Much has been written about Canada’s growing skills crisis. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says it’s our number one barrier to competitiveness. Despite the current unemployment levels we have a growing labour shortage and more people with the right skills are needed for us to compete in a global, knowledge-based economy.
Why is this important? Because better trained workers with the right skills are essential to improving Canada’s productivity. A more highly skilled workforce will produce value-added goods and services and the use of new technologies that can maximize productivity and improve our quality of life. Not just a noble goal – an essential one.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s “Emerging Stronger” document also focuses on building a 21st century workforce through workplace training, utilizing newcomers’ skills and apprenticeship reform. The challenges however are huge. There are not enough students entering skilled trades and Ontario’s working-age population will decline by almost 9% by 2036.With an increasing seniors population there will be a labour deficit of more than one million workers by 2031. Add to this – immigrant underemployment costs us between $3.4 and $5 billion a year.
How then do we build a 21st century workforce? Apart from the education and training of domestic workers, there is a local success story that has, in part begun to address the challenge.
The London Chamber in partnership with the London Middlesex Immigrant Employment Council (LMIEC) recently wrapped up a year-long project titled Global Experience @ Work (GE@W). The project was an initiative of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and is part of its strategy to better integrate internationally trained individuals (ITIs) into the workforce.
The LMIEC is led by regional employers that are committed to fully engaging skilled immigrants in the local labour market.
The mission of the project was to increase awareness among London Chamber members (particularly SMEs) of the need to attract, recruit, hire and retain ITIs; and to connect London Chamber members with the tools and resources available to them.
This would then see more ITIs being mentored by, placed in, or hired by Chamber member companies and would complement existing ITI recruitment and retention initiatives within the community. Was the mission accomplished? And how! In fact the results were rather stunning.
Specifically we wanted to connect 50 ITIs with employment, mentorship or a volunteer work experience placement opportunity. To date, 109 ITIs have found commensurate employment, been matched with a mentor or received a volunteer work experience placement.
These include; 34 who found commensurate employment at a Chamber member company; 44 were matched with a mentor at a Chamber company; and 31 were provided with a volunteer placement opportunity.
As one ITI participant noted, “I am more positive, confident, ambitious and ready to work harder because of my (volunteer) placement. The idea that I would willingly work unpaid resonates with employers”. In fact this ITI participant has already secured employment within his field which he attributes to the exposure he got through GE@W.
Chamber members have really benefitted from this initiative. There were 351 employer outreach visits as of August and of this number 154 were business development meetings/exchanges.
As well 73 participating Chamber members have either hired skilled immigrants in positions commensurate with their international education and professional experience or used Skills International to recruit skilled immigrant candidates or mentored skilled immigrants through LMIEC mentoring initiatives. Still others have hosted Canadian work experience placements for internationally trained individuals or recognized international credentials.
The LMIEC/Chamber partnership proved valuable in four key areas: employers are more engaged and informed; immigrant outcomes have improved; it has enhanced the image of LMIEC within the business community; and the Chamber has provided added value for its members.
In addition, GE@W helped to bring diversity and the importance of ITIs to the London Chamber community. The Chamber’s 3-year strategic plan now recognizes diversity as a central platform. In fact, in the last year the Chamber has added approximately 80 net members, and according to the current Chamber President, Gus Kotsiomitis, many of these new members come from the Asian and Hispanic Business Opportunities Committees.
It’s also Kotsiomiti’s view that through initiatives like this we can attract innovative emerging companies; help existing companies to expand and attract jobs that raise the standard of living for our entire community.
Kotsiomitis adds, “It is imperative to continue to work with our partners to maintain the momentum this project has begun. No other community has the tools we do that supports business and attracts ITIs. We can’t lose this opportunity”.