No quick solution: Banning Canadian work experience requirements

Employers 'can just hide behind 'soft skills' and these elusive, nebulous terms that people can't really define,' says academic

No quick solution: Banning Canadian work experience requirements

In a significant move, the province of Ontario is poised to enact legislation that could reshape hiring practices by eliminating Canadian work experience requirements for job applicants.

Despite the positive intent behind the legislation, concerns persist regarding the difficulty of proving discriminatory hiring practices. Izumi Sakamoto, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, recently emphasized the challenge in a BBC article.

"It's difficult to prove how they have been discriminated against to get the job. Hiring practices are behind closed doors. We usually don't get the reasons why some people did not get hired."

Bill 149 tackles barriers to employment

Bill 149, introduced by the Ontario government in November 2023, aims to level the playing field for skilled immigrants facing barriers to employment.

Ontario, Canada's most populous province, faces a conundrum: attracting a large number of immigrants annually but struggling to integrate them into the workforce, particularly in fields such as medicine, dentistry, optometry, and veterinary medicine, says the BBC article. The proposed legislation seeks to address this by prohibiting employers from mandating Canadian work experience in job advertisements and calls for professional associations to drop similar requirements.

The push for this legislation comes amid a shortage of skilled workers in Ontario, with approximately 300,000 positions remaining unfilled. While immigrants, who make up a significant portion of economic migrants, are better educated than their Canadian-born counterparts, they often find themselves in low-wage, precarious jobs due to stringent Canadian work experience requirements, says the report.

Carlos Martins, an employment specialist working with immigrant job seekers at the social-service organization Lutherwood, points out the paradox: "For far too long, too many people arriving in Canada have been funneled toward dead-end jobs they're overqualified for. We need to ensure these people can land well-paying and rewarding careers that help tackle the labour shortage."

Previously, one legal expert told Canadian HR Reporter that Ontario’s proposed legislation will be an expansion of an earlier statutory amendment, which banned the requirement of Canadian work experience for foreign-trained professionals hoping to be licensed in their field in the province.

Some workplaces demand Canadian work experience

The Ontario Human Rights Commission notes that some workplaces explicitly demand Canadian work experience or disregard applicants with overseas credentials, exacerbating the challenges faced by newcomers, says the BBC.

The legislation, if passed, could have a ripple effect across other provinces, as seen with British Columbia's similar move last October. However, the real challenge for HR professionals lies in addressing intangible factors that may persist even with the elimination of explicit Canadian work experience requirements.

Sakamoto points out in the report that employers increasingly consider soft skills, such as fitting into organizational culture, as crucial in hiring decisions. Unlike hard skills that can be showcased on a resume, soft skills are nuanced and earned through time spent in the workplace, making them difficult to quantify.

"They don't even have to talk about Canadian work experience in this area. They can just hide behind 'soft skills' and these elusive, nebulous terms that people can't really define."

The legislation is a positive step toward inclusivity, but its success ultimately depends on the commitment of employers to embrace diversity, according to Sakamoto in the report: "Unless the motivation to want to discriminate against immigrants does not go away, then there will be other forms of discrimination."

Changing mindset of employers

The new rule is geared towards changing the mindset of employers, said Henry Chang, a partner at Dentons.

“By requiring employers to not state Canadian work experience in their job postings, they're hoping to encourage employers to consider foreign-trained workers now. The intention here is to try to change the mindset of the employers to start to accept that good, viable candidates don't necessarily need to have Canadian work experience.  

“It's a step in the right direction. It's not a solution to the problem. And I don't think the government thinks it's necessarily a solution to the problem.”

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