Margaret Eaton is executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. Tom Zizys is a Toronto-based labour market analyst. His most recent report, Better Work: The Path to Good Jobs is Through Employers, was published by the Metcalf Foundation.
Your taxi driver is an internationally trained doctor, or engineer, or MBA. A stereotype, definitely. Unfortunately, one based in reality. But also one on its way out, just not for the reasons we would wish.
The labour market of today is already significantly different than the labour market of 10 years ago, and the labour market of tomorrow is poised for an even more dramatic transformation. Taxi drivers are currently under threat from Uber, with the greater threat of self-driving cars looming on the horizon.
Driving is just one occupation where increased automation and technological change are having a profound effect on the labour market. Over the past 20 years, the market has started to take the shape of an hourglass: growth among both high-pay, highly skilled knowledge-sector jobs and lower-skilled, service-sector entry-level occupations, with a hollowing out of the middle – middle-level skills and decent pay. The result is increased competition for fewer good jobs.
The biggest impact of these changes is felt by those just entering the labour market – namely youth and newcomers. Young people lack the experience to be competitive while newcomers' experience is often not recognized and valued to the extent it deserves. The result is that these two groups are competing more and more for entry-level positions that are no longer a pathway to a career.
But this should not be the case. Many newcomers come to Canada with the education and experience to fill more highly skilled knowledge-sector jobs. Finding employment commensurate with their skills and experience would mean that they would not be in competition for those entry-level positions.
So why is it still such a challenge for skilled immigrants to find meaningful employment? Many of the trends that are creating the hourglass labour market are also having an impact on employers' willingness to hire skilled immigrants.
Over the past several decades, the pace of technological change, coupled with pressures from the stock market and other sources to achieve quick financial returns, has increased volatility for businesses while also making them more averse to making a mistake. As a result, companies shortened their hiring time horizons – they now seek candidates with the expectation that they have the skills and experience to hit the ground running. Hiring for the long-term and investing in in-house talent have just too many variables. It is a shift in thinking about employees – from assets to invest in, to costs to be constrained.
Somewhat conversely, this shift has also meant that employers now take longer to make hiring decisions as they search for the perfect candidate. Since individuals are less likely to be trained and groomed for a position, credentials and experience have become more and more important. The result is that individuals whose credentials or experience are more difficult to discern, or who may require more orientation as new employees, are at a disadvantage.
Newcomers, even when highly skilled, fall into this group. Employers are unfamiliar with their credentials, question the quality of their experience and assume they will require additional support to fit into their work culture. These perceived risks, coupled with unconscious biases that influence their practice and procedures, mean that employers often do not give skilled immigrants a fair assessment.
The result is that employers miss out on some highly skilled, highly qualified talent. And yet, to succeed in today's quickly changing society, employers need to make sure they have access to the best talent available to them.
Securing the best talent, inclusive of skilled immigrants, comes down to having good, solid human resources practices and a willingness to balance short-term needs with longer-term investments. It means removing unconscious bias from the recruitment process, formalizing training for new hires and encouraging cross-cultural competence throughout the work force. Only with the appropriate processes and procedures, backed by a belief in employees as worthy investments, will employers be able to find and secure the talent they need to be successful in the coming decades.
Technological change may be bringing increased automation and even robots into our workplaces, but the continuing success of businesses will still be closely linked to the quality of the human talent they possess. The companies that recognize this are the ones that will thrive.