Immigrant careers should match their skill level

posted on July 19, 2019

By Toronto Star |

The issue of the unemployment rate of educated newcomers to Canada in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) — currently twice of those with a similar background born in Canada — often overshadows another challenge for immigrants: underemployment. In the GTA, 1-in-2 newcomer men and 2-in-3 newcomer women with a bachelor’s degree have jobs that require lower levels of education.

So, should employers hire newcomers in their respective fields if they are overqualified? The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) recently conducted a short opinion poll of business professionals in the GTA that asked this question. Of the 110 professionals polled, 58 per cent agree or strongly agree that immigrants can be hired at entry-level positions in their field, even if their qualifications are above the job requirements.

Of those polled who were in hiring for executive positions — about one-third who completed the survey — 64 per cent agreed it was OK to hire an overqualified newcomer. Professionals who identified as newcomers themselves didn’t vary in their response, with 57 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that an overqualified hire was fine.

These results suggest that many employers believe the level at which a newcomer is hired is not as important as the proverbial “foot in the door.” While this method works for some — the portion of whom have the opportunity to advance — it can limit the contributions international talent brings and lock newcomers into a vicious cycle of underemployment.

When newcomers start their careers here by taking a major step back, they risk never advancing to their previous levels of seniority and realizing their full potential.

And underemployment doesn’t just affect immigrants’ wallets; it’s impacting their health. Research shows newcomers’ health status deteriorates as they spend more time in Canada and lack of fulfilling work plays a role in that decline.

What those making the “hey, a job is a job” argument might miss is that underemploying highly skilled immigrants isn’t good for any of us. The skills needs and labour shortages across Canada are apparent — with around 40 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises facing challenges in accessing talent. It just doesn’t make sense to have immigrant professionals working in jobs below their qualifications while employers are struggling to meet their human resource needs.

Employers don’t help themselves by insisting on “Canadian experience” from candidates; in an increasingly global marketplace the experience immigrants bring from abroad stands to improve a company’s bottom line as much, or more in some industries, than only having studied or worked in Canada. Companies need to be evaluating global talent based on the job they can do, not where they come from.

Ultimately, employers who aren’t hiring newcomer talent are missing out — diverse organizations have the potential to be more innovative and productive. It’s time to tap the untapped potential of newcomer talent that is all around us.

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