executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, or TRIEC.

As you heard from Kelly earlier today, immigrant employment councils were set up around the country to address the problem of the internationally educated doctor driving a cab. I know you've already heard it's best to have a heart attack in a cab. There was even a movie made about this last fall, Dr. Cabbie, which is about an Indian gentleman who comes to Canada, cannot get licensed, and ends up running his medical practice out of his cab. I challenge you to talk to any cab driver in the city and ask, “What did you do before you came to Canada?”

In the greater Toronto area we know that the unemployment rate for recent immigrants is double the rate for those born in Canada with similar education. There's still a lot of work to be done. TRIEC was the first immigrant employment council. We were set up in 2003 to address the issue of the lack of progress of immigrants in being matched with jobs that fit their experience and their education. TRIEC is partially funded by CIC through the settlement envelope of funding.

As TRIEC has grown, so have other immigrant employment councils across the country, taking our learning and applying it to their own regions, as well as coming up with their own innovative solutions.

I want to talk to you today about what makes TRIEC unique in the GTA and also about the common factor that makes other immigrant employment councils so unique in their regions. It really comes down to connections. TRIEC started as a council by bringing all the stakeholders that had a part of this problem together to create solutions. We're a small organization, but we've extended our reach and deepened our impact through our partnerships. It's the strength of those relationships that makes it work.

Traditionally, immigrant employment councils have been distinct from other organizations working in immigrant employment in that we do not provide services directly to immigrants. We don't do credential assessment, occupation-specific training, or recruitment services. This is our unique value proposition because lasting change cannot be achieved if you're only working on the supply side, meaning if you're just working on equipping immigrants to adjust to the market. We firmly believe that the market must also adjust to the immigrant.

The stark truth is that people who immigrate to Canada will never be fully integrated into society no matter how hard they try if the attitudes of Canadian-born employers do not change. Finding work where your skills and experiences are fully valued is the one thing that will really make an immigrant feel like a contributing citizen. It is pivotal to the effect of integration of newcomers into their new home. This is where TRIEC comes in.

With our strong connections to a range of companies, employers, and organizations across the region, we have that leverage to start a dialogue about changing attitudes and practices. The way that we do that is also unique. We know that the best way to achieve change is not by criticizing or preaching. We promote the business case for an immigrant inclusive workplace. We understand the huge potential that immigrants bring to our region, and we work with employers to get them to see it too. Hiring from an international talent pool brings innovation and new ideas, and gives you access to a global market.

Once an employer is sold on the need for inclusion, we have proven practical solutions that we can tailor to help the employer on the journey to an inclusive workplace. For example, we have solutions like the TRIEC campus, which is an e-learning resource with easy to use and engaging tools that managers and team members can use to improve their own cultural competence. RBC has added these campus tools to their internal intranet, and they have made it part of their staff training. Those tools are available across the country to all RBC employees.

Another way we have achieved change is through the mentoring partnership. You've heard a little bit about the power of mentoring. The program places skilled immigrants in mentoring relationships with established professionals in their field. Mentoring is transformational and not just for the mentee. We find that 76% of mentees gain employment in their field within six months of completion of the program, but it really changes the mentor. There is a direct social contact with someone who is in your profession, but from a different cultural background. That changes attitudes in a way that campaigning or lecturing never could. The results speak for themselves, and 95% of our mentors are more likely to interview or hire a skilled immigrant after participating in the program.

In the next five years we plan to grow our mentoring work significantly. We've been chosen by LEAP: The Centre for Social Impact to try to expand our mentoring from the 1,300 mentor matches we do in the GTA annually to 6,000 mentor matches. We work with a suite of sector partners, including the Boston Consulting Group, Ernst and Young, The Offord Group, Cossette, and McCarthy Tetrault. This is a massive opportunity for skilled immigrants.

We'll also be working with our fellow IECs to take the program nationally. This strategy of change will work on a national level only if we all truly collaborate and combine our efforts. At TRIEC we're not afraid to seek out unexplored possibilities for growth. We're always searching for new and innovative ways of making a difference.

We are forging connections not just with employers, although they are key to our success, but also with our communities. Once again, the mentoring partnership partners with 15 service delivery agencies that provide the connection to the mentees and help us manage the program. We couldn't do it without those settlement agencies providing that support.

Also, we are forging connections between communities. We work with 55 immigrant-led associations. We connect those skilled immigrants to employers and to each other so they can build their capacity and strengthen their voices.

As I said, we're not a service provider. We're really a facilitator of strong connections and relationships that lead to real and lasting change.

I want to close by saying that undeniably there are many different groups in Canada today that need support to gain meaningful employment, but the case for hiring immigrants is specific, so it requires cross-sectoral efforts and tailored solutions. TRIEC and our fellow immigrant employment councils across the country offer those tailored solutions to employers that lead to a successful working life for skilled immigrants.

We thank the Government of Canada, through Citizenship and Immigration, for supporting our work.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Ms. Eaton and Mr. Henderson.

We now have some questions from my colleagues.

Mr. Menegakis, please.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thanks to both of you for appearing before us today and sharing your opening remarks with us.

I represent a very multicultural riding, a very diverse riding, in the greater Toronto area, the riding of Richmond Hill, which is probably one of the more diverse ridings in the country, being in such a big urban centre, if you will. I'm keenly aware of the good work that TRIEC does for immigrants. I run across a lot of that on pretty much a daily basis.

I know that TRIEC comprises many organizations working together for newcomers. Can you tell us what are some of the partner organizations you work with and how important these partnerships are in the successful integration of immigrants?

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Yes, Richmond Hill is one of the most diverse areas, and our reach extends out into that York region. It's a pleasure to serve.

In the mentoring partnership, we have 20 employer partners. We have RBC, Scotiabank, and Bank of Montreal. We're just adding Sun Life, Manulife, KPMG, and Deloitte. A lot of the larger organizations have stepped up to provide thousands of mentors to our program. On the community side, as I mentioned, we have 15 service delivery agencies. These include groups like COSTI, ACCES Employment, and JVS, which support our work in coming together.

We also, through our council, represent government. We have the Toronto Public Library as one of our sponsors and supporters. We work with the regulators with the Office of the Fairness Commissioner.

We really do try to present a broad spectrum of the whole immigration picture, because we find that bringing everyone together to the table is the most effective thing to make change.