Unrecognized education, discounted credentials, requirements for Canadian experience and language barriers force many landed immigrant youth to take on “survival jobs.”
The Canadian workforce desperately needs a boost. Employers are struggling to recruit and retain young talent, the Canadian-born workforce is aging, birth rates are falling and many young people opted out of the labour pool entirely. The pandemic piled on to an already shaky situation to make things worse.
Landed immigrant youth help fill the growing gaps in our economic ecosystem, but there is a lot of untapped potential.
Also known as permanent residents, landed immigrants are legal residents of Canada who can live and work in the country but are not citizens. Many are highly educated in in-demand fields but are unable to find employment.
You see, Canada attracts the best and brightest young workers from all over the world but does not adequately integrate them into the workforce. They face barrier after barrier to finding meaningful employment that aligns with their skills, interests and abilities.
Unrecognized Education and Credentials
Landed immigrant youth too often find themselves underemployed in Canada. A significant reason is the rejection of their education and professional credentials obtained abroad. It’s counter-intuitive to have the skills and abilities that helped get them into the country largely disregarded once here.
They must start over or pay out of pocket for lengthy credential recognition processes – both are expensive endeavours after uprooting in search of a better life and more access to opportunity.
Various studies have pegged the cost to the economy of this barrier at up to $20 billion annually.
Canadian Experience Requirements
The perceived need for Canadian experience creates a vicious cycle: Immigrants are unable to get a job in Canada because they don’t have experience at a job in Canada.
Employers have cited the as proof of the skills needed to perform, like language proficiency and understanding cultural context. These can be better ascertained during the interview process. Of course, there are some roles with a legitimate need for Canadian experience. However, these are far less pervasive than the requirement that is often rooted in racism, bias and a general lack of understanding.
Foreign experience is valid and should be valued. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has gone so far as to stress an employer’s responsibility under the Human Rights Code is to consider all experience, not just Canadian, when assessing if someone is suitable for a job.
The Language Barrier
The ability to communicate in one of Canada’s official languages at work undeniably impacts the livelihood of immigrants. While the requirement for fluency is valid, training easily helps support those with English as a second (third, fourth or even fifth) language.
This language barrier grows with bias and assumptions about accents. Yet, the 2021 Canadian Census found that one-in-four Canadians, or about nine million people, have a mother tongue other than one of the official languages. Add to that, 4.6 million Canadians mainly speak a language other than English or French at home. That’s nearly 13% of the population – a proportion that has risen over the last three decades.
Rather than focus on the inability of some immigrants to speak the language fluently, business is better served by focusing on the opportunity presented by this multilingual talent pool to reach new audiences, grow service offerings and enrich workplaces through diversity.
Landed immigrant youth are over-represented in low-skill jobs. Unrecognized education, discounted credentials, requirements for Canadian experience and language barriers force many young people new to Canada to take a “survival job.” These are low-pay jobs that they are overqualified for but need to make ends meet.
They can also find themselves working long hours in poor conditions for employers who take advantage of their lack of knowledge about Canadian labour laws.
Canada needs landed immigrant youth to meet our labour needs. Our economic growth depends on it. To help young immigrants more fully contribute, partners in the workforce development ecosystem must champion policies and practices that:
value the transferability of international education and experience
streamline credential recognition processes
develop unbiased criteria and scoring to assess candidate competencies
invest in bridging programs that help immigrants obtain employment aligned with their interests and education
support success in language proficiency training and testing
hold employers accountable to create fair and equitable workplaces
When we better support the integration of young immigrants into the workforce and their ability to thrive within it, the Canadian economy reaps benefits for years to come.