Summit tackles immigration employment

By: Michele McDougall Posted: Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2023. For The Brandon Sun.

Manitoba is a trailblazer when it comes to attracting and retaining newcomers, but there are still challenges that many workers and their employers face, an expert in immigration employment said during an immigration summit in Brandon.

Westman Immigrant Services (WIS) recently created the Rural Manitoba Immigrant Employment Council (RMIEC) to support employers that want to hire and keep immigrants long-term, which will fill the gaps in the labour market.

And for the first time in the Wheat City, RMIEC hosted the Workforce Development Summit to bring like-minded people together, including business operators, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Brandon, post-secondary education and industry representatives to talk about issues they faced, and what steps need to be taken to move forward.

Patrick Mackenzie, CEO of Immigrant Employment Council of B.C. (IECBC), talks with Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett during the inaugural Workforce Development Summit hosted by the Rural Manitoba Immigrant Employment Council (RMIEC), which is an initiative of Westman Immigrant Services, at the Keystone Centre on Monday. (Michele McDougall/The Brandon Sun)

When people overseas are thinking about Canada, the first places that come to mind are cities they have been to, or locations their friends or relatives have visited, like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, said Patrick Mackenzie, CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of B.C. (IECBC), who gave the keynote address at the summit.

Mackenzie said communities need to provide opportunities for newcomers to use their skills to their highest economic value, which is great for the individual, community and in the big picture, the country.

“If we’re selecting immigrants to come here and not allowing them to use their skills in a meaningful way, what sort of story does that tell?” Mackenzie said. “And what would they tell other people at home who want to come and look for that brighter future? Are they going to say you might want to think of somewhere else?”

A “frustrating part,” Mackenzie added, is what he said he has been hearing for decades how some immigrants have difficulty getting a job because they don’t have the proper credentials, which in a lot of cases isn’t necessary.

“The foreign credential recognition conversation is one that I think distracts us from success and a lot of areas, we don’t need a credential for most jobs,” said Mackenzie. “We need an employer to trust that we can do that job.”

“How do we make that connection between the immigrant and the employer, so that an immigrant who has made that bold step to choose Canada as their new home, can properly identify their own opportunities and present themselves?”

Manitoba has been able to make connections thanks to its innovative Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), said Mackenzie.

The PNP was launched by the province in 1998, to promote Manitoba as a destination of choice for skilled immigrants and since then has welcomed more than 185,000 people, said provincial Labour and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes.

“Sixty-five per cent of our immigration is through the Provincial Nominee Program,” Reyes said after speaking to the summit crowd of a few hundred people at the Keystone Centre.

Immigration is one of the key variables to address the labour shortage and is one of the reasons why Reyes said he asked the federal government to increase the number of immigrants, or allocations, for the province.

“If Canada is going to have 500,000 newcomers by [the year] 2025, then Manitoba as a province needs more allocations, not just 6,300. So the federal government gave us 9,500, which is 50 per cent more and a great victory for the province and a great victory for employers because now we can have more people here in Manitoba,” said Reyes.

The program has a 75 per cent retention rate, based on data from 2019 tax information, Reyes added.

“We have people wanting to come to the province of Manitoba, which is a good problem to have for employers, but the thing is, we have to make sure that I as minister talk to other departments or their colleagues in terms of infrastructure, housing, newcomers element support, that’s why we doubled our newcomer settlements support $4 million,” said Reyes.

In May, the provincial government provided $4 million in funding to newcomer organizations, including WIS in Brandon, for projects to support the thousands of immigrants expected in upcoming years.

Putting immigrants’ needs and challenges in the forefront at the Workforce Development Summit was “heartwarming,” said Hannah Holt, community outreach manager with WIS.

“I think a lot of rural communities need a lot of support in order to grow because there is an aging population. And in smaller communities, so much of it is — who you know. So finding ways that we can come together to support employers with newcomers to help grow those communities is crucial,” Holt said.

Immigration is not going to solve all the labour problems on its own, said Mackenzie, but the downside will be bringing people in and not giving them the opportunity to use their skills.

“If we don’t give people the opportunity to participate fully in the labor market … well then, what we’ve done is we’ve brought someone in, given them hope and not let them realize that hope. That’s bad for the country, it’s bad for communities, but it’s devastating for the individual. Why would we ever want to do that?” Mackenzie said.

» mmcdougall@brandonsun.com

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