The resumés have been tweaked. The job fairs attended. The employment agencies visited. Yet, Annet Thomas struggles to land a job in her field—a common grouse of thousands of Indians who migrate to Canada as highly trained professionals. Under the Canadian government's express entry system, India is the top source country for Canada's immigration system that accepts 300,000 immigrants annually from around the world.
But that immigration overload has proven to be a nightmare for professionals like Annet Thomas as she hunts for jobs that match her experience. She was a senior consultant for Oracle at Bengaluru, with 11 years of software developing experience.“Many of us have great experience and education,” she laments overwhelmed with the training sessions and the networking events which haven't yielded results as yet.
And, yet, Ms Thomas could be considered ‘lucky’—she doesn't require another degree, licence, certification or retraining in Canada to be eligible for a job. Her problem is that she's stuck with the tag of ‘Canadian experience required’, demanded by many employers even when it isn't ‘technically’ mandated. "Once you've reached the interview table and aren't selected - that's different; but if you aren't even getting a call back, there's nothing you can do about it.”
Sajid Khan, a very senior IT professional, found an 8-month contract IT assignment in Toronto, but says he's struggling to get a job because “recruiters come back saying I don't have enough senior Canadian experience.”
The definition of what constitutes ‘Canadian experience’ is sketchy. Some employers say there is a ‘comfort level’ with candidates who are ‘like them’—while immigrants could have strong accents, or lack soft skills— which could be problematic. Others say, "Employers aren't able to evaluate foreign qualifications and evaluate their experience.”
But those who've worked with immigrants and researched employers’ preferences candidly claim that ‘Canadian experience’, usually is code for not hiring racial minorities and is a form of racial discrimination.
A huge Canadian study, the largest of its kind, tested employer reactions to resumés with English-sounding names, and compared them to Asian names (Indian, Chinese and Pakistani). The study found that resumés with such names are 40% more likely to receive call-backs than resumés with Indian, Pakistani or Chinese names. The 2011 study, “Why do some employers prefer to interview Mathew but not Samir?”—ttps://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2018047
was conducted by an economist and University of Toronto's economics professor, Philip Oreopoulos, who sent over 12,000 resumés to employers from 3,225 job postings, in Canada's most diverse cities -Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
As a part of the study, two sets of identical resumés with identical Canadian qualifications and Canadian work experience were sent to potential employers. The only difference was that one set had Anglophone names, while the other had Asian names. The English-sounding resumé candidates got a substantially higher call-backs from employers for that first crucial, foot-in-the door interview, in all the cities that claim to be the most ‘multicultural’!
“The study is important because it actually shows the behaviour of employers engaged in the act of discriminating, and it's like a smoking gun and very difficult to deny the evidence of widespread discrimination," says Jeffrey Reitz, director of ethnic immigration and pluralism studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
Mr Reitz, who's worked with Professor Oreopoulos on a related follow-up study, https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cpp.2017-033
says that when employers were asked about this behaviour, some responded and said they were worried about their language skills or the accent of those Asian candidates. “So they put it down to skill deficiencies - but those skills were visible in the resumé, which showed the applicant had a Canadian degree and had jobs in Canada, indicating that language skills was not an issue,” he points out.
Mr Reitz, who has authored or co-authored eight books, book chapters and numerous articles on global immigration and multi-culturalism, adds, "Canadian employers show bias simply based on foreign names and this bias, possibly unconscious in many cases, constitutes racial discrimination, since it directly and unfairly disadvantages racial minorities.'.
“The human resources (HR) industry is aware of these unconscious hidden biases,” says an HR business partner at a Vancouver-based multinational. She explains that her staff is specifically trained to consciously call candidates whose resumés they ‘didn't like on first glance’.
A migrant from India, the manager says, newcomers have a learning curve as well—as it’s a different world out here. For instance, resumé writing in Canada is different and not many newcomers give it the attention it needs. "In India, we concentrate on education and experience; but here, one has to assume you are a brand, and sell yourself in the resumé—with your personality coming through at the same time.” Many newcomers also aren't culturally conditioned to ‘talk about oneself’ or think ‘it is boasting’; but, the first question in most interviews is: “Tell me something about yourself.”
Navigating the HR landscape is a big stumbling block, as many recruiters are risk-averse and would rather take the easy way out instead of taking chances with newcomers, say sociologists.
“Many recruiters work in a very focused way—and I don't mean that in a complimentary way. In my opinion, many are really poorly paid sorters, and don't even understand the business which could lead to good applicants slipping through the cracks,” says the manager who has served on various immigrant councils helping newcomers integrate in Vancouver.
Surranna Sandy, CEO (chief executive officer) of Skills for Change (SFC), a 36- year-old organisation, helping around 14,000 people annually, says that the company’s focus is to get newcomers prepared for the labour market; but importantly, they bring employers to see how hiring of immigrants can add to an employer’s productivity and bottom-line.
Customising specific job fairs for employers is a part of that process, as is coaching newcomers to develop their soft skills, understand the work culture and the importance of being a team player. SFC also teaches newcomers the ‘language of the trade’ used by Canadian employers in their specific sectors; this helps them prepare better for a job interview.
Efforts to get employers and immigrants together in a room is important as a survey showed that employers were least likely to use newcomers as one of their strategies to combat their labour shortages.
The 2018 labour shortage survey of 1,200 companies in the small and medium sector, by the BDC Bank, shows that a mere 18% said they would use immigrants for labour shortages, compared to 57% who disagreed with that approach. Hiring less qualified persons, or even younger staff and retirees, were suggested as more likely strategies that would be used to overcome labour shortages. “It's not that they don't want to, it's just that it's not on their radar and not traditionally in the network of places they would look at (and that is true), especially for smaller companies," says Pierre Cléroux, vice-president, research and chief economist at BDC. Mr Cléroux says 40% of companies in the SME (small and medium enterprise) sector are facing labour shortages and the BDC report suggests hiring immigrants as one of the solutions.
But Ms Sandy, an award winning professional in her field, says that a cohesive effort to acknowledge the real reasons behind the problems faced by newcomers is paramount. “I can prepare the immigrants for success, but if the broader community isn't interested, and there's still racism and Islamophobia, which aren't openly discussed, it doesn't matter how much money is pumped into the programmes”. The government needs to do more by way of awareness campaigns that openly talk of the pervasiveness of racism and the way it impacts immigrants, the value they bring to the economy, and the cost to the economy when immigrants are deskilled.
Being underemployed or unemployed results in wage losses that run into billions of dollars, says a 2016 study by The Conference Board of Canada, a research and policy think tank. Kareem El-Assal, senior research associate of immigration at the Board, says that 844,000 Canadians face a host of employment barriers.
Immigrants (who made up roughly 75% of that group), lose up to $12.7 billion in wages each year as a result of this problem. A similar study done by the Board in 2001 revealed that Canadians, as a whole, lose about $4 billion-$6 billion due to underemployment or unemployment. That figure, in the 2016 study, ballooned to $13 billion-$17 billion.
“Regardless of inflation, the size of growth is exponential and it just goes to show that we really need employers and regulatory bodies to tackle the challenge,” says Mr El-Assal. In Canada, it’s not uncommon for skilled immigrants to get tired, disillusioned and not have the finances or inclination to retrain and re-certify themselves. And, if they do have the time and money, they are still not sure of getting a job in their chosen field of expertise.
Organisations, such as Acces Employment, provide sector-specific programmes to help immigrants. Allison Pond, their CEO, says the goal is to get them jobs in their own field as quickly as possible. The agency works with over 2,000 employers and provides mentoring programmes that connect immigrants with employers in their field. It also has sector-specific bridging programmes in engineering, finance, sales and marketing, IT and HR that helps newcomers get the required qualifications needed by Canadian employers.
In spite of this reality, Indian immigrants view Canada as a country where they can realise their dreams. “The pollution in Bengaluru, and the congestion is very bad and I don't really see myself going back yet,” says Ms Thomas, who is job-hunting and living with her brother in Toronto, while her husband holds the fort in Bengaluru.
An education system equivalent to that of the US and a lifestyle ‘similar to the US’ prompted Richa Majithia to also move from the US to Canada where she is not constantly worrying about her status under the Trump era.
First-generation Indians say they would never be able to afford the kind of life they have in Canada—big houses, cars, healthcare, vacations and an excellent education for their children. They believe that even if they have struggled, the “lives of their children are made for the future.” For many senior immigrants, free healthcare and social security benefits provided by the Canadian government are a definite boon.
After working at a gas station for some years, Ms Thomas' brother has, finally, found a job as an engineer in Bombardier and that makes it all ‘worth it’, feels Thomas!
(Rakshande Italia is an Indian journalist, who immigrated to Canada in 2001 and has worked with several top newspapers in India and Canada. She can be contacted on [email protected]