My taxi driver was a friendly guy who spoke with a slight accent. When I ventured to ask where he was from, he said: “I am from Romania, I’ve been here for 10 years … and love it!”
Encouraged by his comments, I asked if he had always been a taxi driver and he laughed.
No, I was a construction engineer, and then the general manager of a chain of stores in Europe…. but when I came here I could not get a job and had to start all over again, so now I drive a taxi.
He laughed again and shrugged philosophically, adding “at least my kids will do better here, I hope.”
A couple of days later my wife’s Russian hairdresser told her she was taking some trade courses in order to re-qualify for, and hopefully return to, her original career as a freight forwarder that she enjoyed before emigrating to Canada.
A week after these exchanges, an article in the Canadian Press claimed that our post-secondary institutions are not producing enough graduates with the right skills to drive future economic growth.
The president of one of Canada’s leading banks, CIBC CEO Victor Dodig, said that we graduate students who are over-qualified but do not have the skills needed by industries.
He added that Canadian post-secondary education is not producing the types of skills needed by our industries, and that a lot of people are under-qualified for the jobs that need to be filled.
It’s a problem with an obvious solution
How can we complain that we do not have people with the skills to help our economy, while bringing in educated and qualified immigrants who are screened for their potential, who bring their innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, and yet have to do menial jobs because businesses won’t hire them?
It will take time for our educational institutions to listen and understand Dodig’s plea.
In the meantime we should be taking advantage of the expertise that is here now.
While we wait for any new educational programs to be put into effect (if Canada’s post-secondary institutions are to take heed of Dodig’s message), it is very likely that Canada’s economy will contract and global competition will affect us negatively.
The opportunities outweigh the challenges
As we read about the imminent arrival of yet more newcomers in the next few months, we are told that the screening process seeks to attract individuals with business skills and expertise.
But the Canadian life experience of people like the taxi driver and the hairdresser shows that once many former business people are here, they cannot find jobs that take advantage of the knowledge and experience they had before they came to Canada.
There is no doubt that integrating other cultures, foreign languages and different ways of doing business into our economy is not easy, but companies should be seeking ways to harness newcomers’ former business experience in real terms.
Canadian businesses cannot ignore that world competition is increasingly fierce, and that international markets are evolving continuously. We therefore need to take advantage of our new Canadians’ practical business expertise to help us compete globally in today’s markets, while waiting for our graduates to learn the business skills needed to succeed.
We need to change our mindset to change results
Newcomers’ willingness to come to a new country and live “the Canadian dream” should not be stymied by the temporary difficulties of integrating them once they are here.
Every newcomer makes an incredible personal and professional investment when leaving their country to come to Canada.
Businesses have to find ways to make a similar commitment, and accept (and take advantage of) new Canadians’ skills and willingness to work.
We want newcomers to adjust to us, but do not seem able to adjust to them by giving them a chance to work for us. As Dodig says, other countries like the UK and Germany, for example, help and support innovators and newcomers – why can’t Canada do the same?
It seems, however, that Canada is missing the opportunity of harnessing the real skills of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, while waiting for our graduates to get up to speed. And that’s something that cannot continue if Canada wants to remain competitive on a global scale.