The Talent Gap: Challenges Immigrants Face in the Tech Labor Market
Many immigrants find themselves unemployed or underemployed, while companies struggle to find talent. A change of paradigm is needed to create a more inclusive and diverse labor market.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants arrive in Canada. For many of these immigrants, their arrival is accompanied by a set of challenges as they adapt to new cultures, languages and communities. Barriers to employment are one such challenge that immigrants face once settled in Canada. In particular, very recent immigrants (who have been in the country for five years or less) face a number of hurdles in the labor market, such as a lack of language proficiency, lack of recognition of foreign credentials and inadequate familiarity with the labor market.
The start of the journey
Many of the immigrants going through newcomer targeted programs experience these challenges when applying for jobs. For 10 years, I have worked with thousands of students, many of them having past experience in the tech field before immigrating, and when arriving in their new country, they quickly realized that their skillset was outdated. This isn’t uncommon in the I.T. realm; the technology is constantly in flux and advances dramatically every year.
Adding to the skillset situation, many people are told when arriving to a new country that they need the local experience to enter the labor market, creating a chicken and egg situation, where professionals need to find a first job but are told they need past experience to get it.
Because of these issues, many immigrants look to get upskilled or reskilled in local institutions. They enroll in different paid programs when they have the financial possibility, but others must find inexpensive solutions to their employment barriers to enter the workforce. Through these programs, immigrants intend to get familiar with the most in-demand technologies to help them "bridge the gap" in their I.T. knowledge, while also acquiring some experience and knowledge about the local culture.
The "job search process" problem
Besides the tech skills training aspect, new arrivals lack knowledge about the local job application process, finding themselves applying for positions through company website portals but not getting shortlisted for any jobs. Only when they learn about the power of in-person networking are they are able to catch the eye of potential employers. But this is not something many immigrants learn when they first arrive to their new destination.
However, networking also presents its challenges to recent immigrants. With English as a second or even third language, many job seekers have difficulty expressing themselves and promoting their skillset. Lack of familiarity with the language can hinder job seekers' confidence and present additional challenges when seeking employment.
If we add to this situation the change produced in the world by a pandemic where many networking events and groups started taking place remotely, this became an explosive combination, creating a new hurdle for professionals looking for a first opportunity.
Changing the paradigm
I personally believe that quality, accessible tech and soft skills training provides one key solution that will help reduce employment barriers for new immigrants. Upskilling and reskilling talented immigrants can increase their employability in a new context. But building a community around paid or social programs can also provide the support many of these talented individuals require to succeed.
That is why our goal should be to help individuals upgrade their knowledge and help place them with relevant organizations in an I.T. capacity. Building a community that understands that by including talented individuals from different minorities, they can not only increase the diversity of their teams but also foster innovation as well, is key for the future of companies struggling to find trained professionals. However, believing in alternate sources of talent is something that must be instilled from the top of the organization and included in its work culture.
Despite the successes of microcredentials offered by organizations like ComIT and other accessible training programs, new challenges continue to arise for recent immigrants. In recent years, for example, governments funded a number of tech-related programs and internships, providing employment opportunities for entry-level I.T. workers. However, many times, the internship age was capped at 30 years old, targeting college graduates, but creating barriers for older applicants. Many immigrants or people pivoting careers are over that age. Needless to say, employment initiatives should be more inclusive and create opportunities for new professionals at any stage of their lives, based solely on their skills and fit for the position.
Our society is starting to understand that talent comes from anywhere, and that in order to keep moving forward, we'll have to think out of the box to find solutions. However, many times, we keep thinking the of same alternatives — usually the ones that are close to our own experiences. The world is diverse, full of people with many different backgrounds, different skills and different approaches to solve problems.
I truly believe that barriers to employment can be overcome by providing affordable and flexible education and training opportunities to bridge the gap between new immigrants and employment opportunities.
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