Mentorship and digital skills development improve prospects for B.C. immigrants  - New Canadian Media
A TD Economics report concluded that economic downturn disproportionately affects women and visible minorities, as opposed to other demographics. Photo: Antoni Shkraba/

Mentorship and digital skills development improve prospects for B.C. immigrants 

“When you leave your loved ones and come into a new culture, mentors really help you navigate unfamiliar territories.”

With unemployment rising, newcomers are more likely to suffer the impact, but mentorship and work-integrated learning programs could improve job prospects.

Oxford Economics believes that Canada entered a recession in the third quarter of 2023, which will persist until the second quarter of 2024. 

In its February 2024 report, TD Economics revealed that last year saw a significant widening of the joblessness gap for racialized communities in Canada. It analyzed the labour market trends and concluded that economic downturn disproportionately affects women and visible minorities, as opposed to other demographics.

“Coming to a new country, exploring [the job market], everything has been rock bottom,” says Neeti Khullar, an Indian immigrant in Canada. 

She says her biggest roadblock was job hunting in Victoria. 

“For one communication specialist role, I passed six written tests, presented myself to the CEO of the organization, and when I went there, I was ghosted. There was no clear reason provided for that,” says Khullar.

Khullar has a decade of work experience in global leadership positions within Europe and Asia. She says she wanted the “Canadian experience” so she arrived here as a mature student for her Masters in Global Management at Royal Roads University. However, after graduating in 2023, she faced many obstacles applying for grassroots roles which were six levels below her previous ones. 

She says she had several incidents of being shortlisted for interviews, clearing multiple tests and getting ghosted by the employers right after. She wasn’t sure if she wasn’t presenting a compelling pitch but felt that companies were abstaining from sharing feedback.

That was a dampener for me. And I thought something is wrong here, something is incorrect,” she says.

The TD Economics report found that the monetary impact on earnings after graduating during an economic downturn can linger even five years after graduation.

Khullar says being introduced to the free mentorship program of Immigrant Networks was the turning point in her journey in B.C. Immigrant Networks was created in 2020 in response to the job lay-offs during the pandemic. It is a professional [social] networking platform aimed at supporting immigrants in Canada.

Khullar believes that lack of mentors and industry networks are the biggest reasons international students and newcomers feel isolated in their professional journey. 

“When you leave your loved ones and come into a new culture, mentors really help you navigate unfamiliar territories.”

The mentorship program trained Khullar, developed job search strategies with her, fine-tuned her resume and held mock interviews with her. She says it helped her better understand little things like the local working culture, ideal professional language and vocabulary. Mentors even pointed out areas where she could improve, such as becoming a volunteer, which could help her present herself as the best candidate for the job.

“After working with these mentors, I got all the three job offers to places. I knew I would eventually bounce back.” Khullar is now the manager of digital campaigns and corporate relations at United Way British Columbia. 

Immigrant Networks partnered with Lighthouse Labs in July 2023 through a tech education program called ICT Boost. It provides employment support to newcomers and has so far helped 437 immigrants secure jobs in Canada. The free program will be available until March 31.

ICT Boost provides fully-funded retraining programs of soft and digital skills to youth and immigrants to get work in the ITC (Informational and Communications Technology) sector. It offers several courses, including web development, cyber security and data science.

“Such fully funded opportunities provide individuals the ability to engage without any financial barriers,” says Stephanie Wilson, vice president of Social Impact and Global Partnerships at Lighthouse Labs.

According to a 2023 report sponsored by Bell, the majority of Canadian organizations say they need workers with digital skills, while at least 55 per cent of tech entrepreneurs say they can’t find the talent they need to grow. The tech and IT sector is continuing to face labor shortages making it an ideal field for youth and newcomers deliberating on a career path.

Wilson said that the government-funded ICT Boost has helped over 1,300 people find employment in the last 12 months.

“Seventy-eight per cent of them identify as members of equity-deserving communities,” she said.

Wilson highlights another initiative called “Youth in Tech” in partnership with Immigrant Services Society of B.C., where self-identifying immigrant youths ages 17-29 can receive free, hands-on work integrated digital learning. 

“I think there are a number of other initiatives that maybe don’t… have the same visibility and awareness as their initiative,” she said. “Groups like Immigrant Networks were started by an immigrant with the goal of creating a community that helps people have mentorship and career paths support from people in their field. I think that groups like that are absolutely essential to succeed here in Canada.”

“There are also a lot of IRCC-funded initiatives for newcomers, which I think can sometimes be overwhelming or people can be unsure of how to navigate how to find the right one for them. S.U.C.C.E.S.S. BC — that is a good centre spot for a newcomer to start. And they’ll help them navigate all the opportunities that are available.” 

The unemployment rate in immigrants has exponentially risen in 2023. Data from Statistics Canada’s 2023 labor force survey reported that the unemployment rate of recent immigrants was 8.2 per cent. The jobless rate for immigrants who landed more than five to 10 years earlier was 5.8 per cent, and 5.1 per cent for immigrants who landed more than 10 years earlier. The unemployment rate for people born in Canada was 5 per cent in 2022.

A 2018 report by McKinsey & Company found that more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent, improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and to secure their license to operate. McKinsey’s research also showed that ethnically-diverse companies were 35 per cent more likely to outperform their peers. 

A 2017 report by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation identified that just a one per cent increase in diversity leads to an average increase of 2.4 per cent in revenue.


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Radha Agarwal is a South Asian multimedia journalist, documentary photographer and filmmaker. She completed Concordia University's graduate diploma in visual journalism and a bachelor's degree in TV production from London, UK. Her work is focused on marginalized communities within topics like culture, gender and arts.

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