Working at a gas station? No way, Jose

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan
Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

I always laugh when I see Apu on The Simpsons demonstrating the stereotypical gripes of middle management.

After graduating from the fictional Calcutta Technical Institute, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon earned his PhD in computer science at the Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. Originally Apu had taken up a position at the Kwik-E-Mart in order to pay off his student loans but came to love the job, choosing to forsake his degree in favour of his position as operator and proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart.

While the saturated colors of animation provide a wonderful escape, it does not change the fact that immigrants do not often get the choice of leaving their education by the wayside.

In a recent publication in the peer-reviewed journal ISRN Economics, Concordia University professor Dr. Mesbah Sharaf confirmed what many immigrants know all too well as a reality. Immigrants must take up lower paying jobs and, more importantly, jobs that do not match their educational training in order to survive.

His findings discovered that there was an “over-education mismatch among recent immigrants to Canada,” with the numbers clocking at 76.3 per cent for males and 71.8 per cent for females. According to the study, “these figures did not improve much after four years from arrival, when 70.4 per cent of the males and 64.6 per cent of females were over-educated.”

“It’s a big problem — it’s a big waste,” said Sharaf. “It’s a huge loss to the economy. It has implications at the micro level and a huge cost at the macro level as well.”

“You can see many physicians who come here who cannot find work. They are forced to find work for their survival. They are not going to work at a cab company, for example, unless they were forced to do so.”

But how exactly do we as a society fix this gap?

Firstly, there must be put in place a comprehensive protocol to assess new immigrants skills and training, prioritizing them for the job market. This could help alleviate the major gap of technical workers that we are experiencing in the economy right now, as well as certify that the education received by new residents is legitimate and at least up to par with Canadian standards. If they are not, provide remedial courses in order to bring them up to speed.

Secondly, if there is lack of proper language and/or communication skills, provide training and support to those who need it. On that point the Quebec government, through cooperation with immigration, employment and health departments, has been doing well by providing French language and culture classes to new immigrants.

Thirdly, I would suggest vital job market training such as how to sell yourself including marketing yourself in 21st century and, perhaps most importantly, a form of mentorship/internship program in order to provide new immigrants with work experience.

What makes me such an expert on immigrant issues? My mother and father were both immigrants to this country and have been proud Canadian citizens for over 18 years now. The first ten years were tough — my father’s certifications and degrees were rejected by potential employers, despite being over-qualified for the positions he applied for. The lack of work experience did not help either.

“It’s a Catch-22,” explained Brian Cordeiro. “When you come in new into the country, as a new immigrant, the first question they ask you is: how long have you been in the country and you tell them that many days or that many months, and the second is what’s your experience in Canada. You can’t have work experience if you just got here.”

With these staggering numbers how can we, as citizens of a country that takes pride in caring for its weakest and cherishes its multiculturalism and diversity, accept these numbers with the little support we provide?

Canada is a mosaic, an intertwining web of cultures that takes pride in its diversity. Part of that diversity comes from the new immigrants who arrive on our shores every year. The system isn’t broken, but it must be improved.


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