The “Canadian Experience” Barrier

Canada has decided to accept more highly skilled and educated immigrants, with Immigration Minister John McCallum claiming that this change will “lay the foundation for future growth.” However, many immigrants in Canada are finding that their lack of Canadian work experience is leaving them unemployed or working in jobs that they are overqualified for.

Since 2013, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has recognized these issues and has developed a policy on removing what they call the “Canadian experience barrier.” Statistics Canada has reported that between 1991 and 2006, “the proportion of immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low educational requirements (such as clerks, truck drivers, salespersons, cashiers, and taxi drivers) increased.” They also reported that “even after being in Canada for fifteen years, immigrants with a university degree are still more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs,” as shown in the figure below.

Other barriers newcomers face include not being recognized by employers for their foreign credentials, having difficulty with language and occupation jargon, working for employers who lack the willingness to help integrate immigrants into the workplace, and even outright discrimination from management or colleagues.

While these barriers are sometimes unavoidable, there are some ways to reduce or ease the effects of them. To gain some initial Canadian experience, consider relevant volunteering or an internship within Canada. Although this may be an issue financially, it is a good place to start to build experience and network. If language is a barrier, then taking classes may be a good solution. There are many free ESL classes in most communities. Seeking help is a great asset as well, and many career agencies offer free counselling. Lastly, building a portfolio gives employers visual evidence of your work.

Job seekers are only one side of the barrier, however, and the OHRC has developed a list of best practices for employers to become more integrative. They suggest employers to “examine their organizations as a whole to identify potential barriers for newcomers,” and, “address any barriers through organizational change initiatives such as by forming new organizational structures, removing old practices or policies that give rise to human rights concerns, using more objective, transparent processes, and focusing on more inclusive styles of leadership and decision-making.”

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