Immigrants – We Can Do Better

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

Two Opposing Stories

(A) A recent article in The Canadian Press claimed that our post-secondary institutions are not producing enough graduates with the right skills to drive future economic growth. The president of CIBC, one of Canada’s leading banks said that we graduate students who are over-qualified but do not have the skills needed by industries. He added that Canada is not producing the types of skills needed by industry and that a lot of people are under-qualified for the jobs that are needed.

(B) The other day my taxi driver was a friendly guy who spoke with a slight accent. When I ventured to ask where he was from he said: “I am from Romania, I’ve been here for 10 years… and love it!” Encouraged by his comments, I asked if he had always been a taxi driver and he laughed out loud. “No, I was a construction engineer and then the general manager of a chain of stores in Europe…. but when I came here I could not get a job and had to start all over again, so now I drive taxi.” He laughed again and shrugged philosophically, adding “at least my kids will do better here, I hope.”

A couple of days later my wife’s Russian hairdresser told her she was taking some trade courses in the evening in order to re-qualify and hopefully return to her original career as a Freight Forwarder, before she emigrated to Canada.

Dichotomy

How can we complain that we do not have people with skills to help our economy and yet bring in educated and qualified immigrants who are screened for their potential, who bring their innovative and entrepreneurial ideas and yet have to do menial jobs because businesses won’t hire them?

It will take time for our educational institutions to listen and understand the banker’s plea, but in the meantime we should be taking advantage of the expertise that is here now. While we wait for any new educational programs to be put into effect (if Canada’s post-secondary institutions are to take heed of the banker’s message) Canada’s economy may well contract and global competition will affect us negatively.

Opportunities

As we read about the arrival of yet more newcomers in the next few months, we are told that the screening process seeks to attract individuals with business skills and expertise. But Canadian life experience of people like the taxi driver and the hairdresser shows that once many are here, these former business people cannot find jobs that take advantage of the knowledge and experience they had before they came to Canada.

Difficulties

There is no doubt that integrating other cultures, foreign languages and different ways of doing business into our economy is not easy, but our companies should be seeking ways to harness newcomers’ former business experience in real terms. Canadian business cannot ignore that world competition is increasingly fierce and international markets evolve continuously. We therefore need to take advantage of our New Canadians’ practical business expertise to help us compete globally in today’s markets, while waiting for our University graduates to learn the business skills needed to succeed.

Newcomers’ willingness to come to a new country and live “the Canadian dream” should not be stymied by the temporary difficulties of integrating them here. Every newcomer makes an incredible personal and professional investment when leaving their country to come to Canada – business must find ways to make a similar commitment and accept (and take advantage of) our new Canadians’ skills and willingness to work.

Difficulty In Adjusting

We want newcomers to adjust to us but do not seem able to adjust to them by giving them a chance to work for us. As the banker says, other countries like the UK and Germany help and support innovators and newcomers, but it seems that Canada is missing the opportunity of harnessing the real skills of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, while waiting for our graduates to get up to speed.

Ennio Vita-Finzi was appointed as Ontario’s Trade Commissioner in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., was President of the Canadian Council for the Americas during NAFTA negotiations and then qualified as a Certified International Trade Professional (CITP). He is now a College lecturer and keynote speaker in Montreal.
e.vita-finzi@sympatico.ca

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