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Newcomers can overcome barriers to Canadian employment


Many organizations have had a long-standing interest in connecting with the immigrant community.

Yet, forging links between qualified candidates and industry continues to be a pressing societal challenge. Candidates often struggle to connect with prospective employers.

While many worthy organizations work tirelessly to create pathways between the two communities, research shows employment rates for immigrants continue to be much lower than for other groups. According to Statistics Canada, in 2014, 12 per cent of university-educated immigrants who have come to Canada in the last five years are without a job.

Job boards are a viable search tool yet prejudices continue to sway hiring decisions, according to Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director the Global Diversity Exchange and a Member of the Order of Canada, who has been a strong advocate for immigrants and reducing inequality in Canada. In fact, something as simple as an unusual surname on a resumé can lead to wrong assumptions that impede the hiring process.

Magnet, an employment networking platform that was incubated at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), is addressing the disparities between employers and the unemployed/underemployed with a unique data-rich, job-matching technology that quickly and accurately connects job seekers to employers based upon skills, preferences and talent needs. One of several unique aspects of this solution is that names are withheld throughout the initial vetting process to ensure unbiased outcomes.

These are questions that were recently asked of Ratna Omidvar and Mark Patterson, Executive Director of Magnet:

What are some of the largest barriers to employment for immigrants? Structural barriers like relevant work experience, language, proper credentials, proper licences, etc. all add up to barriers to employment for immigrants. However, in our work we have found that individual barriers are also quite significant. For example, developing your social capital is essential. Right or wrong, finding work in Canada is a lot about who you know and who don’t know. So we know that networking and connections are a critical part of learning about new opportunities. Getting yourself out there is extremely important.

What are the specific barriers facing immigrant applicants in the online world? In the online world, immigrant applicants often face barriers around the cultural nuances related to presenting, promoting, and marketing themselves and their skills. For example, understanding how to structure or craft a resumé, knowing who the employers are, what they are hiring for, or what job titles to search for. Research has also shown that there is often hiring discrimination based on people’s names, which is especially relevant in the current shift to online application processes. Other individual, organizational, and structural barriers, including foreign credential and international experience not being recognized, transferability, licensure, and others, remain prevalent in the online world.

How does Magnet specifically help immigrants seeking employment? Magnet uses an anonymous matching process to connect an employer to individuals that have the skills, qualifications, and experience that they are looking for. This means that an immigrant candidate’s identity is shielded until they decide to communicate with a potential employer, mitigating early-stage bias through anonymous applications. Magnet is also breaking down the silos and helping to bring stakeholders in the immigrant employment space together on one common platform. New immigrants seeking employment are often just starting to build their networks. Magnet allows employers to find people really quickly, and then removes the hidden labour market, making it more accessible for people without the networks and connections to connect to meaningful employment.

What are the unique aspects of Magnet’s approach versus other job board offerings? With Magnet, jobs actually chase people who have the qualifications and skills required in the posting, not the other way around. Instead of people struggling to find out where they fit, the right jobs find them, 24/7. The skills matching platform updates automatically, meaning that every time a suitable new job is posted, the candidate is informed. For employers, Magnet is a game-changer. It allows businesses to search based on skills, qualifications, and credentials, finding qualified candidates quickly and accurately and completely reversing the traditional job application process.

What tips would you share with immigrants who are looking for employment? It is important to understand both the written and unwritten rules of engagement. The written rules are easy to follow: employment codes of conduct – be on time, don’t lie, don’t share confidential company information, etc. However the unwritten rules of engagement are equally important. For example, don’t talk about your favourite political party, never ask how much money others make, don’t ask people where they live or who they live with. We need to understand that many Canadians are private people. Many immigrants come from countries that are not at all private and it is socially acceptable to ask co-workers very personal questions. Don’t be shy – this is a real barrier. It is important to reach out and develop your social capital – go with the traffic – use technology to broaden your reach.

What are some of the myths about employing immigrants that the Global Diversity Exchange is trying to debunk?
Myth: Immigrants are different. It is not just immigrants who are different, we all are. Some employees are good at time management, some are not. Some are creative, others are not. Everyone is different but we are also all the same. We are all human beings.

Myth: Names identify where a candidate comes from. Our research tells us that people with names that are foreign-sounding can be excluded from being interviewed for jobs. Employers assume they don’t speak good English. This is ludicrous because people with foreign sounding names may be second generation Canadians. Names are not indicative of whether someone is an immigrant or not. This is where Magnet is a game changer. It connects candidates to jobs because of their qualifications and experience – without revealing names until an employer invites them to connect. This privacy factor helps to eliminate a huge barrier.

Myth: Stereotypes are always right. While we know that all nationalities have unique tendencies we also know that people of the same culture are also very different. Not all Koreans are rigid, not all Canadians are polite, not all Punjabis are outgoing. Removing stereotypes from our thinking will allow us to consider candidates from highly diverse backgrounds.

There are a number of agencies and organizations that have a purpose to assist immigrants gain employment. Can you give an example of what they are doing to help? TRIEC is a fabulous resource for immigrants looking for work and for employers who want to further develop a diverse workforce. It manages a city-wide mentoring partnership and this helps immigrants expand their social capital. The field is full of support so the bigger question is how can we help people make use of every opportunity?

What is the main message you have for employers about hiring immigrants? There are proven benefits to hiring a diverse workforce. Every time employers have a job posting it is important to understand who is applying. We suggest that employers have targets – not quotas, but targets. For example an employer can make a target that 30 per cent of job applicants are from an immigrant background and measure that. Next time, after they consider labour market data, they can move the target to 40 per cent. At the end of the day the best person for the job will get it. However, it is critical for employers to set targets so they know that they are connecting with the right candidates in the right place.


Posted: Dec 1, 2015

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