Op-ed: Newcomer underemployment costs us all. Here’s what we can do about it.


Photo credit: Josh Olalde

Recently, IEC-BC’s CEO Patrick MacKenzie and New Brunswick Community College President and CEO Mary Butler penned an op-ed about the FAST program‘s impact and potential in New Brunswick. Like many other parts of Canada, New Brunswick is experiencing a housing shortage. Part of this is because there are not enough skilled tradespeople to build the new housing that communities need.

Read the full piece below:

A recent report by economist Richard Saillant for the Housing Hub of New Brunswick contends that New Brunswick housing costs will continue their alarming run-up unless we make meaningful additions to the supply of skilled tradespeople who can build more housing. In an interview, he recommended making the most of the skills possessed by immigrants arriving in New Brunswick as one way out of the crunch.

Newcomers to Canada still face too many hurdles when it comes to having their skills and qualifications recognized and getting hired. As a result, many are underemployed and do not contribute to their full potential, as a recent study from RBC confirms.

When skilled tradespeople are underemployed, we all feel the pinch through reduced housing availability and affordability.

Last year, New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) became the first post-secondary institution in Canada to pilot the Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent (FAST) program.

Developed by the Immigrant Employment Council of B.C., FAST provides newcomers planning to come to the Atlantic region and those already here the opportunity to assess and certify their skills in a wide range of occupations in the skilled trades, beginning with carpentry.

Newcomers using FAST undertake occupation-specific workplace technical and cultural competency assessments online, testing their knowledge and skills against industry benchmarks. They become more confident and ready to show employers their skills.

As early adopters of the FAST program, NBCC sees the incredible potential of this program to add skilled tradespeople to the workforce and give newcomers the economic opportunity they deserve. The program has already delivered results for hundreds who have taken part across the country and around the world.

With the recent expansion of the federal immigration levels, more newcomers than ever will be arriving on our shores. It is vital that these new workers can make meaningful contributions in sectors like housing construction. That means an immigrant selection process that responds to the need for trades, as well as more cooperation between community organisations, government, post-secondary, employers and municipalities to holistically integrate newcomers.

New Brunswick’s housing supply challenges can’t be fixed overnight, but this partnership to deploy the FAST program will help new immigrants certify their skills and better demonstrate them to employers, putting more people to work building housing. That’s a great start.

Mary Butler is the President and CEO of New Brunswick Community College (NBCC). She worked in the public and private education sector in multiple jurisdictions prior to joining NBCC in 2011. Central to her values and practice is her commitment to every individual’s right and opportunity to reach their full potential.

Patrick MacKenzie is the CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of B.C. He has made a career of public service from coast to coast, working in policy and program areas supporting Canada’s most vulnerable communities. Previously, Patrick spent 11 years working for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in Ottawa and its offices in Vancouver.

Tech Bootcamps: the story so far—and what’s coming up

IEC-BC recently wrapped our final Tech Bootcamp, and we’re delighted to report that it was a huge success.

The Tech Bootcamps initiative was developed to provide an opportunity for employers in the tech sector to co-design an engagement opportunity that will help tech-skilled newcomers adapt and upgrade their soft skills, and encourage employers to use learnings from their participation and interactions with tech-skilled newcomers to create more inclusive and effective workplace practices.

Why are the Bootcamps needed? Although the BC tech sector has seen phenomenal growth, hiring of tech-skilled immigrants hasn’t kept up with the larger trend. With the sector expected to grow another 22 per cent from 2022-2024, the unemployment rate for immigrants remains 1.73 times higher than for those born in Canada.

In addition, immigrants who are employed consistently earn less than people born in Canada, despite having higher levels of education and experience. For example, 44% of Tech Bootcamp attendees have 5+ years of experience in tech, and 56% have a graduate degree.

From our surveys and interviews with tech employers, the most common and significant hurdle to hiring newcomers was soft skills. These are the loosely-defined and expansive category of skills that include interpersonal and cultural communication, personal resilience, critical thinking, collaboration, coachability, and emotional intelligence.

The Tech Bootcamps differ from other soft skills training by making these nebulous skills objective, improvable, and achievable through activities and exercises that we have optimized in collaboration with employers over the course of the bootcamps. As we advanced through the in-person and virtual bootcamp schedule, we incorporated real-time feedback from participants and tech facilitators to tailor the experience to provide the most value.

As participant Sima told us, “I really enjoyed both bootcamps…I had the opportunity to engage with various facilitators and gain valuable insights into the tasks at hand. I was particularly glad to see that the second bootcamp incorporated even more practical components and introduced fresh thoughts and ideas to enhance the overall experience.”

Through activities like breakout sessions working on mock interviews, personal narratives, leveraging Linkedin, and emotional intelligence, tech-skilled newcomer participants gained valuable and hands-on experience adapting and upgrading their soft skills to the Canadian job market.

Even though the final bootcamp is now in the rear view mirror, the project is still very much in progress.

In conjunction with partners at Hire Immigrants Ottawa, IEC-BC will organize and deploy a series of employer workshops. The Tech Bootcamps Employer Workshops will focus on helping employers build more effective and inclusive job descriptions, interviews, onboarding strategies, and how to develop a workplace culture focused on growth.

Working with our partners at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, we will also be developing and launching a series of six online micro-credential courses. The Tech Bootcamps Online Employer Courses will focus on helping employers better understand, identify, and assess the top soft skills identified in the Bootcamps.

Stay tuned for more news and updates on these employer workshops and online courses!

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