Aquil Khan immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in April 2005 armed with 10 years of professional experience as a business intelligence (BI) analyst. Just last month, he started a new job at a Toronto-based firm to work on a large BI development project for one of the company’s major clients.
But the journey leading up to this new position was anything but smooth, according to Khan.
“I stayed at home for four-and-a-half months trying to look for a job in [IT],” Khan said. He was sending out about 10 applications per day and posting his résumés online. Sometimes he would get called in for an interview, but that was as far as he would get in the process.
There was one common question that Khan’s interviewers posed to him: Do you have Canadian work experience? Obviously, being a recently landed immigrant, Khan didn’t have it.
Eventually, Khan “got lucky” and landed a job as a BI analyst for a publishing firm in Toronto, a short stint that gave him his much-needed Canadian experience.
Khan admits he is luckier than many of his peers who are fellow IT professionals from Pakistan who immigrated to Canada but have been struggling for years to get a job in IT. “No single person (who is an immigrant) that I have met would say, ‘I’m happy.’ They are all frustrated,” said Khan.
This is a phenomenon that has become far too common among Canada’s immigrants, many of whom are skilled IT professionals with significant work experience in their respective countries of origin. The difficulty in gaining employment often forces them into “survival jobs”, working on minimum wage in fields that underutilize their skills.
This situation may be about to change, however, as the information and communications technology (ICT) industry races against time to find ways to alleviate the looming skills shortage.
Complementing industry efforts to educate young students about career opportunities in IT, businesses are also tapping into the rich human resources that immigration brings to the country.
While it may not entirely solve the problem of IT skills shortage, Canada’s immigration will undoubtedly be a significant part of the solution, said Clarence Lochhead, senior researcher at the Canadian Labour and Business Centre (CLBC) in Ottawa. Immigration makes up a huge chunk of Canada’s labour force, said Lochhead, citing Statistics Canada numbers showing that immigration accounted for 70 per cent of the country’s net labour force growth between 1991 and 2001.
Industry organizations like the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) is already collaborating with the government to explore ways to fast-track the immigration process for applicants with IT-related expertise and their integration into the Canadian labour force.
“[Immigration Canada] has some very quick approval processes for a series of jobs that were defined years ago, and that needs to be updated,” said ITAC president and CEO Bernard Courtois, adding that IT-related occupations should be added to the list of expedited immigration processing. But the task doesn’t stop with bringing immigrants into the country, said Courtois.