Immigrants bring benefits to B.C. employers

It’s no secret that new immigrants to British Columbia have a hard time finding work. Even skilled immigrants with degrees in fields like medicine and engineering often face significant hurdles when looking for a job in their field.

It shouldn’t be this way, industry leaders told the Straight. Skilled immigrants to B.C. have just as much to offer employers as companies have to offer them.

Bob Elton, president and CEO of B.C. Hydro, told the Straight that employing skilled, recent immigrants to Canada is a mutually-beneficial practice that no business should shy away from.

“Everybody says they want the best people and it is inconceivable that the best people all live in Canada today,” Elton said. “My advice is, be open to it and look carefully at people’s qualifications and experience.”

Elton noted that despite the recession, B.C.’s aging work force means that skilled-workers remain hard to come by. Couple this with the fact that  B.C. is home to one of the most culturally and ethnically-diverse populations on the planet, and it simply makes sense to fill vacant positions with workers who can speak different languages.

Bohdan Bodnar, vice president of human resources for Spectra Energy’s Canada operations, told the Straight that his company also sees numerous benefits in hiring newcomers.

He noted that through federal immigration policies, Canada attracts some of the best and the brightest from overseas. “But they have a lot of trouble getting [Canadian] accreditation in their professions,” he cautioned.

Bodnar said that to help new immigrants overcome this challenge, Spectra Energy actually pays for skilled workers to attend cultural and linguistic workplace-preparation programs. For example, a 10-week course is usually followed by six weeks of work experience with Spectra. Upon completion, a worker receives a  lump-sum payment “equal to what we might pay for a very entry level engineer”, Bodnar said.

“Because a lot of these folks may be walking away from a low-income job or certainly a job that they are way overqualified for,” he noted, “it is not fair, on our part, to just expect them to come and work but not be able to support their family.”

Elton said that to help skilled immigrants overcome accreditation problems, B.C. Hydro hires immigrants to work under senior employees who are accredited. As a result, he continued, an immigrant is able to gain work experience required by B.C.’s accreditation processes and B.C. Hydro stands to secure a loyal employee.

“A lot of people who come here are very interested in getting settled and building a life and getting involved in the community,” Elton explained. “And frankly, they will often be hard-working, reliable people.”

And because B.C. Hydro is a large company with a stable future, he added, it is a natural fit for such immigrants.

To understand the benefits of a diverse workforce, Elton suggested that employers think about what can happen when a group of like-minded people fail to take different views into consideration.

“If you look at most things that go wrong in society and in the world, usually, you can look at a group of people who look pretty similar,” he said. “With wars and big-business failures like the ones we’ve just been having [in the financial sector], you’ll often not see a lot of diversity at the table.”

According to Elton, there is natural advantage in a company with the ability to pull ideas from a diverse range of cultures.

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Apr 10, 2009 at 11:00am

No surprise to me. I worked for years in manufacturing with many immigrants from various places in the world. some of them were Drs., Lawyers, Teachers, Principals, Engineers. Their education enabled them to apply to come to this country but if they wanted to work at their profession, then they had to figure out how to re-take 5+ years of University. An electrician from Ontario has to re-take part of their journeyman qualifications in B.C. if they want to work here. I've never been to Ontario but I guess they nmust have a different type of electricity then us on the coast. It would seem to me an ancient government law is the barrier.