Last month, as part of the Partnerships for Workplace Inclusion project, a multi-stakeholder group comprised of employers, industry and union representatives, career development practitioners, language instructors, and settlement service providers participated in focus groups to discuss the different roles they each have in newcomer integration. It was an opportunity to create connections, see where individual practices overlap, and discuss how to create more seamless and successful pathways for newcomers integrating into the workforce.
Stakeholders also had an opportunity to preview some of the new resources and see firsthand how they complement their current training practices. The materials layer and integrate critical concepts including psychological safety, diversity and inclusion, workplace culture, and workplace safety through building language and skills. The focus groups helped to spark conversations about the need for more holistic materials covering topics such as leadership, self-advocacy, and workplace rights. Some of the resources up for review tackled difficult topics such as racism, first-language usage in the workplace, religion, culture, and sexual and gender orientation, among others.
Participants left excited to continue the conversation and look for ways to collaborate in the future. Below are some of the highlights from the focus groups.
1. Bringing together diverse groups of individuals from career development, adult education, and industry to have open conversations about newcomer integration is beneficial.
- It uncovers the bigger picture of newcomer integration by expanding the view beyond individuals or individual sectors.
- More dialogue is needed between all stakeholders, including between workers and employers.
- Fostering connections between the immigrant serving sector and employers helps build a better understanding of what each group offers and expects.
- The unique perspectives of the group members serve as a reminder that the same experiences may not be shared by all stakeholders.
“Putting the various groups at one table, it quickly gets to the shared language and ‘ah ha’ moment…”Ewen Campbell, Keller Construction Ltd.
2. Each step in the path to newcomer integration needs to be more cohesive and integrated.
- Layering language, essential skills, and culture into workplace topics as AWES and NorQuest have done creates a holistic, effective training experience.
- Increased collaboration between different stakeholders would help to ensure new materials include relevant concepts and build appropriate skills.
- Newcomers tend to experience steps towards integration in a vacuum, meaning what they learn in one step isn’t necessarily transferable to the next step. The concepts are complex and intersect with each other and training that recognizes this is more effective.
“We need to look at the integration of immigrants as a whole [system] not just in sections…”Natalia Jimenez, Solomon College.
3. Gaps currently exist between content taught in language and employment training programs and the actual skills needed at the workplace.
- Not all training materials incorporate examples of what learners will experience in the workplace.
- Understanding employers’ needs allows trainers to “invite clients involvement, address their concerns, and demonstrate how the effort will benefit them. I can decide on the appropriate approach for each individual and group” – Nafiaa Alokla, Action for Healthy Communities.
- Gaps also occur because of differences in understanding. Even if training addresses the proper topics, there is no guarantee that it will be understood or translated into reality, so training must prioritize checking for understanding.
“It was helpful to hear from employers and to find out what gaps they are seeing. I can add new lessons to the training I give my students based on the feedback from the employers”Danielle Barnes, NorQuest College
4. There is a need to include more psychological safety, diversity and inclusion, and leadership topics.
- Newcomers struggle to advocate for themselves when it comes to their rights and safety, and even with seemingly minor issues like correcting a pay error or a miscommunication.
- Workplace rights and human rights overlap. There is a need for materials that discuss culture, religion, language, ageism, racism, and sexual and gender orientation in relation to skills and language to help newcomers integrate into the Canadian workplace.
- Integrating leadership and management concepts will help newcomers learn how to advance in their roles and feel comfortable taking the lead.
“…we had an interesting conversation about looking beyond essential skills and language skills, and focusing on concepts such as leadership, which will help newcomers not only with securing immediate employment, but with their long-term career growth”Focus group participant
These focus groups were a successful exercise in connecting diverse stakeholders and were an excellent model for what we hope to see in future newcomer integration practices. Breaking down the silos of newcomer integration will be an ongoing challenge, but we are confident that a collaboration-focused model will prove to be beneficial for newcomers and stakeholders alike.