By Gary Mar and Janet Lane
Published in the Calgary Herald
November 17, 2023
Large increases in the number of immigrants to this country, many of whom will come to Alberta either as permanent residents or temporary workers and international students, have exacerbated pressures on health and education systems and made apparent Canada’s lack of infrastructure, including affordable housing.
The cracks within the immigration system itself are also more apparent. The issues have become increasingly urgent and solutions are desperately needed. Into this, the federal government just dropped its latest plan, An Immigration System for Canada’s Future: Strengthening our Communities, which aims to transform the system to better meet its stated goals.
Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to make changes that will better match newcomers with jobs to meet the needs of the economy and ensure that Canada remains competitive in the global competition for talent. Its plan includes Canada’s first-ever tech talent strategy, which would allow some technology-trained individuals to enter the country without a job offer and a digital nomad visa to allow tech talent to remotely work from Canada and even stay in the country if they receive a job offer.
For workers who can help build housing or work in health care, the plan also recommends new category-based selection draws for express entry.
IRCC also recognizes that the system for foreign credential recognition needs an overhaul. The current system, which reviews the educational content of foreign credentials and compares it to the equivalent Canadian credentials, is time-consuming, expensive and discriminatory. It has also contributed to the number of immigrants who choose to leave Canada. This number is proportionately larger than in previous decades — this generation of newcomers wishes to become economically successful for themselves and their children. These changes are needed at the federal and provincial levels. In Alberta, a bill to establish a committee to advise on changes to recognizing foreign credentials passed first reading on Nov. 6.
Included in the new federal plan is a chief international talent officer who will better co-ordinate the new selection processes and groups to travel internationally to recruit talent. They will need a new approach, one that matches the competencies and level of competence required by jobs with those of the prospective immigrants.
The competencies of prospective immigrants can be assessed and compared to those of the jobs for which they will be hired. If Canada is serious about attracting and retaining the talent it needs, opportunities targeted to fill any specific competency gaps will then be made available. This approach will ensure success for immigrants and the employers who hire them. With available technology, the development of competency profiles required by specific jobs and assessment of an individual immigrant’s competencies can even be accomplished before arrival.
To achieve a more accurate matching of newcomers with jobs, employers and professions must have a better handle on the competencies required by current jobs — and those that will be created in the future — than is grasped by stakeholders in the labour market today. Employers still use outdated occupation codes and job descriptions, degrees and diplomas, and years of experience as proxies for skills. Research shows that these proxies are poor at describing what it takes to do the jobs for which they hire. Canada West Foundation’s recent report, Matching People with Jobs & Jobs with People, outlines how such a competency-based system will work — not just for prospective immigrants but all players in the labour market, including previous immigrants, many of whom are under- and unemployed, as well as Canadian-born and educated individuals.
If the immigration ministry hires a chief international talent officer and sends missions overseas to recruit people, let’s equip them with modern tools and not perpetuate old inefficiencies. These competency-based system tools and other outlined plans to streamline and make more efficient application processes will go a long way to position Canada and Alberta as attractive choices for global talent to make their home.
Gary Mar is president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation; Janet Lane is director of Skills, Innovation and Productivity at Canada West Foundation.