Per­mit prob­lems

For­eign work­ers needed more than ever dur­ing re­ces­sion, but em­ploy­ers must be more vig­i­lant in face of lay­off con­cerns, ex­perts say

Ottawa Business Journal - HR Update - - Foreign Workers - BY KRYS­TLE CHOW

Ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment and fre­quent news of lay­offs dur­ing th­ese times of eco­nomic strife might lead one to be­lieve there are lit­tle or no jobs to be had, es­pe­cially for for­eign­ers on work per­mit.

But that’s just not so, ac­cord­ing to Paul D. Swin­wood, pres­i­dent of the In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy Coun­cil. He points out the much-lamented prob­lem of de­clin­ing sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing en­rol­ment in schools and uni­ver­si­ties, cou­pled with the need for at least 15,000 IT work­ers each year, means em­ploy­ers may still have to look abroad to fill an es­ti­mated gap of 5,000 to 7,000 work­ers per year.

He adds that com­pa­nies need to be more pro­duc­tive than ever to bal­ance the down­turn’s ef­fects. “It’s not an is­sue in our sec­tor … Ir­re­spec­tive of colour, race, or re­li­gion, we need to keep the best per­son, be­cause we’re talk­ing to a sec­tor that’s to­tally fo­cused on pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­no­va­tion and com­pe­tency. In tough times, the per­form­ers stay.

“If you’re go­ing to con­cen­trate on keep­ing good old Joe in­stead of Ish­wan, you’re deck­ing the com­pany’s fu­ture and that’s short-sighted. And I don’t know any­one who’s done that.”

Still, there’s no doubt some Cana­dian cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents may be won­der­ing why it may seem pri­or­ity is some­times given to for­eign work­ers and in­ter­na­tion­ally ed­u­cated pro­fes­sion­als – or IEPs – when there was a to­tal of 40,700 un­em­ployed peo­ple, in all sec­tors, on the side­lines in Ottawa-Gatineau in July.

The prob­lem is one the tech in­dus­try iden­ti­fied a while back: not all IT jobs are equal, and work­ers laid off af­ter years at com­pa­nies such as Nor­tel of­ten don’t have up-to-date skill sets needed to im­me­di­ately move to a new high-tech job in a dif­fer­ent space.

“What I keep telling peo­ple when they call, lam­bast­ing me for not be­ing able to find a job, is that com­pa­nies are looking for com­pe­tent peo­ple and if you’re com­pe­tent to do the job, they’ll hire you,” says Mr. Swin­wood.

For ex­am­ple, older tech work­ers were trained to deal with se­rial pro­cess­ing. That’s where one com­puter is used to per­form a se­ries of ac­tions in lin­ear fash­ion. But with the ad­vent of par­al­lel pro­cess­ing, which sees mul­ti­ple com­put­ers work­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously to per­form a sin­gle action, sud­denly there’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing shift to­wards hir­ing mu­sic grad­u­ates, ac­cus­tomed to or­ches­trat­ing hun­dreds of in­stru­ments to form a sym­phony, as com­puter pro­gram­mers.

“Mean­while, peo­ple who had had the old train­ing of se­rial thought pro­cess­ing couldn’t grasp the con­cept, and be­came ob­so­lete. That’s the chal­lenge we’ve got in an in­dus­try where ‘new’ has a very short life­span,” says Mr. Swin­wood.

He adds the half-life of a new prod­uct is now as lit­tle as 18 months, which means work­ers need to spend at least 10 to 15 per cent of their own time reskilling them­selves – or face be­com­ing outdated.

That’s some­thing ICTC is work­ing on fix­ing, es­pe­cially now that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pledged $3.5 bil­lion to help Cana­di­ans and per­ma­nent res­i­dents up­grade their skills. The coun­cil is cur­rently help­ing to im­ple­ment a pro­gram that pays for more than 50 per cent of the re­quired train­ing for peo­ple who are still em­ployed but want to keep their op­tions open.

That still doesn’t solve the prob­lem of the em­ployer who needs to hire some­one with the right com­pe­ten­cies to de­liver on a dead­line, since a sixweek train­ing course of­ten isn’t up to snuff when it comes to a highly tech­ni­cal job. That’s where the in­ter­na­tion­ally trained pro­fes­sional could help fill in the gaps, says Mr. Swin­wood.

How­ever, em­ploy­ers deal­ing with for­eign work­ers on per­mit – whether they’re hir­ing, re­tain­ing, or even fir­ing them – still con­tend with a host of le­gal is­sues, es­pe­cially in tough times, says Yusra Sid­diquee, an im­mi­gra­tion lawyer with Ogilvy Re­nault LLP’s Toronto of­fice.

“If you lay off a for­eign worker solely be­cause they’re for­eign, you could ac­tu­ally open up a hu­man rights chal­lenge by the for­eign worker,” says Ms. Sid­diquee.

Paul Swin­wood, pres­i­dent of ICTC.

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