International students not meeting Canada’s labour market needs

Canada needs a “course correction” when it comes to supporting and recruiting international students to meet the country’s labour shortage woes, a new report has found.

A leader in global education, Canada recently surpassed the U.K. to take third place behind the U.S. and Australia as a destination for international students.

International students now make up almost 20 per cent of all students enrolled in post-secondary institutions in Canada, up from 7.2 per cent in 2010. This group is often considered an evolving solution to the country’s ageing workforce.

But, the path to steady employment and citizenship for them is paved with complicated immigration requirements and barriers to entry in many workforces, a report by RBC Economics and Thought Leadership has found.

“For many, a Canadian education may not yield the desired return on investment,” the report states.

It also revealed that Canada needs a more targeted strategy for recruiting and training students to fulfill gaps in their health-care industry and other trades.

International students’ classroom-to-permanent residence path is weakened by their disconnect with the labour market, such as when their degrees aren’t meeting labour market needs, researchers found.

Canada’s immigration program shifted in 2016, which gave a Canadian education more weight to the points system for permanent residents.

As a result, the report found that enrollment in shorter post-secondary programmes, which are seen as a fast track for immigration, has increased twice as quickly as enrollment in other programmes since 2016.

“Canada needs college-educated students to address labour shortages across the economy. But some students in short-cycle programs have a longer route to the labour market and permanent residency, and some may not have a path at all,” the report warns.

The report’s researchers argue that adjusting immigration selection to favour international students with backgrounds in STEM, healthcare, and trades and giving these students more opportunities for work experience through their institutions would significantly better chances of keeping students in the country as workers.

“Institutions are the ones principally selecting people,” Iain Reeve, associate director of immigration research at the Conference Board of Canada said in the report.

“And federal and provincial immigration programs are operating on the side and saying, ‘how do we get some of these people to stay?’”

Canada is competing with several other countries to retain top international talent. The U.K., U.S, and Australia have already established measures to target STEM students to enter and stay in their nations.

One of the report’s key recommendations includes investment in a wage-subsidy program for international students working and studying in high-demand fields; along with easing their access to work-integrated learning without needing additional work permits.

“The labour market and international education are not aligned well yet and we are not benefitting fully from the real power of international students,” Martin Basiri, Co-Founder & CEO of online recruitment platform, ApplyBoard said in the report.

“With some adjustments to create the alignment, Canada can really benefit at scale.” 

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