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Newcomers piece of Vancouver Island’s job vacancy solution, but barriers remain

IWC director: Credential recognition, language training, and soft skill teaching need improvement
Job vacancies are a growing concern on Vancouver Island and beyond. File photo.

Newcomers to Canada are being relied on to address record-high job vacancies but barriers still remain to get them into the jobs they are already trained to do.

This year saw high levels of job vacancies across Canada, including in British Columbia. This pattern, driven in-part by the pandemic, has limited business growth and economic recovery.

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But even before COVID-19, Canada was facing the challenge of replacing its large baby boomer generation population with new workers, said Jim Brennan, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, Campbell River.

“The reality, in Canada and British Columbia, quite frankly, is that we do not have enough offspring to fill the demand that is out there for our economy,” said Brennan.

Despite this, there are still roadblocks to get new immigrants into jobs.

“These are people who are highly qualified and highly experienced from abroad, but in many cases, their qualifications are not recognized, and therefore, they cannot apply for these jobs,” he said. “In probably the majority of cases, they actually have to go back and start from the beginning.”

British Columbia currently has three career path streams for skilled immigrants. But Brennan says the government needs to streamline its systems to better assess and recognize credentials for more professions.

“There needs to be rigor, because you don’t want somebody who doesn’t really know what they’re doing building bridges,” he said. “But there are ways for us to improve it, but we are choosing not to.”

Another barrier is the underfunding of workplace-specific language training, he said.

“Rural and remote communities, like ours, are typically way underfunded for language,” he said. “What we need desperately is support, i.e., funding from government — provincial and federal — for higher language learning.”

What needs to be expanded are programs focused on applying language in business settings.

“These programs make sure not only can they speak it, read it and understand it, but they can understand some of the nuances of the Canadian workplace,” he said.

Employers must also be more willing to teach ‘soft skills’ in business environments — and be patient enough to give new employees a chance to learn workplace culture, Brennan added.

Without some of these changes, positions will continue to go unfilled, despite talented people being available, said Mary Ruth Snyder, executive director of the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce.

“Many of them have masters and doctorates in their fields, but they’re not being allowed to work in the field here in Canada, or they’re being forced to jump through so many hoops, that it just makes it not worth it,” said Snyder.

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