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Employing immigrants - how can we get businesses on board?

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Getting skilled immigrants into the workforce often relies on making a connection with employers and dispelling myths of impossible accreditation. People trying to grow Atlantic Canada’s immigrant workforce say there’s a growing awareness of what’s possible and the value newcomers bring.


Doug Ezeard (left), a partner with Arsenault Best Cameron Ellis, and accounting technician Nathan Ding look over some figures inside the Charlottetown accounting firm. Ding, a marketing major who moved to P.E.I. about nine years ago with experience managing a major company, has found a fulfilling role working at the firm and is now pursuing a path to become a Chartered Professional Accountant.
Doug Ezeard (left), a partner with Arsenault Best Cameron Ellis, and accounting technician Nathan Ding look over some figures inside the Charlottetown accounting firm. Ding, a marketing major who moved to P.E.I. about nine years ago with experience managing a major company, has found a fulfilling role working at the firm and is now pursuing a path to become a Chartered Professional Accountant.

EMPLOYERS CAN HELP EASE INTERNATIONAL EMPLOYEES INTO THE WORKFORCE

Nathan Ding wanted a change.

After a fast-paced career managing a publicly traded company in China, he was tired of a life with little time for his family.

So, he uprooted to Canada in search of a slower pace.

“It was too busy. It was easy to make money (in China) but you had no life,” said Ding, who has been in P.E.I. for nine years.

However, soon after immigrating, he felt compelled to find fulfilling work.

After an accounting seminar for Chinese-Canadians, Ding saw a need for someone with his abilities and knowledge.

“The Chinese and Canadian tax systems are totally different. I thought that was a good opportunity,” he said.

Doug Ezeard, a partner at the Charlottetown-based accounting firm of Arsenault Best Cameron Ellis, reached out to Ding after seeing the newcomer’s skills.

Ding has now been crunching numbers there for four years.

He’s loving the work. With no plan to leave, he is taking courses at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Ding aims to become a chartered professional accountant. The firm is helping make those studies possible.

“They’ve supported me a lot,” he said of his employer.

Immigration Pilot Program

As in Ding’s case, integrating skilled immigrants into Atlantic Canada’s workforce is often employer-driven.

Getting companies and industries on board and aware of the benefits is a key strategy in that integration, and of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program.

The three-year trial was announced in 2017 and extended by two years, to December 2021, on March 1.

Through the pilot, more than 2,535 approved permanent residents are destined for or already in Atlantic Canada.

Craig Mackie, executive director for the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, suggests there’s a growing acceptance of the talent coming in.

Craig Mackie
Craig Mackie

More businesses, he adds, are considering things like diversifying their workforce or bringing in another language.

“These will, in the medium and long term, help your business,” he said, adding that while acceptance is growing, there is still a learning curve.

“It is a culture shift for people. When you think about it, a lot of new immigrants arriving is really something that has only happened in the past decade.”

Other Ocean is an example of an employer that’s on side and benefiting from hiring newcomers.

The video game development company operates a studio in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as a quality assurance company in Prince Edward Island.

It has realized the value of adding international talent.

According to Deirdre Ayre, the St. John’s-based head of Canadian operations, hiring immigrants has allowed Other Ocean to grow, take on new projects, and expand the skills of local staff.

The newcomers, she elaborated, often mentor the local junior workforce.

It might be somewhat specific to the gaming industry, but Other Ocean has found immigrants adapt easily.

“The games community — they all play the same games — they already have that in common,” said Ayre. “They come to work with us, they have a sense of community with their co-workers.”

Obstacles

However, the transition isn’t always so smooth. Immigrants joining the Canadian workforce often face speed bumps or waiting.

The P.E.I. College of Registered Nurses is one association that reaches out to immigrants to guide them along that path.

The college meets face-to-face with internationally educated nurses (IEN) to explain the process.

“It makes it fairly personal for them. It’s less intimidating and gives them more opportunity to be engaged in the process," said Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short.

Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short
Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short

The college is also transparent with IENs that it can take time to become registered, as the credentials of all nurses coming into Canada must undergo a national assessment. The outcome determines any need for further education.

Marchant-Short said the college remains available to IENs throughout the process.

“I think it helps them to understand it’s not a large mechanism standing in their way, there are just pieces that have to be completed,” she said.

The college has registered 25 IENs on P.E.I. since 2015.

Such a personal approach also seems to be a winning strategy for the Halifax Partnership.

The organization has two people who meet with businesses facing chronic labour shortages, asking them to consider the immigration pilot

They have referred 159 companies for designation.

"We’re trying to encourage businesses to think more about immigration,” Robyn Webb, director of labour market development, Halifax Partnership

“We’re really trying to promote that it isn’t as complicated as one might think. We’re trying to encourage businesses to think more about immigration,” said Robyn Webb, director of labour market development.

“It’s a very proactive approach… it’s really gaining momentum.”

Webb said the pilot has been successful for businesses and industries with chronic labour shortages.

It also offers a layer to the existing provincial and federal programs, she said.

“Moving forward, as our population ages, we need to find every creative way we can bring in immigrants.

“It’s a perfect fit for what the needs are. We’re not trying to fit square peg into a round hole. The employers are saying what they need and bringing in the talent to fill their needs.”

Nathan Ding is one of three Mandarin-speaking employees at the Charlottetown accounting firm.

With hundreds of Chinese clients, Doug Ezeard said the trio’s presence has benefited the company while helping other newcomers navigate P.E.I.’s business landscape.

“Nathan kind of bridges the gap between the detailed accounting knowledge and the translation,” said Ezeard, adding his company has supported all the immigrants in pursuing higher education.

“It’s a win-win. He’s thrilled with what he’s doing and being able to work in the community … And then there’s a lot of valuable insight that we wouldn’t have (otherwise).”

— With files from Sam McNeish

FINDING A WAY

Adriyana Stoyanovais battled the catch-22 of Canadian work experience.

Stoyanova, originally from Bulgaria, lived in Saudi Arabia and the U.K. before immigrating to P.E.I. in 2017.

She arrived with an honours degree in business administration. Transferring those skills seemed impossible because she lacked Canadian work experience.

However, Stoyanova found a way.

The P.E.I. Association of Newcomers to Canada connected her with a 12-week Career Bridges program.

It included an intern position with the Royal Canadian Legion Command, which provided relevant experience.

Shortly after finishing, she landed a casual position and later an apprenticeship with Skills P.E.I.


EMPLOYERS IN PLACE

As of Feb. 25, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot had 1,896 designated employers across the region in place.

— Government of Canada

‘WE NEED MORE’

The current immigration target in Newfoundland and Labrador is 1,700 newcomers by 2022. “We know we need more than that. As a province, our median age is something like 46, and our immigrations, the median age is somewhere around 29. So, it’s really, really important that we help with the demographics of the province,” said Bernard Davis, minister of advanced education, skills and labour minister. He made those comments in the legislature Tuesday.

ONE PER CENT GROWTH

“In my opinion, Atlantic Canada must strive to grow its population by one per cent each year to reap the economic benefits the rest of the country has enjoyed for decades.”

— SaltWire columnist Don Mills, March 2


ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES: WHAT OBSTACLES DO NEWCOMERS FACE AND WHAT’S BEING DONE?

FINDING ALTERNATE PATHWAYS TO EMPLOYMENT

This spring, the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada will host its fourth alternate careers day.

It’s meant to show skilled newcomers other viable options for work.

For example, a lawyer who immigrated from China may have a more difficult time than other professions in transitioning to Canada due to differences in the legal systems.

While it could take years to practise in Canada, there may be better or easier options that fit with their skill, such as working as a paralegal.

“What we’re trying to do is say, ‘Think about other careers where you can use your credentials and work experience but perhaps not in the same occupation,’” said association executive director Craig Mackie.

One success story from the initiative saw a newcomer attend the event searching for work.

After making a meaningful connection and given a chance, he returned to the event one year later — as an employer.

OVERCOMING MYTHS FOR EMPLOYERS AND IMMIGRANTS

Employers must be made aware of the benefits of employing skilled immigrants.

Newcomers must also learn that although they can be engaging in a lengthy process, it is possible to find work.

Mohja Alia is manager of employment and bridging at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).

She said the association has numerous programs that bridge together industry associations, internationally educated professionals and educators with newcomers.

Because each field can require different certifications for working in Canada, Alia said it’s important to bring together all parties to help explain the process to individual newcomers.

“It wasn’t a perfect science so we thought what’s the best way to do this? And that’s to bring all involved decision makers in one place to ask about the barriers facing physicians, pharmacists, dentists, et cetera.”

ENCOURAGING FACE TO FACE CONNECTION

Making the process personalized to a newcomer can make all the difference.

The Halifax Partnership’s connector program encourages employers to meet with skilled newcomers, even for a chat over a cup of coffee.

Some industry associations have taken it upon themselves to help make the connection.

Settlement services can also host days to bring together employers and potential employees.

The P.E.I. College of Registered Nurses has also made a point of reaching out to internationally educated nurses entering the province.

“We have an aging workforce everywhere in Canada. That’s not unique to nursing, of course. We do have an ongoing need for nurses in P.E.I. so when international nurses come and fill a gap, it’s always a wonderful thing.”

RELAXING REGULATIONS IS PROVING BENEFICIAL

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot has been successful partially because if a business is in a field with a chronic labour shortage, they do not have to complete the additional cost of the labour market impact assessment to hire a newcomer.

Robyn Webb, director of labour market development for Halifax Partnership, said the AIP has worked for many businesses.

“Moving forward, as our population ages, we need to find every creative way we can bring in immigrants,” she said.

“It’s a perfect fit for what the needs are. We’re not trying to fit square peg into a round hole. The employers are saying what they need and bringing in the talent to fill their needs.”

ATTRACTING EARLY IS IMPORTANT

With many international students graduating in the Atlantic provinces, retaining them is key to a sustainable solution to the problems of an aging workforce.

An international graduates stream such as Nova Scotia’s Provincial Nominee Program aims to do exactly that.

The stream removes some barriers for employers hiring international graduates and expedites their process of reaching permanent residency.

The program also has a side benefit of increasing the loyalty between graduates and employers.


HIDDEN JOBS

It is commonly accepted by industry experts and employment agents that up to 80 per cent of jobs are not advertised and are part of the “hidden job market.” This makes networking and forging connections with employers and associations even more crucial for newcomers who may have few personal connections in their new home.

WORLD CONNECTOR

The Halifax Partnership’s connector program has engaged more than 1,109 employers, or connectors, with at least 2,610 skilled immigrants. The award-winning program is now being used in 37 other communities across Canada and has also been adopted in areas of Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

UNTAPPED POTENTIAL

“I think there is (untapped potential). There are people arriving with excellent academic credentials and global work experience. That combination, potentially is a huge asset for businesses,” Craig Mackie, executive director of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada.


Email us your thoughts at deepdives@saltwire.com.


MORE - DEEP DIVE: Employment after immigration in Atlantic Canada


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