This op-ed was originally published by Canadian Immigrant on February 10, 2022.
Canada needs more immigrants. After nearly two years of pandemic completely upending the labour market, it has become clear that we need to draw in more international talent. With this comes a responsibility to support newcomers throughout their integration – a challenge our communities are well equipped to overcome thanks to Canada’s network of colleges, CEGEPs, institutes and polytechnics.
Canada is facing a demographic cliff: an aging population coupled with low birthrate that will critically impact our available workforce. Forty years ago, there were seven workers to each retiree. Currently, that number is three.
At the same time, Canada’s labour market needs workers at all skill levels. KPMG recently surveyed employers and found 70% of them, from sectors as varied as healthcare to transportation and food production, fear labour and talent shortages as they are unable to find skilled workers.
This has created a clear immigration imperative: Canada needs to welcome more people to maintain our current prosperity and ensure our continued economic growth. For this reason, the Government of Canada has announced ambitious immigration targets and hopes to welcome 1.2 million newcomers over the next three years.
However, many newcomers continue to face significant barriers to economic integration, including a persistent wage gap. Even immigrants with strong technical skills have difficulty getting their foreign credentials recognized and some employers don’t want to hire people without Canadian work experience.
Supporting future waves of immigrants will require collaboration across the country, with post-secondary institutions playing a critical role. Colleges and institutes are ideally positioned to help the integration of newcomers.
They serve as a one-stop shop for skilled newcomers looking to quickly integrate into the labour market and provide critical support, including language training, employment services, and connections to community employers. They also offer specialized academic upgrading programs to international and newcomer students, and a variety of reskilling and upskilling options tailored to their local employment market.
On such program is EduNova’s award winning Study and Stay in Nova Scotia™ program, which is offered in partnership with Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). The program engages students in pre-employment skills training, networking and mentorship, with a goal to increase the retention of international students in Nova Scotia after graduation. Over the past five years the retention rate of participants was 89%, one year after graduation (compared to 12% for the overall international student population). NSCC complements the program with its “Pathway to Stay in Nova Scotia” program which prepares students, builds awareness, and will help scale up the number of students participating in Study and Stay ™.
Making it easier for the tens of thousands of international students who are already in the country to access permanent residency, is key to reaching Canada’s immigration target. These students are ideal candidates for immigration – with education grounded in Canada, an understanding of Canadian workplace norms and, in many cases, a strong desire to make Canada their permanent home.
Colleges and institutes represent the fastest-growing level of study for international students in Canada, accounting for just under half of study permit holders at the post-secondary level. But with this growth comes responsibility, which is why colleges and institutes have been investing in supporting international students.
Many recent news stories have illustrated the challenges and the pressures international students often face. To support the integration of new arrivals, our association recently issued three recommendations that will help build on the resources already available at colleges and institutes across the country.
First, we must develop a national employment pipeline for skilled newcomers with an emphasis on a national workplace-focused language training program. This needs to include work-integrated learning opportunities and wraparound support services that prepare new arrivals for life in Canada and facilitate rapid and meaningful labour market integration, while accounting for their wellbeing and mental health.
We should also encourage the development of employer-recognized national microcredentials that focus on in-demand skills. With microcredentials gaining momentum at colleges and institute across Canada, we have an opportunity to develop flexible programs adapted to the needs of newcomers.
Finally, we should boost Canada’s talent pool by developing and implementing permanent residency streams for international students graduating from colleges and institutes. Retaining their talent in Canada has been the focus of several pilot projects in recent years. It is time we commit to helping these new graduates, both by supporting their establishment, and giving them permanent and more accessible pathways to citizenship.
Colleges and institutes are committed to supporting newcomers at this critical time in our country’s history. With our future growth at stake, we must all work together to ensure we protect the promise of immigration.
Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada
Don Bureaux, President, Nova Scotia Community College