They come from different countries and speak different languages, but immigrants to Canada face a common expectation.
Employers are counting on them to be one of the main solutions to the growing labour shortage.
“Any business owner who doesn’t have tapping into newcomers to Canada as one of its top three strategies for finding qualified employees is missing the boat,” said Matt Marchand, president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The irony is that in uprooting themselves, and often enduring adversity in refugee camps along the way, immigrants to Canada have already demonstrated many of the soft skills employers are craving.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about their language skills and education”
“Reliable, motivated — and they bring global skills and knowledge,” said Melissa Ventura, labour market access manager for Windsor’s Canadian Newcomers Centre for Excellence.
“They can open up different avenues and revenue streams for employers because of that. They’re eager to begin building their lives in Canada.”
Yousef Elici, a native of Iraq who worked in his family’s liquor store business, understands there are many rungs on the ladder to climb to get to where he wants in his new country. However, he knows he must build a solid foundation of skills, ability to communicate and knowledge of Canadian culture to be part of the solution to the labour shortage.
“We’d like work that will challenge ourselves, improve our skills,” said Elici, who arrived in Windsor in 2012. “It’s not just about money.
“It might not be your dream job, but you take it, to make yourself better. It’s about getting experience, dealing with people in the Canadian culture and workplace.”
Until recently, Elici worked as a general labourer. He quit that job to attend the 10-week Ready To Work program offered by the Unemployed Help Centre to earn the five certifications that will help him pursue a job in the hospitality industry. He completed the program, along with his wife Sandy Hirmiz, late last month.
The program prepares people for all aspects of life in the Canadian workplace and then tries to match up employers and potential employees.
Of the 219 people who have taken the course since its inception in 2013, 85 per cent have found employment.
Nara Dhungana, who also graduated last month from the program with his wife Chhali, knows improving his English skills and picking up educational certifications is the secret to his family’s future.
“The main thing is the language barrier (for most immigrants),” said Dhungana, who spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal and left when he was 26 years old.
He and his wife now hope to find work in the hospitality sector.
“I did housekeeping for five years in a nursing home in Winnipeg before I came here,” Dhungana said. “I’d like to do that again or in a hospital. I enjoy that.”
Increasingly, Canadian employers are turning to immigrants to fill the labour gaps in the economy.
David Burman, owner of Mr. Maid janitorial service, long ago discovered the benefits of hiring newcomers to Canada.
“I see a work ethic from newcomers that’s strong,” Burman said. “They’re some of my best employees.
“They might not always be able to communicate to the level of a worker born in this country, but they work tirelessly to be successful. They’re engaged employees.”
Ventura said the challenge for her newcomers centre excellence is largely one of education for both employers and immigrants.
For employers, it’s making them aware of the talent available. At the same time, through programs such as Select For Success and Express Entry, the centre prepares newcomers to integrate into the Canadian workforce quickly.
Ofelia Dugal, lead employer connections specialist with the centre, said employers are often pleasantly surprised by the skills newcomers possess.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about their language skills and education,” Dugal said. “Many newcomers speak more than one language. A lot are highly skilled and ready to work.”
Ventura said about 70 per cent of the clientele passing through the newcomers centre possess bachelor degrees from universities in their homelands.
“I was a teacher back home,” said Tulay Altunova, who has called Windsor home since 2012. “I’d love to teach, especially children. It makes me happy to help people.”
Verification and gaining Canadian equivalency for those degrees is an issue Ella Radovan, a facilitator in the Ready To Work Program, feels must be addressed.
She’s seen degrees from excellent foreign universities not being recognized, she said.
“It takes them a couple of years to get their equivalency by going to the University of Windsor. That’s $7,000 a year for two years, money most immigrants can’t afford when they’re not working.
“The choice becomes work or go to school. We’re missing out on the potential of so many people.”
However, employers are becoming increasingly nimble and creative in trying to tap into new talent. Even the language barrier is no longer an insurmountable hurdle.
“Manufacturing companies, in order to fill some positions, are willing to pair newcomers with someone already employed who speaks the language in a buddy-mentoring system,” Ventura said.
“I’d prefer to have full-time employees, but I can’t find them”
Dugal said she recently helped place a Syrian refugee with lower-level language skills with an employer willing to think outside the box.
“He told the employer he had a friend who could translate and help the company as well,” Dugal. “They hired them both.”
Jonathon Azzopardi, president of Laval Tool and chair of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers, said advanced manufacturers are exploring options beyond Canadian borders.
“We’re talking with the Mexican government about following a similar program to what the greenhouse industry has done in getting general labourers,” Azzopardi said.
“If we can fill those positions, we can train domestic workers to try and fill the skilled trades gap. We need government, industry and local communities on board like in the agricultural sector.”
Government programs such as the Express Entry System and Select For Success also offer avenues to tap into international skilled workers.
A government website matches jobs that business can’t fill domestically with skilled people living abroad and speeds up their entry into the country.
Glen Cook, owner of Glen’s Moving, now regularly uses international students on a part-time basis.
“They’re good workers, but they’re limited to 20 hours per week as international students,” Cook said. “I’d prefer to have full-time employees, but I can’t find them. They’re smart kids. I had one work for me who is now a doctor.”
However, even when the Unemployed Help Centre does find a good match with an employer, public transportation can prove a barrier. According to Statisics Canada, only 3.4 per cent of area residents use public transit to get to work compared to 14.6 per cent provincially and 12.4 per cent nationally.
There’s a real problem getting employees without a car to where there’s an abundance of jobs — in Windsor’s outskirts where many advance manufacturing firms are located and Leamington’s booming agricultural sector.
Workers are improvising with carpools to Leamington, meeting at 5:30 a.m. and ending their long days at 7 p.m., but the cost of commuting ($10 each way) is eating up their pay cheques.
“I liked the job in Leamington, but I only did it for 11 months,” Chhali Dhungana said. “It was costing me $380 per month for transportation.”
Employers in Windsor and Essex County are looking to fill thousands of jobs, but can’t find the workers they need. In this three-part series that concludes today, reporter Dave Waddell reveals why there’s a problem and what is being done to fix it.
Source: Windsor Star