Merge's Blog

The taxi driver who once was a banker!

Only 30% of skilled immigrants feel that their jobs correspond to their qualifications, and another 30%, although working in their field, feel that they are over-qualified and not able to realize their full potential. So finds a new study released last week at the 7th Annual Internationally Educated Professionals Conference in Toronto. Two-thirds of skilled immigrants also say that they have been advised to obtain further Canadian education to land the professional job they have been educated for, but ironically, the need to send money “back home” and the necessity to hold down two jobs to accomplish this rules out further schooling. The study notes that this is a vicious circle, since obtaining the required education could permit them to earn more in less time.

I was privileged to deliver the opening keynote at this conference in Toronto ON last Friday, and so I also got an opportunity to listen later in the day, first-hand, to the authors of this study. As I sat in the audience, I had what I jokingly refer to as “a blinding flash of the obvious”!  It is true: during my travels, I have met a disproportionate number of taxi drivers and hotel staff who were engineers, doctors, bankers and university professors in the countries of their birth. Yet when they came to Canada, their economic circumstances required them to take on employment that in no way resembled what they were educated to do. What an absolute waste of intelligence, skills and knowledge!

It also struck me that as leaders in our organizations, the results of this study should give us great cause for concern. According to 2006 Census data, immigrants make up 19.8% of the Canadian population, with the percentage being much higher in urban centres. This is the highest percentage since 1932, jointly fueled by an influx of new immigrants as well as low birth rates. Today, roughly two-thirds of Canada’s net population growth occurs through immigration, and Statistics Canada estimates that by 2025-2030, all of the country’s net population growth will occur through immigration. So in other words, a large percentage of our future employees and customers are already first-generation Canadians, and this percentage will only continue to grow. If we don’t tap into this valuable human capital, then we will do ourselves and our organizations a HUGE disservice. Not only will these skills, knowledge, global experience, and international perspectives – all of which could be of great benefit to our organizations – go to waste, but we will also lose out on a significant source of customers.

What are you doing to attract internationally educated professionals to your workforce?  What are you doing to make it easier for them to work for and with you?


  • This is one thing that I never understood about Canada-the so called “Canadian experience”. Even where these poor immigrants go back to recertify, there still remains a glass ceiling to break through.

    I once met a colleague who was born in Russia somewhere in Edmonton and she told me how she had attended several interviews as a Chemist and was always turned down because she did not have Canadian experience. She was a highly sought after Chemist in her country of birth. So at one interview, after having been turned down many times, she was beside herself and began to ask her interviewers what Canadian experience meant as it related to her field. She asked if boiling point was different in Canada than Russia, or if there was a different periodic table being used in Canada than the rest of the world. She stormed out of the interview and was surprised that she was called on to start the job. So I guess that if she had not lost her patience, she may still be looking for a job today. So if no one gives these immigrants a chance to work in Canada, how will they ever get the Canadian experience?

  • KK, I couldn’t agree with you more about the “Canadian experience” paradox. I spoke to many attendees at the IEP Conference, and so many of them told me that potential employers said they needed Canadian experience, but how were they supposed to get Canadian experience if no one would hire them!?

    Ironic indeed, but it becomes even more important for leaders to recognize this and take concrete steps to overcome this systemic problem. I’m certainly a lot more aware of this issue than I was before I spoke at this conference!


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