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TMU receives $3M from BMO for research on integrating newcomers into the workforce

The funding will address challenges faced by newcomers in getting international skills recognized in Canada
By: Surbhi Bir
May 09, 2024
A young woman and man shaking hands in a professional setting.

Leveraging the skills and talents of newcomers is critical to the future of the Canadian economy.

This week, TMU’s Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration program received a $3 million gift from BMO that will fund research on best practices for employers to better integrate newcomers in the Canadian labour market. 

Newcomers to Canada help strengthen the economy and the country’s talent pipeline, but often face systemic barriers and challenges that limit social and economic opportunities. The funding from BMO will help set up the Newcomer Workforce Integration Lab, a priority program for the CERC in Migration and Integration that will equip companies with tools and knowledge to successfully attract, hire, integrate and retain newcomers.

“With BMO as champion of this innovative research – and as our partner in adopting and testing new practices – we will be able to make a difference in the success that immigrants have integrating into the Canadian workforce,” said Anna Triandafyllidou, TMU’s Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration. 

“BMO is in an exceptional position to act on the work of our lab, model new labour market solutions, and advocate with their customers and partners the importance of helping newcomers realize their potential as full participants in the Canadian economy.”

Addressing gaps in policies and practices

The first collaborative initiative of its kind, the Newcomer Workforce Integration Lab will research and develop evidence-based tools, training, resources, action and policy recommendations that employers of all types and sizes can adopt to better leverage the skills and talents of newcomers, from recruitment strategies to hiring and onboarding practices.

“Over 60 per cent of migrants in Canada hold a university degree and have work experience back home; they are skilled migrants, and the assumption is that they will be successful in the labor market based on their skills,” said Marshia Akbar, research area lead on labour migration at CERC in Migration and Integration, who will serve as the director of the Newcomer Workforce Integration Lab.

“But if there is a gap between the way Canadian employers and migrants understand their skills, then the assumption is wrong – and that’s what we are seeing. For decades, it’s clear from the census data that migrants are not actually doing as well as we expect,” she said. “Even when their labour market participation is high, their income is actually quite low, almost half of the income of Canadian-born workers.” 

Akbar’s research focuses on the challenges migrants face, the resources and services available to them, and the community resources and social networks available to help them access the Canadian labour market and move upwards in the market. She also looks at migration policies and governance at the federal and provincial levels, along with any gaps between the policies, practices and the lived experiences of migrants.

“My top recommendation has been an employer-engaged and employer-driven approach to labour market integration of migrants,” Akbar said. “If employers are not at the table or engaged in the process, then there is a gap and it’s a loss for Canada in terms of skill utilization. We need employers to learn about the skills migrants have, to what extent they can benefit from those skills immediately, and what training programs they can offer to facilitate migrants’ integration in specific industries.”

To start, Akbar’s team of researchers at the Newcomer Workforce Integration Lab will look at ways of integrating Canada’s immigrant workforce into the finance and banking sector. They plan to collaborate with employers in different industries in the future.

At a time when a significant number of migrants are leaving Canada or choosing not to apply for Canadian citizenship because they don’t feel hopeful about the labour market, Akbar emphasizes the need for employers to utilize migrants’ skills and talent. “We need the migrant labour force and we need to retain them for the future of the Canadian economy, otherwise it’s a loss for the country,” she said.


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