Toronto drafts plan to avert labour shortages

Canada's largest city opposes federal plans to steer immigrants away
By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/29/2003


oronto isn't going to give up its skilled immigrant workers without a fight.

In recent months the federal government has made it clear it wants more of Canada’s skilled immigrants to work outside Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. But Toronto city council agreed last month to resist any federal initiatives to steer immigrants away from the city. The council voted to accept a number of recommendations addressing impending labour shortages in the city.

Among them was a call to reverse “federal policies that seek to disperse immigrants away from Toronto to other places in Canada.”

“We have to work very hard against that,” said Susan Brown, a senior labour force development policy advisor with the city. Not only will it be difficult for Ottawa to force people to settle where they don’t want to go, such a policy will hurt Toronto employers, she said.

Most cities and regions across Canada are expecting labour shortages in the next decade as large numbers of baby boomers retire and immigration is widely accepted as a vital source of new labour. However, more so than anywhere else, Toronto has become heavily dependent on immigrants to stock its labour pool.

In recent years, more than 40 per cent of all immigrants have settled in the Toronto area. And while the city receives the greatest proportion of immigrants it gets a disproportionately small share of federal settlement resources, according to the

Labour Force Readiness Plan

prepared for city hall by consulting firm GHK International.

David Miller, a Toronto councillor and candidate for mayor, said the city will need more, not fewer, immigrants and called for Toronto to be equally involved with the provincial and federal governments in the formation of immigration policies. “We are the ones that know what is happening and know where the money needs to be spent (on immigration),” he said.

Immigration lawyer Howard Greenberg said city governments will likely soon have more say in immigration. “It is believed that with the next change in government, the role of municipalities will increase considerably,” he said. “They will be viewed as partners in the immigration process and could conceivably become involved in the actual recruitment of immigrants.”

The plan details both the breadth and depth of current and expected labour supply issues, and suggests possible actions for the city to avert or at least minimize the shortages. Between 2000 and 2010, employment in the Toronto area will grow by about 400,000, a 13 per-cent increase. As baby boomers retire, many of those jobs will go unfilled, according to the report. However, the city’s ability to take action unilaterally is limited since most of the power to control labour supply rests with the provincial and federal governments. Ottawa, for example controls immigration while training and development falls into the provincial domain.

John Gladki, of GHK International, also said Toronto and other cities need to have a stronger voice in policies to address labour shortages.

Shortages can be very city-specific, he said. “There are clearly distinct markets and you need to address them in very different ways. A federal approach can’t address all those local nuances,” he said. Gladki added that even within the province, challenges in Toronto are different than those being faced by other Ontario municipalities.

“There are unique circumstances here that do not exist in other regions,” he said. Most notable is the heavy reliance on immigration, which brings with it unique immigrant settlement issues, he said.

Most of it is born locally through the education system and the administration of social services like affordable housing.

Any attempt to force immigrants to work in certain regions will fail, Greenberg added. Most people in the immigration industry feel immigrants can’t be forced to move into one city or region over another. The only way for a city to gain their skilled workers is to entice them. In that light, social services designed to help immigrants settle, find work and integrate into the community quickly and efficiently become even more important.

The plan produced for Toronto city hall calls for improvements to the system to integrate skilled immigrants into the workforce so that Toronto will remain a favoured destination for immigrants.

“We have to continue to attract immigrants to the city and we have done a reasonable job of that. But to continue to do that we have to facilitate the smooth integration of immigrants into the labour force. We haven’t done particularly well with that,” said Brown.

Several studies have documented difficulties highly skilled immigrants have finding work after actually arriving in Canada.

“I thought one of the best lines in that report was (about) making Toronto a centre of excellence for the integration of immigrants into the workforce. That is a wonderful goal,” said Greg Yarrow, executive director of the Toronto Training Board.

Integration requires a multi-faceted strategy that starts with making sure the right labour market information is available in other countries so that potential immigrants understand the job market before coming to Toronto. And right from when they get off the plane, support needs to be in place to help them find housing, a job, and day care services, if necessary.

Yarrow also called on the federal government to spend some of the surplus in the Employment Insurance fund to subsidize additional training for immigrants to upgrade their skills.

“The government is still running a whopping surplus that is embarrassing,” he said. “They should loosen up the surplus money there and pump it into training,” he said.

He added one important caveat to any government initiatives to improve immigration and increase training.

“It has got to be really, really easy,” he said. “The last thing (employers) need is any sort of extra paperwork or any sort of obstruction. If they have to sit down and fill in a form every month on training and spending they will forget about it.”

The study also recommends improvements to the training and skills development systems and calls on employers to increase the amount of training provided. Of more than 1,000 Toronto-area employers surveyed for the study, more than 60 per cent had not invested in workforce skills development in the last year.

The survey also revealed employers are for the most part happy with the public education system. In contrast, many employers in the United Kingdom said they are concerned about the absence of basic high school skills. Toronto-area employers are more worried about improving employee vocational skills, providing employer-led training and experiential learning.

The full report is available online at


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