Looking beyond the resumé (Guest commentary)

Employers need to do more to help skilled immigrants and staffing agencies can help with the process

Significant labour shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers continue to escalate in a growing number of regions and industries across the country. Yet, as a nation, Canada has only just begun to feel the effects of its aging population on the labour market.

As more baby boomers move into retirement in the coming years, the skills shortage will continue to grow, sliding into a negative worker replacement ratio with more people retiring from the workforce than entering it by the next decade. To compete in an increasingly global economy, Canadian businesses must find innovative and creative solutions to reduce labour shortages and keep the economy moving forward.

The Canadian government is working hard to attract skilled immigrants to Canada to help ease the economic pressures of an aging society. In 2004, according to Statistics Canada, 45 per cent of new immigrants 15 and older had university degrees. Yet skilled immigrants continue to be at a disadvantage when searching for employment in their field.

New Canadians frequently hear phrases such as “lack of Canadian work experience” and “overqualified” as reasons for their inability to find relevant work, pushing them into lower-paying positions to make ends meet. Many end up leaving Canada altogether in search of relevant work.

One systemic issue is the “resumé culture,” in sectors such as business, finance, information technology and human resources, which screens out talented candidates based on relevant experience that appears on paper and precludes any behavioural- or skills-based assessment of a candidate’s abilities.

A second issue is employers’ perception that references from foreign countries and different time zones are more challenging and time-consuming to verify.

To capitalize on the qualified human capital flowing into the country, it is crucial that employers across the country look beyond the paper. The best hires are most often those who fit with not only the skills required for a position but the culture and philosophy of the hiring organization. Behavioural and personality traits cannot be assessed by reading a candidate’s resumé.

Canada’s temporary, staffing and recruitment services industry exists to put the right person, with the right skills, together with the right company and the right position. Reputable and ethical firms use a three-stage process to assess candidates — taking into account the results of skills testing, comments from relevant references and behavioural analysis — in order to put the best prospects forward to an employer. They can help skilled immigrants overcome barriers such as discrimination, ensure a fair evaluation of their abilities and provide counsel on how existing skill sets can be transferred to other relevant work in their field.

In 2005, Canadian immigration hit its highest level in more than a decade, rising by 11 per cent, with work-related migration now accounting for 60 per cent of all immigration. However, a 2006 Statistics Canada study found more than one-half of male immigrants leave within their first year of arrival and one-third leave within 20 years.

While the government has launched a variety of initiatives to assist newcomers, professionals in non-regulated professions need to take action to keep the economy moving forward in the years to come and prevent talented, skilled immigrants from leaving in search of better employment opportunities.

Amanda Curtis is the executive director of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services in Mississauga, Ont. For more information visit www.acsess.org.

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