Small business fails to tap into immigrant talent

Posted on Jun 18 2010 - 10:41pm by News Desk

immigrant canadaAbdullahi Hussein is either a star hire worth a six-figure salary, or a statistic stuck in systemic unemployment. The answer depends on where he’s looking for work.

Born in Somalia, he received his undergraduate degree there before moving on to a masters degree in food inspection at the University of Reading in Britain. Mr. Hussein came to Canada in the early nineties, attracted by our multiculturalism.

Things went well at first. Mr. Hussein got a job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, helping businesses bring their food inspection processes up to standard. The pay wasn’t as lucrative as his work in Yemen and the United States, but he liked the quality of life in Canada and decided to stay. Then in 2005, the project’s funding was cut. Mr. Hussein, along with a group of other inspectors, was out of a job. Though he was offered numerous international opportunities in the interim, he was unable to find another job in Canada.

Job seekers such as Mr. Hussein tend to monitor international job boards and the vacancy postings of big companies, according to Toronto-based Maytree Foundation, but they are rarely plugged into the kinds of social networks many Canadian small business owners draw from to do their hiring.

Mr. Hussein pointed out that being outside those informal circles is one of the key reasons he’s had a hard time finding work in Canada.

Ted Mallett, head of research for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said small businesses often lack the resources to advertise and hire outside their immediate networks. “These are employers who are already working long hours. They won’t look only at the new Canadians in the market, they will be looking at the whole swath, and they will go for whatever is easiest and most cost effective.”

Checking references in Bangalore, India, can be a whole lot more complicated than checking them in Barrie, Ontario. And comparing qualifications? With no reliable scale to assess an immigrant’s skills, small-business owners tend to default to what they know, Mr. Mallett said.

Once an immigrant is hired, Mr. Mallett added, other problems can emerge, most frequently associated with language ability. Few small businesses have the resources to provide cultural-specific training, mentorship or language skills to help an immigrant make a smooth transition. “We’ve done what we can,” Mr. Mallet said. “[CFIB] got the federal government to relax the rules around sponsoring immigrants, and we asked them to fast-track immigrants in key occupations. There’s not much more we can do.”

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Rachel Pulfer — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail