What’s in a name? For immigrants to Canada, that’s a question that leads to many answers.
In the matter of employment searches, it can often mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.
And while many barriers to immigrant employment have been crossed, others remain.
There are a growing number of organizations across the country today that have made it their mission to connect employers with qualified immigrants, from employment counselling services to training and mentoring programs.
Entities such as the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) for example, are dedicated to bringing leaders together who are committed to helping immigrants and employers succeed.
There are countless other agencies working with local communities to improve access and support for immigrants.
Despite their tireless work however, research shows employment rates for immigrants continue to be much lower than for other groups.
In 2014, 12 per cent of university-educated immigrants who came to Canada in the last five years were without a job, according to a Statistics Canada report.
Organizations today understand that newcomers are key to strengthening Canada and increasing our labour market growth, yet research continues to show that immigrants – especially skilled immigrants – have difficulty finding employment that match their qualifications.
There is no simple answer to where the problem lies.
Societal prejudices and assumptions play a part.
Access to resources is another barrier.
Immigrants applying for work often lack the confidence to present themselves to their best advantage.
The online world can be an especially challenging area for job seekers. While job boards in particular are playing a fundamental role in connecting immigrants with potential job opportunities, a majority of those have not been able to overcome the issue of bias, which continues to be a significant flaw in the process.
Many might think of the online world as a great leveler.
However, as in the real world, it is not uncommon to see an employer reject a resumé based on something as simple as the person’s name, even before their actual qualifications are reviewed.
That employer may assume that the person’s language skills may be an issue, or the candidate may not be a cultural fit.
As a result, there can be significant mismatches between job postings and a person’s qualifications, adding to the ongoing underemployment problem.
This bias in terms of identity is a critical issue for many immigrant professionals, notes Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange and a Member of the Order of Canada.
Having faced her own challenges when coming to Canada, she says a well-meaning individual suggested she change her name because it was difficult to pronounce. “They said I would not get interviews.”
She admits there are statistics to back up that claim.
“Research has told us that Canadians with strange names are not as likely as those with Canadian names to get called back for interviews. For example, names like Bruce Smith are 40 per cent more likely to get screened in for interviews than Bahram Naderi.”
However, Omidvar decided to keep her name based on her belief that authenticity will overcome bias – a decision that has led her to a successful career path.
Yet when properly managed, the online world can also present significant opportunities to level the playing field for candidates. The issue of bias in online job searches was the impetus behind the creation of Magnet, a not-for-profit social initiative that connects job seekers and employers.
The employment networking platform was incubated at Ryerson’s DMZ in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
Magnet was designed to address the disparities that continue to exist between employers and the unemployed/underemployed.
Recently, the project was awarded a $120,000 grant from the Counselling Foundation of Canada, which will be used to expand support for immigrant-serving agencies across the country.
According to Bruce G. Lawson, President and CEO of the Counselling Foundation of Canada, it’s important for Canada that people are hired in a way that puts their skills and talents to the best possible use.
“Magnet’s two-way platform was of interest to us because it goes beyond simply being a job board. Not only does it provide immigrants with the potential to continue in their chosen career paths, employers can also tap into skill sets they may not have been able to access through other channels.”
Magnet uses a unique job-matching technology that quickly and accurately connects job seekers to employers based upon skills, preferences and talent needs.
Its membership currently includes more than 25 universities and colleges and 3,500 employers, as well as 60,000-plus job seekers and 80 community-based partners.
The initiative is unique in that it brings together education, government, not-for-profit and industry sectors onto a single platform to address a common goal.
One significant feature is that it withholds names throughout the vetting process to ensure unbiased results for applicants.
Here’s how it works.
Job seekers can build their private profile by uploading their resumé.
Once they are registered with Magnet, the system provides them with postings that match their skills, qualifications and preferences.
Qualified job candidates are automatically informed any time an employer adds a new posting, thereby shielding the person’s identity until they decide to communicate with the potential employer.
Given industry demand for skilled candidates and the wealth of talent available within the immigrant community, addressing unemployment and underemployment is more pressing than ever.
Social technology can play an important part in addressing those issues.
Our vision is that Magnet will play a part in breaking down the barriers between immigrants and employers by creating a national, interconnected – and most importantly – unbiased network.
– Mark Patterson
Executive Director, Magnet