New Canadians have valuable work experience. A new law will knock down a barrier to putting those skills to work

Posted on November 14, 2023 in Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Tuesday, November 14, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

It’s in no one’s interest to attract qualified individuals and then make it impossible for them to use the experience they bring with them.

In his classic 1961 novel Catch-22, the late American author Joseph Heller captured an exasperating concept so perfectly that his title became a synonym for absurdity.

Catch-22. A situation from which a person cannot escape because of internally contradictory rules. The world loved it.

Newcomers to this country have known the syndrome all too well. They needed Canadian experience to get a job. But they couldn’t get that experience without one.

Happily, the Ontario government announced last week that it intends to introduce legislation to ban the use of Canadian work experience as a requirement in job postings or on applications.

“For far too long, too many people arriving in Canada have been funnelled toward dead-end jobs they’re overqualified for,” said David Piccini, minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development.

It’s a reform long overdue.

The Canadian-experience requirement has been a huge barrier faced by newcomers in their search for jobs that are commensurate to their qualifications and experience.

There can be little doubt that the requirement was used for discriminatory purposes, especially considering that a 2017 study found discrimination by employers against applicants with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names in deciding to grant interviews.

Even after being in Canada for 15 years immigrants with university degrees were still far more likely than the native-born to be mired in low-skilled jobs.

The recognition that “Canadian experience” had more to do with knowledge of Canadian culture or identity than the actual occupation involved has been made from many quarters for a long time.

In 2014, the Ontario Fairness Commissioner called for removal of the requirement by professional bodies after the Ontario Human Rights Commissionrecognized it as “prima facie discrimination.”

A decade earlier, Statistics Canada had already identified a lack of Canadian experience as the most common barrier to meaningful work – usually the key to settling, belonging and advancing in a new country – that confronted newcomers.

Many were obliged to seek low-skill work outside their field of expertise or do unpaid work through volunteering or internships to build some Canadian experience.

In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that recognizing immigrants’ skills could increase profits by billions of dollars a years.

By 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission declared the requirement of Canadian experience for new immigrants a violation of human rights.

Such organizations as the Human Resources Professionals Association and the Royal Bank of Canada had also argued against the barrier and immigrant advocates had formed a movement called the Beyond Canadian Experience Project.

In May, Professional Engineers Ontario, the licensing and regulatory body for engineers, announced an end to Canadian experience requirements for those applying for licences.

In 2020, 55 per cent of PEO applicants were internationally-trained and did not have Canadian experience. In 2021, that had risen to 63 per cent.

The requirement was not a reliable way to assess skills or abilities, said PEO, the first professional association in Ontario to remove the provision from application criteria.

It also said “a strict requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ may result in discrimination.”

Studies have suggested that only about a quarter of internationally-trained immigrants in Ontario were working in regulated professions aligned with their training.

The country could stand considerable improvement in quickly connecting newcomers with opportunities that match their skills and experience, the better to enhance their integration and meet employers’ skilled labour needs.

It’s in no one’s interest to attract well-qualified individuals to Canada and then make it all but impossible for them to use the training and experience they bring with them.

Banning Canadian experience requirements from job postings and ads is another step toward eliminating systemic barriers newcomers face, creating a more inclusive work force, and addressing labour shortages.

It will help make the welcome this country offers more than just words.

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