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Building New Skills: Immigration and Workforce Development in Canada

Reports
November 2013

Building New Skills: Immigration and Workforce Development in Canada

Canada has long been considered a world leader in the global hunt for talent, notable for its ability to acquire skilled human capital through a carefully calibrated points system. Although many immigrants to Canada are selected for their skills, the past few decades have seen high unemployment among immigrants, raising concerns that Canada's immigration system is failing to live up to its promise. This report examines the country's workforce development system and policies.

Workforce development policy in Canada is under provincial jurisdiction. Immigrants have access to a plethora of targeted and mainstream services provided by a wide range of actors, including school boards, colleges, universities, unions, community centers, and private and nonprofit organizations. In recent years, federal-provincial agreements have been expanded to ensure that individuals without employment insurance are covered, and the federal government has made funds available to support low-skilled and vulnerable workers. In addition, immigrant-specific services are increasingly innovative: examples of good practice include mentoring and “bridge training” (targeted education or training for those who need to plug a gap to meet Canadian professional standards).

However, evidence suggests that immigrants are underrepresented both in individual and employer-provided training. Some common barriers to immigrant participation include the complexity of service provisions, barriers to access such as language skills or childcare, and difficulties in assessing whether available programs offer returns on investment.

The report identifies two main areas through which these barriers may be addressed going forward. First, some policymakers and stakeholders have raised questions regarding whether mainstream and targeted services should be integrated. It seems that immigrants prefer to use immigrant-specific services, suggesting that these services may serve their needs better. But it is costly and possibly inefficient to run two parallel systems. Second, there is an emerging consensus that the system has been too supply driven and has failed to adequately involve key stakeholders, such as employers.

Table of Contents 

I.  Introduction

II.  The Mainstream Workforce Development System

A.  Ontario

B.  Access to Workforce Development

III.  Workforce Development for Immigrants

A.  The Need for Specialized Employment and Training Programs for Immigrants

B.  Employment and Training Programs Targeted to Immigrants

C.  Language-Training Programs for Immigrants

D.  Funding and Access

IV.  Effectiveness of Workforce Development for Immigrants

V.  Conclusions