Back to Canada’s job crunch could ease by targeting immigration to long-term labour needs: TD Bank

Canada’s job crunch could ease by targeting immigration to long-term labour needs: TD Bank


Alyshah Hasham

If Canada made full use of its current immigrant potential there would be the equivalent of 370,000 more people working, according to a new report by Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Instead immigrant skills continue to be wasted – with many unemployed or underemployed, says the report.

In the 1970s it took less than a generation for newcomers to catch up the salaries of their Canadian counterparts, but that is no longer the case.

“The simple, but sad, truth is that many new immigrants cannot hope to close the earnings gap in their lifetime,” the TD paper says.

The fix proposed by the study is reforming the immigration system to focus on long term demands of the job market.

Right now, the federal skilled worker program, the provincial nominee program and the temporary foreign worker program all target the short-term needs of the job market, the paper says.

To balance this, Ottawa should reorient the federal program towards longer-term needs and make the system flexible enough to change occupations to preempt anticipated shortages.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for businesses to raise their hands to ask for workers,” says TD’s chief economist Craig Alexander.

“But our track record for making these long-term projection is poor both in Canada and the United States,” says Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. For instance, rapidly changing technology makes forecasting the current need for experts in “fracking” a new way of extracting natural gas, impossible, he says.

Alexander points to the tech boom in the early 2000s that saw Canada continuing to bring in IT professionals after the boom subsided.

The study proposes a better labour-market information system to identify which occupations will be in demand before shortages hit, a system that could work closely with employers.

One example is health care related work that will likely continue to be in demand because of the aging population, says Alexander.

Currently there are 29 occupations listed by CIC for the federal skilled worker program (changed in 2008, cutting the 351 eligible occupations down to 38). The includes architects, physicians, physiotherapists, business managers, nurses, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and mining drillers and blasters.

The report also suggests adding a minimum language threshold for applicants, and making the patchwork of settlement services provided by Ottawa more efficient and easily accessed.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to announce latest in a series of reforms to the immigration process at the end of the month.

It’s a problem Ontario needs to take seriously, said Glen Hodgson. The economist is part of a team at the Canadian Conference Board that released a report last week forecasting sluggish growth in the province for the next 20 years due in part to slow labour market growth.

Other suggested reforms:

Recognizing credentials

“We need to start recognizing credentials long before immigrants arrive in Canada,” said Glen Hodgson, the chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada. Provincial immigration programs which liaise with employers have made some progress in this area. area but more work needs to be done. The TD study suggests expanding the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program which provides offices in countries including China and India to prepare immigrants before departure.


Language is still one of the primary barriers for immigrants in the labour market, says Cheryl May, executive director of Skills for Change, a Toronto based settlement agency. Often immigrants spend so long developing the language skills they need to take the bridging programs that they lose traction, and sometimes their professional qualifications. There needs to be a focus on accelerated language programs that coincide with job training. Employers also need to support language training for hires – making it a part of professional development, she says.

Regional Growth

Areas with large job vacancies may not have the infrastructure needed to persuade immigrants to stay, particularly in Atlantic Canada, says Beatty. The TD study points to Manitoba’s provincial program as a success story in attracting and keeping immigrants. It credits the province’s “integration portal” that gives immigrants easy access to all the information they need about language skills in one place, and has a good record of linking immigrants with employers.


There is a gap between the retiring baby boomers and the current university graduates – hence a labour shortage in areas like management position, says Arthur Sweetman, an economic professor at McMaster University. With small changes to the system, “immigrants can help shade in the valley between the baby boom and the baby boom echo,” he said.

Promote the need for immigration

“We’re doing a pretty poor job of integrating immigrants into the workforce… One the impacts of that is you find many immigrants choosing to leave Canada,” said Beatty. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is launching a campaign Wednesday that will stress the importance immigration to competitiveness and economic growth. “We’re not so rich a country that we can afford to waste anybody’s skills,” he said

With files from the Canadian Press