Spotlight: On Immigrant Integration
British Columbia has a growing need for skilled immigrants to power our economy.
In the very near future British Columbia will face a critical workforce challenge in the form of a significant skills gap. The pending skills gap is currently overshadowed by post-recession unemployment rates in certain sectors, namely youth. However, the shift is coming and if we do not prepare, our province will suffer both economically and socially. The double whammy of an aging population and falling birth rates will result in a smaller labour force. January was a turning point as the first baby boomers turned 65, signalling the first wave of retirees expected over the next two decades. Additionally, BC is continuing to transition from its traditional resource-based economy to a more knowledge-based economy. We need to put strategies in place now to ensure that we will have the skilled workforce to fill jobs and take on the challenges of increased globalization tomorrow.
There are a few different ways to combat this imminent skills shortage. One way is to ensure that new immigrants to BC are given the right start to help them integrate. BC Colleges is on the forefront of immigrant settlement programs. In some cases colleges, like Vancouver Community College (VCC), are among the first points of contact new immigrants make. English as a Second Language (ESL) training and specific skills transfer programs are vital in helping new immigrants settle and prepare for employment in their chosen field.
Vancouver Community College offers one of the largest and most comprehensive ESL programs in BC. Newcomers to Canada who are unable to commute to campus or community outreach centres to learn English can even apply for at-home instruction by ESL volunteers. VCC is also a focal point partner in the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program, which connects immigrants with a college adviser before they arrive in the country. The program, administered by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, serves immigrants in China, India, Philippines, and the United Kingdom.
“VCC is one of the first contact points for immigrants considering their training and education options in Canada,” says VCC project coordinator Michael Yue. “Often, contact is initiated before the newcomer even arrives in Canada. This pre-arrival service is most valuable to immigrants because they can set clear goals and make plans to learn the language and find work before landing in Canada,” Yue adds.
Such was the case with Florin and Daniela Balan, both 31. When they emigrated from Romania, along with their infant daughter, neither had a job nor spoke English. However, thanks to VCC’s English as a Second Language outreach program, Florin is employed full-time and Daniela speaks English with confidence and ease.
“When I first came to Canada I couldn’t even have a conversation in a grocery store and it was frustrating,” says Florin. “Now, I have found a job as a plumber and will continue to study English as part of a long-term plan to become an engineer.”
The English as a Second Language program at Douglas College was critical in preparing Anastasia Romanova for her future academic courses. Anastasia, who describes her English as “so-so” when she came to Canada three years ago, is now taking Biology courses and has been accepted to the Psychiatric Nursing program at Douglas College. Back in Russia she was a teacher with a background in psychology and sociology, but decided to change career paths once she came to Canada.
“The ESL program is a very good start for any academic program at Douglas, and my experience will be very useful. It’s not only about English, but also about study skills and Douglas College requirements.” she says.
With the Psychiatric Nursing program, Anastasia has four more years of education ahead of her, but she feels well prepared to carry on with her studies – thanks to a solid foundation in ESL.
Between 2007 and 2009, the Okanagan experienced an extreme shortage of trades’ workers. Working with the local business community, the Collision Repair Department at Okanagan College delivered three 16-week programs for 33 technicians from Jamaica who had work experience in the auto body industry. The programs were designed to take qualified technicians and upgrade them to Canadian Inter-Provincial standards so they could seek work in the collision repair and paint industry throughout western Canada.
Each program began with an eight-week in-school session, followed by a 16-week work term in a local business and another final eight-week in-school session. Once the students completed the program, most returned to their work term employers and eventually challenged the Inter-Provincial exam in their particular trade. All the students passed the exam and within a year of their arrival, were employed at local auto body shops. The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission assisted the students and their employers to submit applications to the BC Provincial Nomination program for Permanent Resident status.
"This program fast-tracked the availability of appropriately trained workers to employers at a time when they were really needed," says Chris Burns, Chairperson of the Collision Repair Department. "Not only did it help address the industry labour shortage among Central Okanagan employers, it has helped the workers to build a new life in Canada."
Steve Robinson, Okanagan College's Director of International Education, says connecting international students in the trades and other areas of study with the needs of local businesses can provide many benefits in addition to addressing labour shortages. "Not only do international students represent a much needed pool of young educated workers, they have knowledge of other countries and language skills many local businesses need to grow and develop new markets. We need to continue to get the word out about what the Okanagan has to offer them and embrace the contribution they can make in the business community."
Bing Zou is a business student at Camosun College who began her Canadian college journey with an entry level ESL course. Zou, who grew up in Mainland China where she attained a law diploma, relocated to Victoria to join her sister in 2004. Soon after arriving, she realized if she wanted a career equal to what she had in China, she would need to improve her English.
She credits much of her academic success to Camosun’s CAPE program (Certificate in Academic and Professional English). CAPE is specifically designed to help internationally trained professionals prepare for a career or further education in Canada. CAPE teaches students professional English in applied settings so they are exposed to real work scenarios. Additionally they receive 40 hours of job shadowing and are required to conduct an informational interview with a working professional. This not only helps to prepare them for what to expect when they enter the workforce in Canada, but also gives them valuable Canadian work experience to add to their resume.
During her time at Camosun, Zou has earned four credentials and won a scholarship for her positive attitude and high academic standing in her business classes. Using her diploma to ladder into the business degree program, Zou is nearing completion of the Bachelor of Business Administration.
As the frontline providers of advanced skills and education to the province’s labour force, BC’s 11 public colleges are critical centres for immigrant integration. By providing relevant language and skills training, BC Colleges prepares new immigrants for a bright future in BC and ,in doing so, helps to ensure our future economic prosperity. For the most part, immigrants coming to British Columbia do so for a better life. They want to be productive, engaged members of their communities. As a system, we are committed to finding more ways to work with government and industry to ensure this happens.
For more information on how BC Colleges prepares BC’s workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, visit our website here.