With declining fertility rates, an ageing population, and continued outmigration, Atlantic Canada is facing a population crisis. One of the chief solutions for this problem is to increase the number of immigrants to improve the demographic outlook of the region; the remote nature of the Atlantic provinces, combined with immigrants’ tendency to seek residency in larger cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, results in fewer immigrants to these provinces than to the rest of Canada. Retention is also a challenge, as immigrants will leave if they do not find favourable conditions in their new home.
A massive driver of immigration and perhaps the most important factor in determining immigrant retention is employment. Ensuring that immigrants can find meaningful employment upon their arrival is paramount to enhancing the benefits of immigration and ensuring that skill and labour gaps in the local economy are filled.
Based on a survey of 801 employers across the Atlantic provinces prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study examines labour market conditions in Atlantic Canada and employer tendencies and attitudes towards hiring newcomers and international students. It also seeks to explore the effects that newcomers have on organizations, the characteristics organizations possess that result in them seeking to employ these individuals, and the challenges that arise when organizations employ these individuals. This study also aims to provide insights into how immigrant employment and skill matchmaking in the economy can be improved.
The results of this survey align with other research revealing the labour and skill shortages that organizations are facing, employers’ general attitudes towards hiring newcomers and international students, and the challenges they face in doing so. However, our survey went further in exploring the real and complex reasons behind these factors.
There have been some encouraging changes and progress since Dr. Wade Locke and Professor Scott Lynch’s pilot survey in 2005, which showed only 10% of the firms in their random sample had employed newcomers or international workers in the last five years. Neither local firms were actively recruiting, nor were potential immigrant employees actively applying for jobs with the local firms. In our current study, employers now have a more positive attitude towards hiring immigrants and have adopted practices to help immigrants integrate into the workforce. However, Locke and Lynch (2005) study found the overwhelming majority of firms in NL (97%) who hired new Canadians and international workers reported that their experience with these workers was positive, consistent with our findings (87%), suggesting that lack of engagement between prospective hiring employers and immigrant employees was a major issue despite of severe labour and skill shortages. Though the majority of employers have expressed a willingness to hire immigrants, there are still challenges that affect employers’ hiring decisions. Hardware insufficiency and software obstacles are significant challenges that smaller employers face in hiring newcomers, and language and culture differences have proved difficult for many.
According to the recent projections covering 2018-2020 in an ACOA report (ACOA, 2019a), a total of 84,725 workers would be needed in Atlantic Canada (PEI: 8,070: NS: 34,615; NB: 28,795; NL: 13, 245). The massive number of unfilled job vacancies due to the large number of retirees, new jobs created by technologic development, the willingness a majority of employers expressed to hire immigrant workers, and the positive experiences employers have had in hiring immigrants seem to indicate that newcomers should be able to find employment more easily than in the past. However, the portion of employers who have hired immigrant workers is still low compared to the portion of employers who report labour and skills shortages. Employers expect more support and collaboration from and between all levels of government and from settlement agencies, credential assessment organizations, and other stakeholders to help them utilize immigrants’ human capital.
Revenue/sales and employment changes
Organizations’ changes in sales/revenue have significantly positive correlations with changes in the organizations’ employment. Sales growth leads to an increased number of employees to support production and service delivery. Approximately 50% of the selected employers reported sales/revenue growth, and 17% reported a decline in the last 3 years (before the COVID-19 pandemic). Approximately 39% of the employers reported an increase in employee numbers, and 12% reported a decline in employee numbers in the last 3 years (before the COVID-19 pandemic). Employers in Prince Edward Island (PEI) fared the best, and employers in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) fared the worst. Employers in urban areas and in larger organizations fared better than rural or smaller businesses.
Labour and skill shortages
Approximately 52% of employers reported having hiring difficulties in the last 3 years, although they tried to recruit from other provinces as well. Even more employers (60%) expected to encounter labour and skill shortages in the next three years. Larger organizations and employers in rural areas were more likely to report hiring difficulty.
While over 55% of organizations in NB, NS, and PEI experienced hiring difficulties, only 43% of employers in NL had the same experience.
Employers were more likely to report hiring difficulties in the following occupations: technical/trade (58%), production workers with no trade/certification requirements (51%), managers (10%), professionals (10%), clerical/administrative workers (10%), and marketing/sales (7%).
The top three reasons for hiring difficulties were “lack of applicants” (33%), “lack of applicants with the necessary experience” (28%), and “lack of applicants with the necessary skills” (21%).
Managerial positions that require both skills and experience took the longest time to fill, followed by professionals, technical/trade, production workers with no trade/certification requirements and clerical/administrative workers.
Attitudes towards hiring immigrants and international students
Approximately 63% of the surveyed employers reported receiving job applications from immigrants or international students, and among them 53% hired such applicants in the past three years.
Factors such as geography and firm size seemed to correlate with a firm’s propensity to hire newcomers and international students. Employers in PEI were more likely to hire immigrants and international students than their counterparts in the other Atlantic provinces, while larger firms were more likely to hire newcomers and international students than small firms were, and urban-based firms were more likely than rural firms to hire newcomers and international students.
Overwhelming majority of the employers surveyed (88%) had positive experiences with immigrant workers. The more experience an employer had with immigrants, the more positive their attitude towards hiring immigrants was.
The main reasons employers had positive attitudes towards immigrants were because they thought that the immigrants they had previously hired were hard working, skilled, and reliable.
Employers’ greatest concerns when hiring immigrants were retention, language barriers, and cultural adaption to the Canadian workplace.
Employers’ perception of the effectiveness of immigration policy in Atlantic Canada
Most employers (52%) reported having little knowledge about the immigration system.
Employers in the province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) reported the most involvement in the immigration system, followed by those in Nova Scotia (NS), New
Brunswick (NB), and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL).
The employers who are more involved in the migration process are also more
opinionated about the immigration system, feeling either easier or more difficult.
Ways to improve the retention of skilled workers, including immigrants and international students
The main reasons immigrant employees leave their jobs according to the self-reported responses from employers were as follows: moving away (33%), taking another job (25%), and going back school (10%). Approximately 60% of employers in PEI reported that the main reason immigrants left their organization was moving away, while 31% reported this in NL and NB, and only 21% reported this in NS.
Along with an immigrant’s language proficiency and understanding of Canadian business culture/practices, one of the main concerns for employers when hiring immigrants was retention: how long an immigrant will stay in the area before he or she leaves.
Employers facing hiring difficulties are more likely to demonstrate helping behaviours, such as helping employees become permanent residents of Canada and changing workplace practices to better accommodate immigrants. The first, changing workplace practices to better accommodate immigrants is associated with a lower probability of reporting immigrant employees leaving and taking another job. However, helping employees become permanent residents is associated with a higher probability of those employees moving away. This explains why some employers in the regions are reluctant to support their employees’ applications for immigration.
Job opportunities, mutual cultural understandings, and support in daily life for newcomers require all stakeholders to work together and make a concerted effort to provide holistic services and support to facilitate the long-term integration and retention of international immigrants and their families. This can be done by helping immigrants find gainful employment, make valuable contributions to the economy, and develop a high sense of belonging to their community and region. A transparent and effective immigration system along with supportive employers, welcoming communities, affordable housing, accessible health care and public transportation systems, and strong service delivery programs from immigrant service organizations will facilitate immigrant social/economic integration and improve the retention of newcomers and international students to Atlantic Canada and support the long-term economic prosperity of the region.
Greater effort needs to be made to promote Atlantic Canada’s low cost of living, welcoming communities, and agreeable lifestyle to potential job candidates, much like what tourism marketing has achieved for the Atlantic provinces.
Immigration policies that meet the needs of local employers should be developed and improved. These include the PNP, AIPP, MNP (Municipal Nomination Program), RNIPP (Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program), and AFIPP (Agri-Food Immigration Pilot program).
The government should provide clearer and more transparent immigration information to make the immigration process easier to understand and navigate. Government and settlement agencies should also build infrastructure and advanced information technology to disseminate and communicate policy information to employers, especially those in rural and remote regions.
Settlement agencies need to work with employers and training institutions to develop and improve job-specific language training and bridge programs to newcomers to align with the skill needs of the local labour market. Employers and government should provide immigrants occupational training, labour market information, and networking opportunities that can help immigrants find meaningful employment and better integrate them into their workplaces and communities.
Stakeholders should increase community-based support for newcomers, including spousal and family support. They should also provide a focused pilot program for improving spousal support for employment opportunities and family support such as affordable childcare, health care, and child education to encourage immigrants to settle down.
It is clear from the survey that small- to medium-sized businesses and businesses located in rural areas are less likely to hire immigrants. Supporting these employers with immigration information, funding, and personnel should be prioritized to encourage them to hire immigrants.
Intercultural training for both immigrants and employers may facilitate workplace communication and enhance immigrant productivity and organizational performance. Employers should consider changing workforce practices to better accommodate the needs of immigrants, which could be a useful tool to improve retention (both in the firm and the region).
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Employer Attitudes towards Hiring Newcomers and International Students in the Atlantic Provinces
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