Use ’em or lose ’em (Editorial)

Employers need to make better use of skilled immigrants

Last year Selladurai Premakumaran of Edmonton unsuccessfully sued the federal government for $2.1 million for mental anguish and relocation expenses alleging immigration forms and ads misled him and his wife into believing they would easily find professional employment in Canada. They emigrated from the United Kingdom eight years ago where he was an accountant and she was a senior administrator. In Alberta they clean offices.

This month 250 Torontonians of Chinese descent filled a restaurant to hear about job opportunities in China. A delegation of 24 Chinese business people is visiting Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver to recruit skilled professionals.

Canadian HR Reporter’s News Briefs on page 2 give examples of worker shortages, as they do almost every issue. There’s even a report on a study from the Canadian Labour and Business Centre in which 60 per cent of 1,169 business and labour leaders said a skills shortage is a major problem for this country.

There’s a disconnect here.

With an aging population and a healthy economy that needs skilled employees, worker shortages are threatening the future of employers in almost every sector. British Columbia and Alberta are already struggling to find the tradespeople needed to complete a host of construction projects, more than a million Ontarians don’t have a family doctor, Saskatchewan residents will be lucky to find a dentist… and on it goes across the country.

And yet the stereotypical image of trained professionals driving cabs and cleaning offices is far too true. Many of the people we need are already here. We’re just not making use of their talent.

Governments and professional licensing bodies are starting to realize they have a lot of work to do to better integrate skilled workers and recognize their credentials.

Employers need to do the same. And there are signs this is happening.

In southern Ontario, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) is working to end the taxi-driver stereotype, setting up mentoring and job entry opportunities for new immigrants. A website,, has also been set up to answer employer questions about how to best tap into the skilled labour pool that is available. Not only does it show the business case for hiring immigrants, it also gives examples of firms that are making the right recruitment and retention connections.

TRIEC is a non-profit council launched in the fall of 2003 — an idea that came out of a summit to address the city’s business concerns. TRIEC includes representation from private- and public-sector employers, colleges and universities, organized labour, community groups and the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

The latest TRIEC initiative is the creation of the IS Awards, which stands for Immigrant Success. Employers in the Greater Toronto Area are being invited to compete for what is essentially a “best employers for immigrants” competition, with winners to be announced in the early spring.

It’s an opportunity to highlight best practices in recruitment and retention, and share them with employers across the country.

Canadian HR Reporter is involved in the IS Awards as a media sponsor. See the ad on page 6 of this issue for more information on the competition; in future issues we’ll be looking at the HR policies leading immigrant employers have implemented.

Developing best practices in immigrant hiring is in the best interests of employers. Otherwise the workers we need will be returning to nations where their expertise is appreciated, and a valuable labour source will be lost.

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