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Our Time to Lead

Why Canada needs a flood of immigrants Add to ...

Mr. Baker's company has grown to 420 employees from 140 two years ago; it aims to approach 600 by the end of the year. But he has 120 jobs that he can't find the talent to fill. In some cases, he has pored over 500 résumés, primarily from Canadians, without turning up a viable candidate.

Namir Anani, president of the Information Communications and Technology Council, says his industry forecasts predict that there will be 106,000 unfilled jobs in the ICT field in just four years. Immigration will have to help address that shortage, he says.

Mr. Baker agrees: “Our industry thrives on finding the best and the brightest from around the world.”

But if a company's growth is impeded, it can miss its moment. Mr. Baker has gone abroad to hire before. Though he found the process cumbersome, he found someone from Finland with a rare set of skills who has been an important asset to the company. An employee of Brazilian background was extremely useful in understanding South American education systems – how the curriculum works there, and which exams are the most important.

Right now, Desire2Learn is looking for people deeply familiar with European education systems, their next target for expansion.

“Having a global work force helps us create products that serve a global marketplace,” Mr. Baker says. “If we don't have the skill set to help us understand how to serve those markets, we can't do business there.”

5. The devil and other details

Tamara Fernandez Lima and her husband are economic-class immigrants from Cuba. They initially landed in St. John's, but hated the weather and heard there was more opportunity out West. Within four days of touching down in Calgary in January, 2010, they both had jobs.

“It wasn't a dream job, but it was a job, and we needed to get established,” Ms. Lima says. “For us, it was like heaven.”

Not content with one position, within weeks they had several more. Ms. Lima has a graduate degree in psychology and worked as vice-president of human resources at a Cuban government-security company. In Calgary, she would start her day at 10 a.m. at a women's clothing store, while her husband washed dishes at a restaurant. He had another dishwashing job in the evening, followed by a cleaning job at Dairy Queen – and then they would rendezvous at Pizza Hut at around 1 a.m. and to make pizza dough until 6 a.m. Ms. Lima would go home for three hours of sleep and then start again.

“We barely slept until my husband found something closer to his field,” she says.

He now installs home and office alarms, not far from his expertise as an electrical technician, while Ms. Lima eventually worked her way up to a more appropriate job too, handling payroll at a Safeway corporate office. They recently bought a condominium and are expecting their first child. Both are continuing to upgrade their education, Ms. Lima by taking a certificate in human-resources management at the University of Calgary.

“We haven't finished yet,” Ms. Lima says. “I'm not yet in my dream job, but this is one of the steps along the way.”

Their story is a reminder that immigrating is far from easy, and expanding it will not be simple either. Taking on more immigrants would require more employees at Citizenship and Immigration to screen and select newcomers in time to be more responsive to the demands of employers. It would require more money for settlement work and for promoting Canada abroad.

To maximize the benefits, Canada would have to get immigrants of the right age. As McMaster's Prof. Sweetman points out, they should fill the gaps in Canada's population structure, and right now that would mean targeting people in their mid-30s.

Canada also has to get newcomers to smaller centres, as envisioned in Deloitte and HRPA's Northern Tiger scenario. In 2006, 70 per cent of recent immigrants lived in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, which have felt the stresses of housing, job and infrastructure crunches.

By contrast, immigrants can halt population decline in smaller areas. And if communities and local employers have a role in selecting them, their outcomes tend to improve.

Still, any large immigration influx puts pressure on public services. In Steinbach's case, it was the schools that felt it first.

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