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Employment Inclusion

By Abigail Fulton, Executive Director, Construction Foundation

 
Abigail Fulton
Executive Director, Construction Foundation

Employment is a Key Indicator of Economic Inclusion

Economic inclusion refers to equality of opportunity for all members of society to participate in the economic life of their country as employers, entrepreneurs, or employees, as well as consumers. Employment is a key indicator of economic inclusion, and ultimately, long-term integration in an immigrant receiving society. Access to employment, adequate income and equitable employment opportunities are significant contributors that impact individuals’ choice of where to live, go to school, and type of service they can access and enjoy.

Economic inclusion also fosters social integration between newcomers and local communities, helping to develop ties and connections between groups to bridge the gap of unfamiliarity of the foreign and local. More importantly, economic inclusion is a social determinant of health indicator, referring to the “economic and social and conditions that shape the health of individuals, communities and jurisdictions as a whole.” The impact of inadequate employment opportunities and access to equitable income is beyond material deprivation and is linked to anxiety, depression, isolation etc. The disproportionate representation of immigrants and refugees in precarious work, unemployment and underemployment, puts them at a higher risk of suffering from these conditions, which have serious and negative consequences for their overall integration prospects.

Economic inclusion is critical for successful integration. Ten years after arrival, integration success is often measured by attachment to the labour market. Immigrant unemployment and underemployment rates, credential and prior learning recognition, wages and salary earned, and the type of jobs available to immigrants are indicators used to determine economic inclusion and labour market integration.

Employers and good corporate citizens

Traditionally, immigrant and refugee settlement needs have been a responsibility of the receiving government and the associated institutions and organizations established to support newcomers’ settlement, including employment.. Employment needs and opportunities fell within the realm of government responsibility. But the narrative is changing, and the scope of responsibility is expanding to incorporate private sector employers as primary stakeholders in facilitating immigrant employment opportunities. As emerging leaders, employers represent global corporate citizens with the resources to invest in the inclusion and integration efforts of local immigrant and refugee populations. Whether as government allies, key stakeholders or motivated by business needs, private sector employers are taking a lead role in facilitating and creating employment opportunities and access to meaningful jobs.

Case Study: Private Sector Leadership: British Columbia Construction Association

Abigail Fulton, the former VP of the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) and current Executive Director of the Construction Foundation of BC (CFBC), has focused on developing workforce solutions for the construction industry for twenty years, and immigrants have always been part of the solution. Finding innovative and workable solutions to filling the skills gap emerging within the construction sector due to increased economic activity and an aging workforce across Canada is her primary goal. Looking to newcomers to fill the skills gap and labour market shortage is more than just a workforce solution, it’s active extension of Canada’s immigration policy as a tool for nation building.

The construction workforce (in Canada) is comprised of 30% workers born abroad, and employers in the field are quick to welcome the skills and work ethic typical of new Canadians, quickly integrate them into the workplace and facilitate their upward mobility to secure and stable careers in the sector. Recognizing the fit between immigrant talent and employer demand, Abigail and her team developed employment programs (pre-arrival & post-arrival) designed specifically to match new Canadians into the workforce, both before and after they landed in Canada. Assuming the lead role as connector between demand and supply, the BCCA and CFBC enable thousands of new Canadians to continue, or develop, their career path in British Columbia, while meaningfully contributing to the infrastructure of their new communities.

For British Columbia employers, integrating and supporting newcomer populations is not just about meeting business needs, it’s about investing in local communities and leading by example in developing the communities they want to live in.

Why Hire?

Labour market exclusion of immigrants has a significant impact on the economic stability of the communities and countries they live in. Despite high levels of education, internationally acquired experience and credentials, many immigrants experience poor labour market outcomes. As many struggle to find work opportunities commensurate with their skills, industries and sectors in many western nations are forecasting labour market and skills shortages in the next 10-20 years. Investing in immigrant and refugee talent and implementing organizational culture change today, will greatly differentiate between employers equipped to address these project challenges, and those that are not.

In Canada, it is estimated that 1 out of 13 workers earns a living in the construction industry, with a total workforce of over 1.3 million people. The industry has, and will very likely continue, to experience skills shortages across Canada, particularly in the skilled trades, based on projections for economic growth and the impact of retirements over the next decade. Across all industries and sectors there are challenges associated with hiring newcomer populations that range from cross-cultural communication, onboarding, language proficiency, and work culture familiarity; the challenges are most pronounced among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Many SMEs do not have HR departments, have small teams with individuals assuming various functions and roles, and do not have the resources or time for training and development that is beyond what is required for the job.

Employment in the construction industry is spread out among many small and medium sized enterprises, with more than 80% of construction firms staffed by 10 people or less. With such limited resources, recruitment practices are generally limited to word of mouth and/or local advertising, and are often built on existing relationships and networks. Finding the company that is hiring and getting through the door to talk to the right person is not easy.

This is particularly challenging for immigrants, not yet familiar with their new communities and possibly struggling with language barriers. For the BCCA and CFBC the solution was to work with third-party organizations with industry expertise. Their role is to liaise between employer and newcomers; assess and match the skills of newcomers, and match them with existing employment opportunities.

Finding innovative solutions to language barriers are managed on worksites with the help of bilingual supervisors that can speak the official language (English or French) and native language of workers (i.e. Arabic for many Syrian refugees with limited English language proficiency).

The industry is very cyclical, experiencing times of quick growth and immediate needs followed by lay offs and project dormancy. Matching (job) opportunity to immigrant talent requires a good knowledge of local project activity and an understanding of the industry process. Recognizing that this is a challenge for many newcomers unfamiliar with construction activity in their region, innovative solutions are developed and implemented.

This challenge is manageable if that third party intermediary is tapped into industry in a meaningful way. In British Columbia it’s the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP) at the BC Construction Association. STEP operates out of the various Construction Associations across BC enabling their staff to have direct knowledge of what is being built and by whom. Equipped with knowledgeable staff with firm backgrounds in the industry, they are able to quickly assess and match immigrants into the right job.

Demand for skilled trades workers is high, but developing those skills is not as simple as picking up the tools or even going to school. Like many professions, experience is required. To achieve a trade qualification and required certification, immigrant job seekers must first find employment with an employer who is willing to sponsor them into apprenticeship and contribute to their training on the worksite over several years. For immigrants with training qualification from their home countries, identifying the pathways to credential recognition, or maximizing and matching competencies to available opportunities can be very challenging. Finding an employer, especially a SME to “take a risk” and hire someone with internationally attained skills and experience, is an added layer of difficulty, and for many newcomers, is an impenetrable block to opportunities and careers.

However, all of these challenges must be overcome to enable the industry to meet its skills needs and contribute to the growth of our economy. In B.C. recognizing that young Canadians are not entering the trades at the rate needed to replace retiring workers fostered innovative and ‘outside the box’ thinking. For B.C. employers, the value of tapping into a talent pool that produces career oriented and long-term workers with a diversity of valuable existing skills is inextricably tied to the viability of the industry for generations to come.

Cost of Exclusion

Brain waste, the term often used to describe underutilization of immigrant skills and talent, carries long-term implications for immigrant integration; for the immigrant and receiving country. Excluding immigrants from adequate and compatible work opportunities imposes costs on the economy. Those working below their skill level and at lower wages generate lower level of output, consume less and spend less. Access to jobs commensurate to their skills that allow for the use of their full human capital impacts many determinants of health associated with integration: a sense of belonging, active participation in community life, and mental and physical health.

Abigail Fulton sees that construction is a global industry and an increasing number of multi-national firms are entering the Canadian market place. Large firms recruit for skills from across the world, bringing new methods and skills to the marketplace. Small to medium sized firms need access to these same skills to more easily tap into new and innovative construction methods. For BCCA, immigrants can bring those skills to construction firms in Canada and boost the bottom line for all.

Building the next generation of skilled workers in Canada is top of mind for the construction industry. Immigrants play a significant role in supporting that growth. Tomorrow’s skilled trades workers must pass through an apprenticeship system where the majority of training happens on the worksite through the oversight and management of journeypersons. Ensuring we have enough journeypersons to manage that training process is critical. Skilled immigrants who bring skills from off shore that can be recognized by Apprenticeship Authorities in their region can boost the opportunities for small firms to take on new apprentices and help grow the workforce of tomorrow.

 

The Author

Abigail Fulton is Executive Director of the Construction Foundation of BC; and Vice President of the BC Construction Association. A lawyer by profession, Abigail works with industry and government on regulatory and policy issues impacting the construction industry. She currently leads the BCCA Foreign Skilled Worker BC initiative and works to bring in foreign trained, qualified trades people to BC, as well as the BCCA Integrating Newcomers Program that helps new immigrants find employment in BC prior to landing in Canada. 

 

Recommendations:

  • Demand driven immigration: align immigration to labour market need and information.
  • Support Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) connect to immigrant talent.
  • Seek out third party “connectors” who know industry and sector needs and can assist in finding qualified immigrant job seekers, and support their on-boarding into the workplace.
  • Collaboration between government, industry leaders, educators and immigrant serving agencies is critical to ensure opportunities are not missed to fully leverage immigrant talent in meeting the demands for continued economic growth

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