Organizations that help Ottawa's immigrant newcomers are welcoming proposed legislation that would remove barriers to join the province's job force, but say more needs to be done — especially to address a dire shortage of health-care professionals.
If passed, the legislation would target labour shortages by making it easier for some foreign-trained workers in regulated professions to become licensed in Canada, the Ontario government said.
The legislation would remove requirements for Canadian work experience. It would also end the need to undergo language testing both for immigrating to Canada and then getting a job here.
"We are actually losing talent every year, when we have so many hundreds of skilled professionals and regulated professionals coming to Canada ... and then there are all these roadblocks," said Magdalene Cooman, senior director with WorldSkills Employment Centre and manager for a program that helps newcomer women from visible minority backgrounds succeed in the labour market.
Not only are newcomers affected when they can't find work in professions they've trained years for, but the labour market loses out by not filling empty positions, said WorldSkills executive director Mengistab Tsegaye.
It can end up as a catch-22 scenario, Tsegaye said.
We might have a rockstar in a particular area [but] our labour force loses the opportunity to tap the skills that they have. - Henry Akanko, director of Hire Immigrants Ottawa
"Nobody is winning. [You've] selected the best and the brightest from four corners of the world, but once they get here, you know, we're not we're not utilizing their skills and talents," he said.
"In order to qualify as an engineer, you need to have Canadian experience. And if you don't have Canadian experience, you don't qualify. So you've got this vicious circle."
Removing the Canadian work experience requirement, Tsegaye said, only reinforces a 2013 Ontario Human Rights Commission policy that employers should not require job applicants to have prior work experience in Canada.
But while the practice may be outlawed, it doesn't necessarily stop immigrants from being screened out, he said.
Health professionals excluded
The proposed changes would apply to jobs like engineers, architects, electricians, accountants and teachers, the Ontario government said. The work experience requirement would only be upheld if there is a health-and-safety risk associated with removing it, it added.
There's no clear timeline for when the legislation would come into effect, but advocates point out it excludes doctors, nurses, and others in the health-care sector, an industry that's seen significant shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said it would work with the Ministry of Health to look at including them in future, but there's no information on when that could occur, something Cooman considers a mistake.
"By not allowing them to be part of this group for licensure, I think that is a disaster for the economy," Cooman said.
If the re-training process — which can take a decade in some cases — is overly burdensome, some people may not have the time or finances to see it through, both Tsegaye and Cooman pointed out.
"They basically accept any entry-level position. And it's very difficult to actually go back to your profession once you've been out of it for many years," said Tsegaye.
Instead, employers should implement an onboarding program — similar to a mentorship or an internship — to help address the gap some foreign-trained professionals may have when it comes to Canada-specific skills, said Henry Akanko, director of Hire Immigrants Ottawa.
That program could be similar to what's often done for new university graduates, he said.
"We might have a rockstar in a particular area, and all they are missing is that first Canadian job in their professional area," Akanko said.
"And if somebody doesn't give it to them, they don't get it. And for that reason, our labour force loses the opportunity to tap the skills that they have."