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Architect Yisola Taiwo moved to Canada with a pregnant wife and big dreams in 2007, but hasn't yet found a job in his field. (Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
Architect Yisola Taiwo moved to Canada with a pregnant wife and big dreams in 2007, but hasn't yet found a job in his field. (Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

Failure to tap into immigrants' skills costs billions Add to ...

In Nigeria, he helped design the athletes village for Abuja's All-Africa Games.

But three years after moving to Canada in 2007 with a pregnant wife and big dreams, Yisola Taiwo has yet to land his first architecture job. His wife, Bunmi Sofoluwe-Taiwo, still hasn't been able to find work after leaving her career with the Lagos government.

"Last year was terrible," Mr. Taiwo said. An internship ended; he spent more than a year on employment insurance and working for no pay at a Toronto architecture firm.

In May, he started a two-month contract at the Diebold Company of Canada, working with architectural drawings to design building security systems in Mississauga. It's not a bad gig, but he longs for something in his field.

The Toronto region has long boasted about its role as Canada's diversity hub. But Toronto is doing a worse job of integrating immigrants than it was two decades ago, and it's costing the economy estimated billions of dollars a year, according to a report being released Thursday by the city's Board of Trade.

About 45 per cent of Canada's newcomers come to Toronto. The city is also one of the first places in the country to depend entirely on immigration for its net labour-force growth.

But Torontonian immigrants today are earning proportionately less than their counterparts did in the 1980s: 63 cents on the dollar for men, compared with 85 cents in 1980. Economists estimate the Toronto region is losing as much as $2.25-billion annually because people are unable to get jobs in keeping with their training and qualifications - or because they find these jobs, but aren't getting paid as much as they could be.

In a first for the Board of Trade, the business-friendly think tank has come out with a report calling on mayoral candidates to address what it sees as an increasingly urgent economic disconnect. Board president Carol Wilding and United Way head Frances Lankin say it's a subject the city's mayoral candidates need to raise in a race that, so far, has been largely about transit, taxes and customer service.

The issue goes beyond platitudes about equity and equal opportunity, Ms. Wilding says: Toronto is hurting its economy, its livability and its competitiveness on the world stage if it can't address growing gaps in its population's welfare.

"For this region to be economically competitive, we have to pay attention to social inclusion, to this being a community where people want to invest, where bright minds want to live," Ms. Lankin said. "If there are communities where no one wants to go because they're dangerous, where we're not graduating young kids from school ... then we're not going to be attractive to investment and we're not going to be economically competitive."

The board's report doesn't make specific recommendations to those aiming to occupy the mayor's seat come Oct. 26, although they plan to bring some forward this fall before the election.

But Ms. Lankin and Ms. Wilding say some of the solutions are as simple as creating links between small- and medium-sized businesses and new immigrants who don't have the extensive social networks required to navigate Canada's corporate world.



To join the Q&A, click the gray box below. Click here to access a mobile-friendly version of the discussion.



<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=33c55d41d6/height=650/width=600" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="600px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=33c55d41d6" >Is Toronto failing its newcomers?</a></iframe>


"If immigrants are coming in and are not able to work in the type of occupations they're trained and educated for, it's obviously a serious loss for Toronto because they're not able to work and get the incomes and salaries they should or could ... It's really a loss in terms of being able to harness those skills," said Karen King, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute.

These problems exist across Canada, she said, but their effects are more pronounced in Toronto because of the region's concentration of immigrants.

Thanks to a series of economic shifts since the 1980s, immigrants to Canada are better educated than ever. But it's now harder for them to get jobs in their fields once they get here, and they feel downturns the most: in the last recession, recent immigrants saw a 5.7-per-cent drop in employment levels, compared with a 3-per-cent drop for "established immigrants" and a 1.6-per-cent drop for Canadian-born workers.

Mr. Taiwo is still struggling to get his architect's licence, a process that has only recently become easier. "Now I'm even more energized to get at it," he said. "Before, I wasn't so sure I wanted the pain any more.

"I understand how people get nervous - 'Oh, this is a new guy. He doesn't have Canadian experience.' ... [But]why do you allow us in when it can be so difficult for us to get a job?"

Integrating into Toronto society has never been easy, said Ratna Omidvar, president of the Maytree Foundation and chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. But as ethnic enclaves in the Greater Toronto Area become more discrete and more isolated from transit and social services, "it's becoming harder and it's becoming more complex," she noted. "The catch-up time has lengthened incredibly."

******

WAGE GAP



63¢

Amount a newly immigrated man currently makes for every dollar a Canadian-born man makes



85¢

Amount a newly immigrated man made in 1980 for every dollar a Canadian-born man made



56¢

Amount a newly immigrated woman currently makes for every dollar a Canadian-born woman makes



85¢

Amount a newly immigrated woman made in 1980 for every dollar a Canadian-born woman made

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