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Home » Diversity & Inclusion » How the Canadian Job Market Marginalizes Newcomer Talent

For newcomers, finding gainful employment requires aggressive networking, resume writing, interview prepping, interviewing and a threshold for rejection.

Akinkunmi Akinnola

Senior Manager of Marketing, Communications, and Events , Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion

Uber driver. Contact centre worker. Cashier.

These are not just job listings to be found posted on a shop window along the Danforth. These are frontline work opportunities often contemplated by seasoned newcomer professionals — doctors, lawyers, and senior managers after the first few months of searching for work in a job market that is neither impressed by their expertise or experience in the formal sectors of their birth countries.

These are respectable jobs and truthfully, in the age of pandemic, the importance of these jobs and the need to respect and empathize with the women and men who execute them cannot be overstated. These are not jobs envisioned by newcomer professionals for career growth when applying to the Express Entry program. This program scores migrants and invites them to become permanent residents on the basis of their skills sets, language proficiency and formal sector employability.

Few of these newcomers embark on job searches in a new country with plain naivety. It is sensible to expect that you could spend up to six months searching for work that is consistent with your professional pipeline in a new job market on the other side of the world. Many newcomers (especially racial minorities) say what they could never have anticipated are the number of false starts, invisible racial barriers, and the opaqueness of the talent selection process especially when via online application.

A lack of government intervention

In February this year, Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, spoke about the importance of immigration for Canada’s economic development at the Canadian Club Toronto.

Invited guests, were given an opportunity to submit questions to the minister at the end of his speech. The minister was asked why there is a large invisible economy of visible minority permanent residents with globally recognized MBAs or PHDs and impeccably spoken English working for minimum wage at call centres or supporting themselves in the ride-sharing sector. How exactly is the Canadian economy ever expected to benefit from their skill sets when private sector recruiters and job search algorithms generally do not even consider job applicants who have no prior Canadian corporate experience?

The minister responded that the current failures of the immigration system where newcomers are concerned is something which ought to be strongly addressed at the provincial level. This would require provincial MPs and offices of state to work closely with jobseekers to help them assimilate and find work in Canada at a level commensurate with their skills and experience.

Some felt his answer was eloquent but unsatisfactory. He was right when he explained that the future of Canada hinges on immigration and that Canada should not be asking how many immigrants are too much, but rather how many people are needed to guarantee a prosperous future.

This sort of rhetoric is ironic considering the government (whether at municipal, provincial or federal level) has a perceived blind spot on the plight of newcomers who are struggling to crack the glass ceiling required to achieve the Canadian dream and settle into ‘Bay Street bourgeoisie bliss’.

Systemic barriers pose a massive challenge for newcomers

No one seems to be particularly curious as to why Uber drivers in Toronto for instance, largely tend to be people of colour or why when you have conversations with them they reveal experiences and academic merits which would probably have placed them in a different line of work if they were members of the dominant race group or Canadian born. In fact newcomer professionals driving Ubers in Toronto has become such a cultural norm it’s spurred a joke which goes, the best place to have a heart attack in downtown Toronto is in an Uber, because your driver is likely to be an immigrant doctor.

What the joke doesn’t reveal is that that doctor is also likely to originate from an African or Asia-Pacific group country.

A 2019 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data report shows that in 2019, the largest number of ITA (Invitation to Apply) for permanent residency recipients came from India, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, the UK and Brazil respectively. Newcomers to Canada are predominantly racialized so it stands to reason that the structures that exist to keep them from socio-economic mobility are fundamentally racially discriminatory too.

A secretly recorded interview with a Nigerian call centre worker in Toronto revealed some gross inequities which occurred at the start of COVID-19 when employees — almost overwhelmingly black or brown  — were being asked to report to work long after the government had declared a lockdown across Canadian workplaces.

Considering this company is white owned but largely staffed by racialized newcomers who are micromanaged and exploited for their newness and vulnerability, it was often described as a Bay street sweat shop.

The talent recruitment model is designed to recruit well spoken, highly educated newcomers for minimum wage because they are new, and desperate to settle for less due to the dispiriting experiences in search of formal work. Frankly, if call centres were such a desirable place to work, there would be many more white employees.

Newcomers aren’t just being denied entry to the rarified, white-collar world of the formal economy. A 2018 BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) report found that about 40 per cent of Canadian small and medium sized businesses are having trouble hiring new employees, a direct link between a shortage of workers and slower growth in sales, and that the sectors facing the strongest headwinds included manufacturing, retail trade and construction.

Ironically, the study also found entrepreneurs in these sectors were least likely to consider hiring newcomers to fill those gaps.

Whatever the terminology, xenophobia or structural discrimination, it demoralizes ambitious newcomers and limits their potential to significantly contribute to the Canadian economy as upwardly mobile middle-class professionals.

It would be interesting to get recruiters and HR professionals to explain why they might be less inclined to select the resume of a newcomer for job consideration even if such a person went to universities that outrank University of Toronto (Canada’s best) on the global rankings or has worked internationally in countries as technologically advanced and culturally diverse as Canada.

The Canadian hiring manager’s fear of the unknown is highly insidious but very effective when it comes to perpetuating exclusionary practices which continue to harm qualified newcomers the most. It makes racial minority jobseekers internalize the belief that race could be a hinderance to achieving dreams and realizing ambitions to which they are perfectly entitled.

If Canada is ever going to realize the full potentials that come from economic migration, it needs to come to terms with a clear and present danger that pervades the talent recruitment eco-system. It requires a call to action so that professional newcomers are being positioned for work in sectors where they can grow the economy and bring robust benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion to bear on a sustainable, national scale.

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