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

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Ms. Eaton, do you want to make some comments?

10:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Yes, I would echo that. I absolutely agree that creating the welcoming community is so important. Robert mentioned earlier this idea that you must settle the whole family, not just the principal applicant or the person with the job.

One of the things we heard from one of the cities that we visited, which shall remain nameless, is that they were very good about bringing people in but they couldn't keep them. It was all about what other supports you're providing to them as community members. People would come in, get their permanent residency, and then after three years they were gone. They went back to the big city to get their job.

Keeping people in those regions that really need that talent is a very pressing issue. The great tradition we have in Toronto, a 100-year-old tradition of welcoming immigrants and creating robust settlement agencies to support them, that work is only beginning to happen in some of the other centres that really need those supports.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Let me ask you this. On the one hand we heard today from numerous witnesses, including you, that there are more opportunities in smaller towns, but on the other hand, when new Canadians come, they love to live in silos. I see this day in and day out. One of the reasons the whole family is not integrated economically or socially is that they live in silos.

How do you encourage them to get out of those silos and get integrated into smaller communities where they have more opportunities, more success, and they have more chances to get involved in social activities, whether it is volunteering or other civil society issues?

10:35 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

I think some of our research shows that we have to stop treating hiring newcomers as a charitable activity. It's a competitively advantageous activity. The issue with a lot of employers is that they've been able to employ and recruit from the monochromatic WASP community around Canada for so long that they forget that they have to adapt their human resources culture to be competitively advantageous.

The way you stop being siloed is to make sure of their needs and an understanding of welcoming them. Introducing them not only to the corporate culture but to the larger recreational, religious, etc., cultures falls to the employer. You don't do it because it would be nice for you to do that and it's kind of important for Canada. You do it because you're going to get better innovation; you're going to get access to new markets, and you're doing something that your competitors are not that will give your company an advantage. There are tons of statistics that we're starting to find out that they do exactly that.

We're doing it the wrong way. It's a question where their HR cultures will adapt because they want to be competitive in attracting immigrants. We just have to give them more reasons as to why they should.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. Blanchette-Lamothe.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you for being here today.

We spoke briefly about the express entry system. Of course, it seems to be interesting, even though we don't yet have all the details, particularly about the challenges related to this new system.

We know that it isn't the skilled workers, but rather the refugees and sponsored individuals, largely women, who face the greatest number of obstacles when it comes to entering the labour market. These people are not recruited to come to Canada for their experience, but for other reasons.

Do you have any comments about the needs of these individuals who arrive in Canada and who have particular difficulty in entering the labour market, as well as about the specific action that could be taken to help them?

10:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Our work does not particularly address refugees, except that we know that many refugees in fact are skilled immigrants. Just because you're coming with that sort of status doesn't mean you are not a skilled worker, so we certainly see refugees through our work.

They face many more barriers, though, especially if they have been victims of trauma, and integrating their whole family into Canadian society, including getting them a job, can sometimes be even harder, and so we really rely on the settlement agencies that work primarily with refugees to help them get job ready. For them getting job ready might be slightly different, because it does mean dealing with some of the trauma, the fears, and the upheaval that comes when you've chosen our country. You've arrived quickly. You've taken a long road to get here, but suddenly you're in a very different culture and society. That's where, as I say, we really rely on those agencies to support the refugees so that they can enter into our programs to actually get to that point of hiring, but it's a longer and generally a more tortuous path to get there.

10:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

I don't have too much to add on the subject of refugees, except to echo Ms. Eaton's comments.

On the subject of women, the other group that you were mentioning specifically, our statistics show that in biotech, 60% of biotechnology graduates currently in Canada are women. Employment of women within biotech firms has fallen by 11% over the last five years.

It's very interesting. One of the things we know anecdotally is because we're such an educated vertical, many of the graduates who enter into the market are in their late twenties. These are the reproductive years for families, and it's also the time when the most enhanced career paths and career jumps occur within biotechnology, which means that a lot of times women feel disadvantaged in the biotech sector, in the bioeconomy. Many times it's because they do not have mentors, because of the lack of C-suite and executive female role models, and a lot of times because biotech, especially in Canada, is arranged in clusters. Some of them are not in major urban areas; some of them are very active in the less concentrated areas. There's a lack of networking among women.

We are doing things to try to remedy that, for again the same reason that we're trying to introduce a lot of the reasons to make sure that biotech companies are welcoming to immigrants, not because it's a nice thing to do, but because it's a competitively advantageous thing to do. The fact that we are not currently, it seems, looked at as an employer of choice by women is competitively disadvantageous for the industry, and Canada is losing as a result. Anything that we can do to offset that and to ensure that young women who are graduating and want to enter the market, who want to have a complete life, can do so with a career in biotech.... We are trying to do that by introducing them to and letting them network with as many women who are doing just that.

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

For example, could the federal government implement certain measures that would help women or refugees integrate?

10:40 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

The good news for us is they are. We're currently doing a project with Status of Women Canada, whereby in three major clusters across Canada, we are putting in mentoring programs and networking programs for women.

The good news as well is that this is falling upon very receptive ears. It's one of our most popular programs. The good news is that the biotech industry, similar to the perception changes of hiring immigrants, is realizing this is competitively advantageous, and for the bioeconomy to grow, women have to be looked at as a very important market from a concept of employment.

March 10th, 2015 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

I have a brief question, and it has to with the obligations of the employer. Is it right to ask the provincial governments and the federal government to get more involved? In other words, many of these people who want to come to this country look around at different countries—there's something called the Internet—to see what the requirements are to become an engineer, a doctor, or any professional. Don't they have an obligation themselves to research what the culture is in a particular area of the country—the culture is different in cities, as opposed to outside the cities—the different professions, and our different qualifications? Are we asking the governments to take on something that perhaps is the obligation of these new immigrants to look up themselves?

10:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

That's a very interesting question.

If you're making a big life change and deciding to come to a different country, there is absolutely an onus on you to research and find out what you're coming to.

I think part of the issue around that is that the information is widely distributed. It's scattered in many different places. If you're coming from another country, you don't understand that Canada's divided into 13 different provinces and territories and what the requirements are for each of those locations. It can be very daunting, if you're an immigrant, to try to figure out how all of that works.

I would also say that our reputation is such that people assume, “Well, Canada's open. I can just go and it will all work out for me. I'm hard-working.” In some ways, that reputation works against us, because people just assume Canada is so friendly to immigrants, and they think, “Of course there'll be jobs for me. I've read in the paper they need doctors. I'll go to Canada.”

I would say, too, that other countries are catching up to us in that way, and it has become much more competitive. We have visits from Germany all the time. I was just in Finland talking to them about how they can approach attracting more immigrants. Australia is doing a bang-up job of attracting new immigrants. It's going to be much more competitive for that global talent.

There are things we can do to smooth the path to make it easier for people to figure out what's really going on and also to give them really clear labour market information. There's a dearth of good labour market information for an immigrant to draw on. We should do anything we can to make it simpler and clearer so that they can make the choice to say, “You know what? Maybe it would be better if I didn't go to Canada. Maybe it would be better that I go to Australia or the United Kingdom instead. It might be better for all of us.”

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Aspin, I've taken your time, but you have a few minutes to ask some questions.

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have one quick question .

Thank you both for participating in our study.

I was just wondering about mentorship programs. Do you feel they're important programs for immigrants? Could I have a comment from both of you on that?

10:45 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

Yes, certainly our partner associations, the life science industries provincially, find mentorship programs tremendously important generally, not specifically for newcomers, but generally within the biotech industry. A lot of people understand the science of biotech; a lot of people don't understand necessarily the Canadian business of biotech, so that's specifically for the industry, as well.

From an immigration standpoint, certainly the idea of mentorship, I think again, is much more important in terms of the less concentrated urban centres, back to making sure that the families and these people feel comfortable beyond their own employment. That's certainly what we've seen.

In the biotech industry it fits within a larger framework, but there has been much more import put on the whole concept of mentorship and mentorship programs in all the clusters.

10:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Only about 80% of jobs are ever advertised, so we all rely on our personal networks in order to get that next job or promotion. Immigrants can arrive with all of the qualifications, credentials, and work experience, but unless they have an entry through an individual to their actual sector, oftentimes they find they cannot take advantage of it. One of the best things that happens in mentoring is that you build that professional network, and that's what gets you the job.

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Our time has expired.

I want to thank you, Ms. Eaton and Mr. Henderson, for contributing to the committee in their preparation of their report. On behalf of the group, I'd like thank you very much.

This meeting is adjourned.