For many years, there was a missing link in Niagara’s workforce.

There were employers looking to hire, and immigrants and newcomers entering the region seeking employment — but no one was connecting those two elements.

Now, Workforce Collective, under a new name with a new objective, is taking the lead, with its role in connecting employers and newcomers crystallizing. It is part of the National Network of Immigrant Employment Councils.

“(The government) hears a lot from immigrant settlement service provides but that employer voice and advocacy piece wasn’t there,” said Rachel Crane, learning and engagement lead for the collective.

“Learning about what they need in order to get connected with newcomers, to access the talent pool and then to support them to get more equitable employment.”

In its new role, Crane said the collective is not looking to duplicate work being done in the community through immigrant services, instead it is filling the gaps while working with those partners.

It is still relatively early in the process, sorting what comes next and what is needed. In March, the collective released a two-page topic brief, Equitable Employment for Immigrants: A win-win for all, trying simply to gather and report data such as how many newcomers are in Niagara, including permanent residents and asylum claimants, their needs, the barriers they face and engaging employers better.

“We’ve packed a lot into those two pages, but it’s meant to be starting many more conversations and other engagements,” said Crane.

There are a variety of ways the collective is looking to engage the workforce, such as holding design labs and focus groups. By getting people with different perspectives in the same room — including employers, immigrants, settlement service providers and local groups such as Niagara College — it can figure out the challenges within Niagara’s system.

In the early results, one issue that came up is newcomers not experiencing the same type of positive outcomes when seeking employment as a Canadian-born person. So Crane said it’s about figuring out why employers aren’t hiring newcomers, despite being equally trained and educated.

“We have a lot of employers (who will) identify ‘we have bias,’ ‘our hiring systems are biased,’ and I think that language is more in the mainstream now and is more known,” said Crane, adding it’s then about figuring out how to address those systems.

Other times, employers simply don’t know how to connect to those groups.

As of March, there were 2,487 asylum claimants living in Niagara Falls hotel rooms. Crane said employers have reached out to the collective, unsure how to get in touch with those individuals other than “going to Niagara Falls and sitting outside a hotel.”

Crane said the collective is still figuring out the answer, because it is relatively recent and because of an increased engagement from employers. As a result, there is gap.

“The immigrant settlement service system, they’re supporting all other immigrants who are coming here from all the pathways. But the refugee one — we just have so many right now in our backyard who are not being supported,” she said. “There’s a gap … but we can rally and do things that aren’t being done.”

The collective is working with a small group of employers in Grimsby, creating an employer navigation service, who have decided engaging with refugees is a priority.

“It’s very new and we’re actually going to hire someone to support them and get them connected,” she said, whether that is a potential job fair or information session to get the two groups connected one-on-one.

Over the past year or so, the collective has also been working to address concerns from immigrants who are more settled, coming to Canada through the economic immigrant pathway because their talent and skills fill a labour need. And yet, “they’re not finding employment.”

The collective is also setting up systems in anticipation of what is to come, with expectation there could be as many as 500,000 immigrants arriving in Canada each year.

“We stayed tuned to obviously the news and then our immigrant settlement partners and then from there, we learn what’s needed,” she said.

It is a unique time also for employers who are facing labour shortages, and as a result, they are having to think creatively about the talent pool they’re pulling from. But that is good news for Crane, because employment has an impact on the lives of newcomers, allowing them an opportunity to successfully settle in a new country, she said.

“That’s obviously a big contributing factor to their well-being and overall ability to flourish. I think that it’s very hopeful what we’re doing and there’s a lot of opportunity for any employer out there.”


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