1. What is IEC-BC and what do you do?
The Immigrant Employment Council of BC is a not-for-profit organization that works with employers to help them attract, hire, and retain qualified immigrant talent to address the shortage of skilled workers in this province. We work closely with employers, labour, business and industry associations, community organizations, government and other stakeholders to develop long-term labour market strategies, so BC companies can effectively compete in both the local and global markets. In addition, we provide practical tools, resources and programs to help employers connect with qualified immigrant talent and build inclusive workplaces.
2. Why do we need immigrant workers in BC?
British Columbia, like other provinces and countries, is experiencing a chronic shortage of highly-skilled workers. It’s estimated the province will need more than 300,000 new workers over the next seven years to fill projected job shortages. Presently, BC is experiencing a demographic deficit. For the first time ever, there are now more people age 65 and over than there are under age 15, according to Statistics Canada. An aging workforce, coupled with lower birth rates in the province and a declining number of post-secondary graduates, means that BC employers must look to new Canadians for the highly skilled workers they need to fill in-demand job vacancies.
3. Why do we need organizations like IEC-BC?
With its modest population, BC can’t sustain its economic performance without an infusion of the unique talents that new Canadians provide. Businesses, particularly small-to-medium-size ones, often don’t have the resources or expertise to recruit, hire and retain skilled immigrant workers needed to fill job openings and remain competitive. Many companies also find it difficult to navigate the complicated government programs and procedures required to hire qualified immigrants. On behalf of employers in the province, IEC-BC works with various levels of government to promote policies and programs to make the immigration system more responsive to the needs of employers. We also provide practical tools and resources employers need to attract, hire and retain skilled immigrant employees.
4. What is the economic/business imperative to bring immigrants to BC?
There are significant economic implications for the province and for businesses of not addressing the skills shortage. According to the Conference Board of Canada, labour shortages in the province are estimated to cost the British Columbia economy up to $4.7 billion in foregone GDP and $616 million in provincial tax revenues annually. BC companies today operate in an extremely competitive economic environment provincially, nationally and internationally. Without a full complement of skilled workers, employers may struggle to deliver projects on time and on budget, or stay in business. When new Canadians arrive in BC, they not only fill gaps in the workforce, but they pay taxes and spend money on accommodation and consumer goods. Communities thrive, productivity increases, and there’s a ripple effect through the economy.
5. What is the global context in which IEC-BC is operating?
The global marketing for skilled immigrants is voracious. Industrialized countries around the world are targeting foreign professionals to make up for the shortfall in population growth and the fiscal pressures of supporting aging societies. The U.S., Australia, the European Union, and BRIC countries, among others, are all fishing from the same talent pool for highly-mobilized, discerning, skilled immigrant professionals and tradespeople. The number of skilled immigrants needed in industrialized nations to offset declining birthrates and aging populations is astounding. For example, in order to sustain growth in 2030, the U.S. will need 25 million workers and Europe will need 45 million, according to the Boston Consulting Group. BC can no longer rely on its stunning geography and lifestyle to appeal to immigrant talent. Recent Statistics Canada figures show that international immigration to British Columbia has dropped to a 15-year low. During the first half of 2015, BC had a net increase of less than 6,000 immigrants, compared with more than 18,000 in the same period last year. To reverse this trend, Canada and BC need to further streamline immigration policies and processes to compete with other countries for immigration talent and attract foreign professionals to the province.
6. Why is immigrant talent important to BC employers?
Immigration is vital to the sustainability of the BC economy. Projections by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show that given our shortage of skilled labour, immigrants will need to fill nearly 40% of job openings for us to remain competitive. Demographers at Urban Futures project that if immigrants stopped arriving in BC altogether, our labour force would begin shrinking by 2019. Simply put, BC doesn’t produce enough domestic skilled workers to meet our labour needs. To continue to grow our economy, BC employers must be able to access qualified, skilled immigrants to fill job vacancies and effectively operate in an increasingly competitive business environment.
7. Why should we use tax dollars to welcome immigrants to BC when there are so many people out of work in this province?
Any expenditures to recruit and hire highly qualified immigrants are an investment in future and are essential to the prosperity of this province. Qualified immigrants who come to work in BC are not replacing existing workers or reducing opportunities for British Columbians. New Canadians arriving in this province tend to have specialized skills and senior-level experience in their particular trade or vocation, and fill job vacancies where there are no Canadian workers available. Often times, these job vacancies become available due to an aging population and retiring employees.
8. Rather than bringing in immigrants, wouldn’t it be better to grow our talent base locally through training and apprenticeship programs?
Apprenticeship programs and training are an integral part of building a strong workforce. Recruiting experienced workers from overseas with highly specialized skills will strengthen our current workforce and support existing training and apprenticeship programs in the province. Many employers find it difficult to move forward with training programs when they don’t have a full complement of skilled workers, so immigration is essential to fill job shortages that will help companies grow and create jobs.
9. What’s the relationship between IEC-BC and Temporary Foreign Workers?
Temporary foreign workers are periodically hired by employers to meet specific labour market shortages, for seasonal work, or to fill a temporary vacancy when Canadian workers are not available. Often times, a TFW will come to Canada to complete a job contract or work under a reciprocal agreement between their country and Canada when a Canadian is working in the foreign worker’s host country. Temporary foreign workers play a valuable role in helping employers address a specific, short-term labour need. IEC-BC, on the other hand, is focused on developing long-term solutions to address BC’s labour shortage through effective immigrant labour marketing integration. We work primarily with employers to help them attract, hire and retain skilled immigrant workers who are qualified to fill specific labour market vacancies and are intent on obtaining permanent residence in Canada.
10. Commodity prices are low. There’s a surplus of energy on the market, and it’s unlikely that many of the major resource projects announced previously will go ahead. Why do we still need to bring in immigrants during an economic downturn?
Even with the downturn in the resources sector, there are several large-scale projects expected to come on stream – such as the Site C dam, YVR expansion, the Massey Tunnel replacement, and mining projects in Iskut and Stewart, which will require highly skilled workers. Even without taking into account proposed LNG projects, BC is expected to face a labour shortage of at least 61,500 skilled workers by 2020, according to BC Market Outlook 2010-2020. And, if the Federal Liberal government makes good on its promise to proceed with infrastructure improvements, the demand for skilled labour will be even higher.
11. How is IEC-BC different from immigrant service agencies?
There are numerous community-based immigrant service agencies throughout BC doing outstanding work to provide educational, settlement and social services to new Canadians. IEC-BC, in contrast, works with employers and the business community to help companies attract and retain skilled immigrants to meet the province’s workforce needs. We work to promote immigrant-inclusive HR policies within the business community, develop and provide valuable resources to employers so they can connect with and recruit immigrant talent, and work with government and communities to develop and adopt progressive policies and programs to encourage the integration of qualified skilled immigrants into the BC labour market. All of these initiatives are designed to address BC’s chronic skills shortage and make the province more competitive.
12. What are the benefits of recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants in BC?
In addition to alleviating skills and labour shortages, skilled immigrants help companies to:
- Improve productivity and reduce employee training costs by utilizing senior-level, transferable foreign work experience;
- Create a diverse workforce that is reflective of the general population;
- Increase understanding of and access to local and international markets by leveraging immigrants’ experience and cultural awareness; and,
- Improve the company’s competitiveness by incorporating new ideas and perspectives that enhance innovation.
13. What is IEC-BC doing to assist employers?
In many instances, IEC-BC acts as a convener to bring business, labour, government, community leaders, immigrant-related organizations, and other stakeholders together to resolve prominent labour market issues and develop solutions to meet BC’s workforce needs. Specifically, we host forums and summits where leaders can exchange ideas and develop concrete strategies to address labour shortages on a regional and provincial basis. We provide valuable tools and resources to help address the barriers employers face in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrant talent. We have a number of programs underway that help employers tap into a qualified pool of skilled immigrants. Two of our most effective programs are our relationship-building Connector program and our MentorConnect program. Finally, IEC-BC works with government to encourage the adoption of progressive immigrant-inclusive labour and workforce policies, representing the interests of BC business to help companies fulfill their workforce needs.
14. What is IEC-BC’s value proposition to the employer community?
Our value proposition lies in helping employers effectively compete in the local and global markets by ensuring they have the tools and resources needed to tap into immigrant talent to meet their labour needs.
15. What has IEC-BC achieved since its inception?
Since it was established in 2008, IEC-BC has made significant progress in elevating the discussion and changing perceptions about the role of skilled immigrants in BC’s labour market.
Our most notable achievements over the past seven years include:
- Commissioning the first comprehensive province-wide consultation of BC employers to obtain their perspectives on prominent issues and potential solutions for attracting and recruiting skilled immigrant talent to address key labour challenges.
- Hosting bi-annual summits of business, industry and government leaders to identify strategic immigrant workforce development policies and practices needed to meet BC’s current and future workforce needs.
- Convening regional forums in northern BC with employers, government groups and other stakeholders focused on identifying employer needs and developing best practices and strategies for accessing global talent.
- Developing, launching and managing the Employer Innovation Fund, which awarded $1.4 million to employer-led projects that developed initiatives and resources for integrating skilled immigrants into BC workplaces.
- Launching the relationship-building Connector Program, which matches skilled immigrants with local professionals, who, in turn, connect them with contacts in their occupational field.
- Implementing the MentorConnect Program, which has led to more than 300 mentoring matches with 75 percent of new Canadians finding employment in their chosen field.
- Developing a suite of web-based tools and curating available resources to help employers more effectively access and integrate immigrant talent into their workplaces.