Opinion: We must commit to connecting refugees to jobs

posted on February 23, 2017

By Kelly Pollack, Vancouver Sun |

By Kelly Pollack, Vancouver Sun |

Six in ten Canadians approve of the way the government has been handling the resettlement of refugees, with B.C. and Atlantic Canada tied for being the most welcoming provinces to refugees — according to a new Angus Reid poll. And Canada continues to be looked upon as a beacon of hope and an example for the rest of the world in the face of mounting isolationism and short-termism.

Now is the time to address a major challenge — the labour market integration of refugees. Now is the time to look at effective ways to make these new Canadians part of our diverse human capital to advance our economy and build our country. While the refugees need all the help they can get to integrate, they have a lot to give — resilience, intelligence, skills and unique perspectives. They are eager to contribute to the society that has offered them protection and has given them a new home.

Around the world, refugees have been exceptionally good at taking business risks and identifying new opportunities. They contribute to the economic prosperity of their new homeland in many ways — as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, consumers and investors. As noted in a recent report from the TENT Foundation, in Europe a humanitarian investment of just one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years. And an earlier 2015 SFU study commissioned by Vancity found that over the next 20 years Syrian refugees alone could contribute an estimated $563 million in local economic activity across British Columbia. In the face of an aging domestic population and increasing workforce gaps, refugees can become a great asset for both the changing labour market and the strained public pension system.

But for this to happen, our country, along with our provinces, needs to have a strategic plan for the labour market attachment of refugees — with innovative policies, programs, and synergies. Otherwise we risk missing out on the labour market potential of this talent pool, with implications for our welfare and fiscal systems. To maximize the potential of refugees, there is a need for greater accountability and enhanced co-ordination across the whole migration trajectory and a need for effective public supports.

Meaningful employment is crucial for refugees’ self-esteem and self-sufficiency. It is one of the best ways to learn about and integrate into their new homeland. But it is also critical for the social cohesion and economic prosperity of the country that has welcomed them.

Currently, resettled refugees face major labour market disadvantages — from limited English, to difficulties documenting their qualifications and transferring their experience to the Canadian context of their profession, to limited opportunities to connect with local employers.

There is an urgent need for innovative policies and concerted strategies, including early mapping of the refugees’ occupation profile and skills assessment; simplified qualification recognition; customized skills’ bridging programs; diversified employment pathways and assistance with on-the-job language training. There is an urgent need to engage employers at every stage of this continuum, supporting their efforts to onboard refugees with practical tools and resources and helping them scale up successful models.

“Canada’s engagement must not stop at resettlement,” said Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime-Minister of Canada, addressing the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants last fall. “Now is the time to consider what more we can contribute.”

At the summit, Canada committed to strengthening the positive contributions made by migrants and refugees to the country’s economic and social development. And the Canadian government has confirmed plans to welcome 40,000 refugees and protected persons this year.

Now is the time to act on these commitments.

Kelly Pollack, CEO, Immigrant Employment Council of B.C.

The Immigrant Employment Council of B.C. is a not-for-profit organization that provides B.C. employers with solutions, tools and resources they need to attract, hire and retain qualified immigrant talent.

Read more