Dan Rees is group head of Canadian banking at Scotiabank.
The COVID-19 pandemic over the past 10 months has brought into sharp relief issues that have hindered Canada’s economic competitiveness and left some communities at a disadvantage in trying to achieve their full potential. For Canada to prosper in a rapidly changing world, we must ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute.
One important way to achieve that goal is by ensuring the seamless integration of new Canadians and creating conditions that allow them to participate fully in the economy. Governments at all levels have a role to play, and so do businesses, including Canada’s financial institutions.
When it comes to the importance of newcomers’ contributions to our economy, the facts are clear. Because of Canada’s low birth rate and aging population, it is only through immigration that Canada’s population has continued to see substantial increases, unlike its Group of Seven counterparts, where population growth is declining or even negative.
Make no mistake: Population is a fundamental building block for an economy. The more educated and productive people we attract, the more our quality of life improves and we can maintain the things that make Canada strong. Immigration is a form of economic stimulus. At a time when governments are doing their utmost to support the economy, we should use every engine of growth we can to carry us through the pandemic.
On that score, Canada has also demonstrated its advantage. About 60 per cent of Canada’s foreign-born population is highly educated, compared with less than 40 per cent in the United States and just 35 per cent across the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In part, this is because Canada’s points system for immigration helps match newcomers to gaps in the job market and tests them for language proficiency.
Because of our immigration policies, Canada now welcomes five times as many skilled newcomers as a percentage of its population than the U.S. does. Over the past two years, pre-COVID-19, new Canadians saw significantly higher employment gains than Canadian-born people.
Before the pandemic, Canada increasingly faced labour shortages that were holding back growth. At the end of 2019, there were more than 500,000 job vacancies, Statistics Canada reported. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, pre-COVID-19, more than 40 per cent of its members reported a shortage of skilled labour, and almost 25 per cent reported a shortage of unskilled and semi-skilled workers.
The federal government recently announced it will substantially increase the number of new Canadians we will welcome every year. This is a positive and timely decision. It recognizes that we are an open, inclusive and diverse country, and immigrants are essential to Canada’s future prosperity.
When they arrive, we must make their transition as seamless as possible by helping them face continuing challenges, including language barriers, difficulties in obtaining professional credentials, lack of social and professional networks, and limited financial literacy.
There are many ways the business community must contribute:
- Financial literacy: Lack of financial literacy affects all kinds of Canadians, but newcomers often face many complex financial decisions at once in a new country – saving, investing, obtaining credit, buying a home, etc. Financial institutions, in particular, must ensure they make resources available so newcomers can settle quickly and contribute.
- Recruitment: Companies must take concrete steps to diversify their work forces and ease the path to employment for newcomers. Many studies have shown that diverse views and leadership that reflects all parts of society make organizations more successful and profitable. Yet racialized people continue to experience higher unemployment and lower incomes than non-racialized people.
- Professional integration: The story of the immigrant professional driving a cab because credentials aren’t recognized here is all too real. While licensing bodies for professions must maintain the highest standards, governments have a role to play in helping new Canadians understand those standards before they arrive and meet them when they get here. Additional funding to help with certification, training, exams, internships and apprenticeships, and language programs will get highly qualified new Canadians more quickly into the work they are equipped and motivated to do. Business can help to provide those opportunities and more.
- Social and professional networks: Canadians take for granted how much we rely on our extensive personal and professional connections to help us in our careers and personal lives. We must help newcomers access networking and mentorship so they can build the relationships that will help them succeed.
These are all areas of significant focus for Scotiabank. As part of our new 10-year, $500-million commitment called ScotiaRISE, we will support community and academic partners to promote economic resilience by accelerating newcomer integration, increasing high-school graduation and postsecondary participation, and removing barriers to career advancement.
The pandemic will eventually pass, but the need to strengthen Canada – economically, demographically and culturally – will not go away. Let’s make sure immigration continues to be the Canadian advantage.