Why Skilled Immigrants are Key to Canada’s Supply Chain Future

October 29, 2015


Today, we wanted to weigh in on an employment issue that’s been getting some traction recently, one that’s relevant both to our recruitment practice and to the Supply Chain function. And that’s to do with foreign workers in Canada and the need for a nimble, responsive immigration system that boosts Canadian innovation by bringing in talent from around the world.

We were spurred into thinking about this by a great article that recently appeared in the Globe and Mail’s Small Business Growth section about this topic. The article, called “Why Canada Should Roll Out the Carpet for Temporary Foreign Workers,” was written by Stephen Lake, co-founder of Thalmic Labs – a very high-growth company manufacturing wearable computing devices in Kitchener, ON.

To summarize: Lake identifies the negative perception that many have of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers program – a government initiative to help companies bring in foreign talent for contract positions. He then tells the story of Thalmic Labs’ experience with the program in their attempts to look to international talent markets for key high-skilled workers. Their experience was one of bureaucratic red tape and delays in applications processing: a five month wait before hearing back, and the inability to hear if their paperwork for their application was in order before even embarking on that wait. The article then moves to a defense of the program, and an explanation of why its current inefficiencies are hurting innovation in the Canadian economy.

In Lake’s eyes, the ability to bring in skilled global talent is key to Canada’s future economic success. As he says it: “When I hear the term ‘temporary foreign worker,’ I picture the future – one in which the most talented people on the planet flock here to work on world-leading innovation, and in the process, give Canada a competitive edge.”

It’s true that the temporary foreign worker program often has a negative image in the public imagination. Either it’s allowed for individuals from other countries to take valuable jobs from those already in Canada, or it’s allowed for exploitation of downtrodden labourers. But we disagree with these perceptions. The program has had its issues in the past, but the principles behind it are sound. So is the broader implication of Lake’s argument: that the Canadian talent market is very strong, but will only be stronger with the addition of workers from outside of Canada.

As a recruitment agency in an industry with lots of high-skilled new Canadians, we feel the need to weigh in on the issue of foreign workers in Canada more broadly. We don’t place individuals who are formally part of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. But we do place high-skilled employees in contingent (contract), as well as many individuals who are highly skilled new immigrants to Canada looking to gain Canadian experience.

So this discussion hits close to home.

We agree deeply that openness to new workers in Canada is crucial to building innovation. For our money, it’s no coincidence that this article comes from the founder of one of the most future-looking, innovative new companies in Canada.

It’s well-known and well-reported that it’s very difficult for new immigrants to Canada to get jobs that are up to their level of qualifications and skills. It’s difficult for them to achieve equivalent compensation to what they were earning in their home countries. Many companies are still reticent to hire foreign workers, even with immigration status, who don’t have Canadian work experience. But this is changing, and more and more top companies – some of whom are our clients — are making their mark in recognizing that foreign work experience is just as valuable as Canadian experience. More and more companies are offering that first opportunity to work in Canada to new Canadians, and seeing this not as a gamble but as a source of competitive edge.

At Argentus, we recruit for Supply Chain and its related areas, and we think that foreign workers are a valuable asset in Supply Chain particularly. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that Supply Chain Management, as a particular discipline, is highly global in nature. It’s all about the interconnection of the global economy, and skilled Supply Chain professionals need to have a global scope of thinking – the ability to understand global cultures, as well as global commerce. Make no mistake, these professionals exist in Canada already, but adding workers from other countries and new immigrants with global connections and a global perspective will only strengthen the workforce and innovation in the Supply Chain.

This leads into the other reason why new immigrants to Canada, and foreign workers, are a particular fit for Supply Chain: the field is projected to face a considerable talent shortage in the coming decades. Supply Chain’s growing prominence in strategic business is combining with the retirement of the baby boomer generation to make for a shortage of workers. And, while it’s true that there are skilled Supply Chain professionals who can’t find work right now, the addition of strong Supply Chain talent from around the globe is part of the big-picture solution to this problem.

We recognize that this is a politically charged issue, and we understand that Canadian citizens need jobs just as much as individuals immigrating to Canada from other countries do. (It’s worth mentioning that government regulation prohibits the hiring of individuals under the temporary foreign workers program unless they can prove that there aren’t Canadian workers available). We agree with Stephen Lake’s proposition that the government needs to improve its foreign worker program. And more broadly, we strongly believe that immigration – and the willingness of Canadian companies to offer great jobs to individuals without “Canadian experience” – are key to Canada’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century. favicon

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