Canadian employers need workers but balk at hiring immigrants: survey

posted on September 5, 2018

By Montreal Gazette |

Even as employers complain about a shortage of job candidates, they remain hesitant to hire immigrants, a survey conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) suggests.

The findings are contained in a poll of more than 1,000 Canadian businesses by the BDC and obtained by the Presse Canadienne. The survey finds that while 39 per cent of employers say it has been difficult to find personnel over the past year, they prefer to hire less qualified candidates, younger candidates who can be trained on the job or retirees rather than immigrants.

The study presented respondents with the following statement: “Because of a labour shortage, our business must take the following steps.” A total of 43 per cent said they would approve hiring less qualified candidates, 40 per cent preferred hiring younger candidates, 35 per cent said they would increase salaries to attract candidates and about one-third said they would hire retirees. Only 18 per cent said they would hire immigrants while 57 per cent said they “disagreed” with that approach.

BDC chief economist Pierre Cléroux admits to being shaken by the result, given that immigrants represent the largest labour pool in the country and regularly post the highest levels of unemployment compared with other sectors of the population.

“I have to say I was a little surprised by the response,” he said. “Had we known it would have been at that level (concerning the hiring of immigrants) we’d have posed more questions, but we didn’t know this before the research.”

Cléroux hesitates to describe the finding as a sign of discrimination, if only because questions on the issue of discrimination were not asked in the study. But he noted there are added constraints when it comes to hiring immigrants.

“It’s more complicated than that. Often, (immigrants) have no experience in Canada or their training doesn’t correspond exactly to what is being sought, so that requires an employer be more flexible, to offer more training.”

However Cléroux acknowledges that the survey findings suggesting employers are prepared to offer training to younger, non-immigrant applicants undercuts his theory. But he adds that it is necessary to admit that there are other sectors of society also underrepresented in the job market, including the disabled and Indigenous Canadians, and that it’s time for employers to change their approach to hiring.

Cléroux points out that the labour shortage — even though it had been predicted for years — is relatively recent, in part because the economic activity has accelerated over the past two years.

Another factor is that the baby boomer generation — the first cohort of which was born in 1946 and turned 65 in 2011 — has sparked a massive wave of withdrawals from the job market expected to last well into the next decade.

The BDC survey, conducted by Maru/Matchbox, polled 1,208 small and medium-sized businesses across Canada between April 30 and May 11 of 2018. The poll’s margin is error is 2.8 per cent 19 times out of 20.

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