How to address Canada’s talent shortage? Start by encouraging blue-collar migrants

Canada enjoys a strong international reputation and has a proven ability to rapidly recruit workers to fill talent gaps in areas that require higher levels of education.Phynart Studio

Canada’s population could grow to over 52 million by 2043, a projection nearly doubling current numbers.

The country is already struggling with a shortage of skilled workers, which is largely concentrated in key areas such as healthcare, trades and service occupations. With the population growing in large part due to immigration, these gaps risk widening without attracting people who want to work in these industries.

Canada’s immigration system has historically prioritized well-educated workers whose skills do not match the needs of sectors such as construction, manufacturing or hospitality.

The three programs that Express Entry offer each take education, work experience and language skills into account. The Global Talent Stream, introduced by the federal government in 2017, enabled these highly skilled workers to get work permits in just two weeks.

“We have a ruthlessly intelligent immigration system that’s very academically focused, which doesn’t really help the blue-collar sector,” says Ruairi Spillane, executive director of Moving2Canada, an online resource for potential and new immigrants.

Mr Spillane, who emigrated from Ireland in 2008, says applicants who don’t qualify for these express routes often find it difficult to get here and face greater obstacles when staying long-term.

“Typically, it takes a newcomer here with a temporary work permit about two years to go through the process,” he says. “It’s the most daunting, bureaucratic process, and you know what? In the end they give up.”

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At the same time, Mr Spillane says industries other than high-tech are desperate for talent amid the pandemic. He adds that Canada has significant talent gaps in healthcare, education, hospitality, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas, to name a few.

“Everyone takes off at the same time and it’s a perfect storm to leave people,” he explains. “Immigration is the solution, but there have been many problems.”

This is not the case in Canada’s high-tech industries. Although they make up less than a quarter of the national labor force, immigrants make up about 40 percent of Canada’s computer programmers and engineers and more than half of all chemists.

“There is a shortage of senior developers because a lot of our local tech talent has moved to the US or is working remotely for a US company. And because technology has infiltrated everything, every company is now a tech company,” says Ilya Brotzky, founder of VanHack, which helps Canadian tech employers find overseas talent. “We just don’t have the people with the skills available.”

Since its founding seven years ago, VanHack has helped more than 1,500 technology industry employees relocate to Canada. “Since we started VanHack, demand has only increased,” says Mr. Brotzky. “I don’t see this trend slowing down.”

According to research conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, many immigrants who gain entry because of their relatively high level of education also have difficulty getting those credentials recognized. While the technology sector has been relatively successful in onboarding workers with foreign skills and experience, others that require high levels of education — such as healthcare, law and engineering — do not have the same track record.

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As a result, many come with advanced degrees that are not recognized by Canadian employers, and they take on temporary positions in key service sectors, hoping to eventually return to their chosen field. According to the Valued Workers report, Valuable Work: The Current and Future Role of (Im)migrant Talent, newcomers in the food production, transportation, nursing and residential care sectors are overrepresented and more likely to be overqualified for these positions.

“People can temporarily enter the service industry or transport while working their way up to the career they are trained and experienced for, but it’s not a long-term solution for those industries,” says Iain Reeve. the Conference Board’s associate director for immigration research, who co-authored the report.

“To meet the needs in these industries, we probably need immigration programs for people who want to work in these jobs.”

Ms. Reeve explains that Canada has a strong international reputation and a proven ability to quickly recruit workers to fill talent gaps in areas that require higher levels of education. He hopes the country will use some of these proven strategies to fill positions in previously overlooked segments of the workforce.

“We’re one of the best countries in the world when it comes to attracting talent overall, but our program needs to evolve,” he says. “We underemphasize skilled workers, although they are often fairly stable, relatively high-paying jobs with many advancement opportunities, where demand is high, chronic, and unlikely to be in the near future.”

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