The immigrant advantage
Blurb: Newly arrived Canadians often have a hard time landing their first job. Companies should take a harder look, because they can add a lot of value.

Immigration has historically been one Canada's greatest growth engines. However during recent decades many businesses have been slower to hire newly arrived Canadians. According to one professional they are making a big mistake.

"It's very hard to get into this country," said Tracey Greenberg, a trainer at Jewish Employment Montreal. "If someone does manage it, they probably have a good education, lots of experience or specialized knowledge that Canadian companies can use."

Greenberg recently founded a networking group of newly arrived Canadians, who are trying to get their foot in the door in Montreal's tough job market. Participants meet regularly to share experiences and exchange information. During the several months the group has operated, Greenberg has been consistently impressed at the talent and drive of many of the immigrants she meets. Despite this, getting a crack at Canadian experience remains a challenge for many.

In some cases it's just bad timing. For example Ilan Halberstam, a recent arrival from France, has a solid background in bio-technology, which many acknowledge as one of the most promising fields in coming decades. Yet despite his impressive credentials, -- an M. Sc. In biology and another M. Sc. in administrative science, --he has been unable to land a position in project management.

"I have talked to many companies, but the industry is going through a tough time in Quebec right now," Halberstam said. "I guess I'll just have to keep on trying."

Other recent immigrants like Alicia Bebenek, an architect and urban planner who arrived recently from Poland, have experience, but are missing specialized skills that are needed to function in a Canadian business environment.

"I have never worked on a computer. It's my big weakness," said Bebenek, who has completed work on several freelance residential projects, but is still looking for her first full time job. "But I am willing to learn if someone will give me a chance."

Edward Rijer, didn't wait before seeking out training to help him fit in to the Quebec business environment. Rijer, grew up in the former Soviet Union and studied at the University of Moscow. He lived in Israel and worked in both Germany and Denmark, before moving on to Canada. Although he has extensive business experience, particularly in the field of logistics, Rjer didn't hesitate to register in an international trade program at LaSalle College to beef up his credentials.

"When you have worked in many countries, you realize that there are a lot of standard business practices," Rijer said. "But many companies want Canadian experience, so you have to be flexible in the kind of work you are willing to do."

Adaptability and the willingness to take on new challenges are almost by definition characteristics of most immigrants. The mere fact that they are willing to leave family, friends and country behind to seek out new opportunity, show that they have an uncommon ability to think "out-of-box."

Immigrants are also often willing to make great sacrifices to succeed in their adopted lands. Sylvie Charrois, a marketing specialist who lived both in France and Argentina before coming to Montreal with her husband, now finds herself living alone with her two children. Her husband, a financial analyst couldn't find work in Montreal and had to move to Ontario to take a job. She now wonders whether she will have to follow him.

"I like Montreal a lot and we would prefer to stay here," Charrois said. "But we will move again if we have to."

One of the biggest barriers facing companies is their hesitancy about hiring new Quebecers who are not immediately fluent in both French and English. However while language skills are crucial, especially in jobs in which there is a lot of communication with the public, many technical positions require only a limited vocabulary, often consisting of standard jargon.

"They don't want to take a chance," said Laura Burman, a systems analyst with almost a decade of experience in the telecommunications field, who speaks French, English and Spanish. "But just because some has an accent, it doesn't mean that they cannot function in the work place."

Despite the clear benefits that immigrants can bring to most workplaces, there are growing indications that the quality of the talent pool is going to increase in the coming years. U.S. universities are seeing substantial decreases in the number of foreign student enrollments due to post 9-11 restrictions, even in crucial fields such as science and research. U.S. businesses are also having a harder time bringing in skilled workers.

Those workers and students are going to be looking for alternate places to study and work. Canadian businesses may as well grab them while they can.



Sidebar: Advantages to businesses that hire immigrants

o The act of leaving friends families and native lands behind tends to confirm immigrants as out-of-the box thinkers who take initiative.
o Despite highly publicized exceptions, Canada has tough entry requirements. Immigrants are typically well educated, experienced or skilled in specialized fields
o Immigrants tend to be willing to work for lower wages in order to get their foot into the job market
o Business owners who hire immigrants often describe them as highly motivated and harder working than regular employees


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Peter Diekmeyer
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