Foreign-born population hits 75-year high
Globe and Mail Update
December 4, 2007 at 3:34 PM EST
TORONTO — One in every five Canadians is now foreign-born, the highest proportion in 75 years, a shift likely to have profound consequences for Canada’s economic and cultural future.
Canada is becoming ever more diverse, Statistics Canada’s 2006 census shows. The country’s foreign-born population soared 13.6 per cent between 2001 and 2006 — four times higher than the Canadian-born population.
For the first time, the proportion of the foreign-born population who were born in Asia and the Middle East surpassed the proportion born in Europe. As of last year, more than half of immigrants continued to come from Asia, including the Middle East, but a growing number also came from the Americas and Africa.
And they’re not just sticking to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. A growing number of immigrants are going to the suburbs surrounding the big cities, along with smaller cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, suggesting diversity is spreading across Canada.
“More and more are going out to these other municipalities and that has an impact on service delivery and language and education and economics of finding jobs and training,” said Anil Arora, director-general of the census program branch of Statistics Canada. “Policy makers and decision makers are going to have to take note of some of these stats that we’ve published today.”
By 2030, if the trends continue, Canada’s population growth will stem solely from immigration, he added.
Canada continues to have a much higher proportion of foreign-born people than the U.S. and is second only to Australia in having the highest proportion among Western countries.
In Canada, the rate of growth of new immigrants is accelerating while in Australia, levels have stagnated in the past five years, a Statscan spokeswoman said, suggesting Canada may take the top spot in the years to come.
Other findings from the report show:
? In 1981, China ranked No. 10 as the main country of origin for new Canadians. Today, China is the top country of origin.
? One in five of the foreign-born population list Chinese languages as their mother tongue.
? The 6.2 million foreign-born people reported more than 200 countries of origin in the last census.
Statscan releases data on immigration, citizenship, language, mobility and migration every five years.
Canada’s tenuous French connection
Globe and Mail Update
December 4, 2007 at 4:12 PM EST
Globe and Mail Update
December 4, 2007 at 4:12 PM EST
Just a day after the Prime Minister appointed Bernard Lord to head a committee on bilingualism, newly released census figures suggest that Canada’s official-languages policy and the vitality of the French language are under increasing pressure outside Quebec.
There are nearly as many Canadians with a non-official language as their mother tongue as there are francophones, while the peak rate of bilingualism for anglophones living outside Quebec has dropped again.
The new figures on immigration, language and mobility, gleaned from the 2006 census, paint a dramatic picture of Canada’s changing demographics. Among the highlights:
? One in five Canadians – 19.8 per cent of the total population – was born outside the country, a rate not matched since 1931, when the percentage of foreign-born citizens peaked at 22.2 per cent. Only Australia has more foreign-born residents.
? More than 60 per cent of immigrants live in the large urban centres of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver; only about 5 per cent live in rural parts of Canada.
? Most of the recent newcomers to Canada are from Asia – 58 per cent when those from the Middle East are included. Europeans, the dominant immigrant group for most of the 20th century, represented only 16 per cent of those who moved to Canada between 2001 and 2006.
? Canada’s foreign-born population increased by 13.6 per cent, four times greater than the growth rate of 3.3 per cent for the Canadian-born population.
But it is the language numbers released Tuesday that will likely make headlines, following as they do on the heels of Mr. Lord’s appointment by Stephen Harper to head a high-profile committee on bilingualism in Canada.
The former premier of New Brunswick will travel to seven cities across the country during the first two weeks of December to speak to members of English and French minority communities and provide advice and guidance to the federal government.
Mr. Lord will then report to Official Languages Minister Josée Verner in January.
What Mr. Lord will find outside Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, is increasingly isolated French-language communities, the census suggests.
One indicator is mother tongue, defined as the first language learned at home and still understood at the time of the census.
For the first time, allophones – those who speak neither English nor French as their first language – represent fully one-fifth of the population. The numbers jumped to 20.1 per cent from 18 per cent in the last census, driven primarily by immigration. Conversely, the proportion of francophones and anglophones decreased slightly after population growth is taken into account.
This will be no surprise for Canadians in many parts of the country. For several years, Chinese has topped French as a first language in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.
The 2006 census reaffirmed the position of Chinese languages as Canada’s third most common mother tongue group. More than one million Canadians reported one of the Chinese languages as their first language, a jump of 18.5 per cent.
Experts are quick to note that allophones speak about 200 languages and are not a homogeneous group. Francophones still represent about one-quarter of the population; people who report Chinese as their mother tongue represent 3.3 per cent of the total population.
Moreover, the census showed that nine out of 10 Canadians speak English or French most often at home: Just over one-fifth spoke French, 67.7 per cent spoke English, and 11.9 per cent spoke a non-official language at home. It is important to note, however, that the English and French numbers dropped from the previous census, while the non-official language numbers increased by 1.5 per cent.
Even in Quebec, the percentage of people who spoke French most often at home dropped to 81.8 per cent from 83.1 per cent.
The bilingualism rate is another indicator of the tenuous French connection.
Outside Quebec, only 5.6 per cent of allophones in 2006 reported knowing both official languages. While there was a slight increase – 7.4 per cent from 7.1 per cent – in the number of anglophones outside Quebec who said they could carry on a conversation in both official languages, the number dropped for a key demographic: young Canadians.
Because most anglophones learn French at school, the peak bilingualism rate for Canadians outside Quebec occurs in the 15-19 age range. That rate has slipped over the past decade, to 13 per cent in 2006 from 16.3 per cent in 1996.
The ability of young anglophones to maintain their knowledge of French as a second language appears to decline with time. In 2001, 14.7 per cent of anglophones aged 15 to 19 were bilingual. Five years later, only 12.2 per cent of that same cohort reported being bilingual.
The numbers are disappointing, considering that one of the chief objectives of Ottawa’s $787-million plan on official languages – launched by the previous Liberal government in 2003 – is to double by 2013 the percentage of young bilingual Canadians to 50 per cent.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies and advocate of official bilingualism, warned against an “ethno-local” reading of the numbers, which he said could foster tensions and challenge public support for French in areas where other languages dominate.
“When you start breaking things down locally, then you risk tearing away at the fabric of national unity. … That’s the Canada of multiple parts, not the Canada with a national vision both of its demographic reality and its history,” he said.
“Bilingualism is the fundamental feature of a strong Canadian identity to the extent that more than a quarter of the country, nationally, consists of people who are French speakers.”
Others suggest, however, that such sentiments are antiquated in a multicultural Canada and ignore the demographic reality of much of the country, especially urban areas such as Toronto or Vancouver.
“Nobody’s asked any longer what is the place of French. Now I walk on hot coals to even say that out loud,” said Heather Lotherington, associate professor of multilingual education at York University.
“We’re living in a global society. We have this influx of people who speak the languages of the world, and we’re not doing a damn thing with these languages. We’re just letting them go to waste.”
Ms. Lotherington, whose research is focused on Toronto-area schools, advocates for the inclusion of students’ mother tongues in the curriculum. She said decades of research shows that if you maintain the languages children know, they learn other languages better, fast and more easily.
“French immersion needs to be looked at critically,” she said. “I do not want to throw it out. Canada is a world leader in immersion education. But you have to think about the way we learn languages and the possibility of learning more.
“It’s a very colonial stance to say that English and French are the languages of Canada.”
Concerns about official bilingualism and the impact of immigration on the French language inside and outside Quebec are not new.
In September’s Throne Speech, the Prime Minister pledged to extend official bilingualism programs for minority communities.
The appointment of Mr. Lord is seen as the first step in that commitment and a response to the critical report by Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, who accused the Harper government of having “directly undermined” the official languages plan with budget cuts and by eliminating the Court Challenges program, which financed minority-rights court cases against the government.
Citizenship and Immigration recently set targets through 2011 to attract between 8,000 and 10,000 French-speaking immigrants a year to francophone communities outside of Quebec. Driving these targets are demographic data showing that for every new immigrant whose mother tongue is French, there are 10 whose mother tongue is English, and that the vast majority of newcomers adopt English upon arrival in Canada.
Meanwhile, the debate over immigration and language continues in Quebec, where the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation of minorities heard last week from a prominent Parti Québécois strategist that only an independent Quebec could protect the French language. The commission also heard from French-speaking immigrants to Quebec who said their lack of English was impeding their ability to get jobs.
And in October, PQ Leader Pauline Marois caused a small furor when she proposed the Quebec Identity Act, which would require all new immigrants to the province to learn French within three years. Those who failed a language test would not be permitted to hold public office, raise money for a political party or petition the National Assembly. The bill was widely condemned.
The Official Languages Act, first passed in 1969 and updated twice since, stipulates Canadians’ right to receive federal government services in either English or French where numbers warrant, the right of public servants to work in either language in certain areas, the right of either English or French speakers to advance in the public service, and that the government must promote bilingualism.
Alberta’s boomtown braces for more newcomers: census
THE CANADIAN PRESS
December 4, 2007 at 12:29 PM EST
FORT McMURRAY, Alta. — Fifty-seven year old Gerald Morrison has only 18 months to go before he can “get out of Dodge” and retire to Port Hawkesbury, N.S.
But until then, the Syncrude refinery technician has to get a roomie to meet the $2,950 monthly rent on a three-bedroom apartment north of the downtown core, which comes complete with leaks in the ceiling, frosted-over panes and window sills spongy with rot.
“We’re paid a good wage, but if I didn’t share (the apartment), two-thirds of my take-home would go to putting a roof over my head,” said Mr. Morrison.
“It’s going to be quite the lifestyle change, but it’s either that or leave town now — or move into somebody’s basement.”
For tenants in Fort McMurray, one of the hotspots of Alberta’s supernova oilsands industry, the future doesn’t appear to be getting any rosier.
New census details from Statistics Canada show that Alberta hasn’t lost its grip as the province considered by Canadians as the country’s promised land.
More than 225,000 people moved to Alberta from other parts of Canada between 2001 and 2006, the latest census figures show.
A slight drop from the last census period, the figure still maintains Alberta’s status by far as the province with the highest net gain of population due to migration from other provinces.
As has been the trend now for a decade, most of those who arrive in Alberta come from British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
And one of the province’s “it” spots is oil-rich Fort McMurray.
Browse the classifieds in this city of more than 67,000 and mobile homes are selling for $400,000. Single-family homes are $600,000-plus and rising, making it one of the top five expensive housing markets in Canada.
The population has doubled in a decade. Besides the 67,000, an estimated 10,000 live in oilsands work camps scattered around the region.
Unofficial estimates say as many as 10,000 Newfoundlanders are making the 6,000-kilometre commute to earn oilsands salaries of $110,000-a-year and up. They fly in, work for a few weeks, fly home for a stretch, then repeat the process.
Milly Quark, head of the local real estate board, isn’t surprised by trans-Canada commuting.
“It’s pretty hard to put down roots and purchase (a home) with our prices right now,” said Ms. Quark, who has been selling for two decades in the remote city, located 475 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
“There are people having to take low-income jobs and they’re staying at the homeless shelters in town. It’s kind of sad.”
She estimates prices will rise in the new year, as new housing subdivisions are delayed because of backlogs in sewer and other services.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is scrambling to keep up, aided by a $400-million boost from the province over the next three years, but is fighting a losing battle.
The waste-water treatment plant is being upgraded but won’t be able to handle a population that is expected to hit 100,000 by 2012.
There’s a shortage of doctors and nurses. Crime is well above the provincial average and the city is facing a growing problem of pushers peddling crack and crystal meth. The city is home to 15 escort services. Nightly, players jam the Boomtown Casino to play stud poker or blackjack, or sit on stools and feed $20 bills into flashing coin games labelled Bucks Ahoy, Mr.Cashman, Milk Money, Money Tree, or Money Mania.
Drive in this land of the driven and you’re condemned to circle parking lots, crawl through stop lights or have a monster pickup ride your bumper and overwhelm your rearview mirror with the cursive Ford, the blockish GMC, or the ubiquitous Dodge ram’s head.
Cruise the main drag of Franklin Avenue and you see urban planning gone haywire. Main street has angle parking but bumper-to-bumper congestion.
A block from the public library is the Oil Can tavern and Teasers strip club. Children at the K.A. Clark elementary school play beside four lanes of traffic across from the Liquor Depot and kitty corner to a car dealership. Multi-family units rise in the shadow of Superstore.
On Highway 63, the expressway that bisects the city, tankers, flatbed trucks, pickups, triple-axle cement trucks, double-trailers, cars and coaches with mud splashed up to their windows roar past the Centennial campground where, despite the fact it’s the dead of winter, hundreds live in a state of permanent transience.
Motorhomes and trailers are wrapped in insulation against the cold. Satellite dishes are perched on tree stumps. The sign on the office reads ‘No vacancy.’
One man from Random Island, N.L., fingers brittle to the cold, hammers up a vestibule for his trailer.
He’s been here for six years and has recently moved to the campground because he could no longer afford his rent. He doesn’t blame the landlords in a market where the vacancy rate is less than half a per cent.
“We’re the crazy ones. Can’t blame them if they can get the money,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
Some who can’t afford a roof are heading back to the work camps — housing put up around the region by the oilsands companies for their workers.
Drive a half hour out of Fort McMurray and you can see the camps built beside the Syncrude refinery, a sprawling warren of steel tubes and smokestacks, winking with lights. Anyone trying to count the smokestacks and plumes will lose track after 15. Smoke obscures the horizon. The sound is the persistent hum of machinery, like living a block from an expressway — the relentless hum of progress.
Off in the distance is the mining, where shovels peel back the muskeg skin of the earth to rake and shake the prized bitumen that, at ground temperatures, is as viscous as a hockey puck in an oilsands area estimated to be the size of Florida.
The workers live in rectangular dorms with tiny windows stacked one on top of the other. Icicles hang from the roof. The licence plates tell the story of mobility — B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
Alain Moore, public affairs advisor for Syncrude, says the company hired 750 workers last year and expects to hire that many next year, one third of whom will come from outside Fort McMurray, perhaps from Atlantic Canada.
“There’s huge critical mass here,” said Mr. Moore.
“There’s a very strong Atlantic Canadian community in Fort McMurray. And so when we find ourselves going to communities like Stephenville, Nfld. or Port Hawkesbury in Cape Breton a lot of people we’re talking to already know somebody here.”
“That helps bridge the big leap when they come out west.”
He said they take steps to ensure workers feel at home as much as possible. Almost one in 10 workers are aboriginals and Syncrude flies them back and forth from distant Fort Chipewyan to help them keep roots in that community.
The newcomers come from outside Canada as well — the Philippines, Britain, Venezuela, Fiji and elsewhere — purchasing homes across the Athabasca River in neighbourhoods like Timberlea and Thickwood Heights. These are bucolic sections of churches, schools, fields, playgrounds, winding roads and cul de sacs with names like Hillcrest Drive, Signal Road, Signal Cove and Hilltop Crescent. The medians and boulevards are lined with tiny trees held in place by sticks and wire — the promise of community.
“We have a ton of permanent people who have moved here and made Fort McMurray their home,” said Annelies Geisler, who runs the Import Connection store, which has food flown in from all over the world to make foreign workers feel at home: dates, papayan nectar, quail eggs in water.
Some newcomers, however, aren’t putting down roots but are pulling up stakes, including some Morrison has worked beside for years.
“After three big rent increases in three years, they said, ‘That’s it,”’ he said.
“They’re peeved off.”
“They’ve had enough.”
Toronto attracting many more new Canadians
THE CANADIAN PRESS
December 4, 2007 at 12:55 PM EST
OTTAWA — The Toronto region has experienced substantial growth in its immigrant population over the last five years, according to new census data released Tuesday.
Statistics Canada released information from the 2006 census which gives a snapshot of people who came from other countries to live here. It reveals most people moving to Canada are generally flocking to large urban centres, especially Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Demographic experts have predicted that Canada’s population growth will be almost entirely dependent on immigration by 2030 and communities that don’t attract new Canadians may see steady declines in population.
A shrinking population can have a host of economic and social consequences, including a fragile local economy starved for workers that, in turn, discourages much-needed investment. Business and school closures can result, and as the declining population ages the delivery of social services such as health care becomes strained.
Some communities find it difficult to attract immigrants because new Canadians tend to choose large cities where their families have already settled and where they can access the services they will need.
The latest census stats show that immigrants make up 45.7 per cent of the Toronto area. Five years earlier, immigrants represented 43.7 per cent of the population. In terms of recent immigration, the number of immigrants who lived in the region increased to 2,320,160 from 2,032,960 between 2001 and 2006.
During the same five-year period since the 2001 census, the overall population of Toronto region increased by 9.2 per cent — compared to a provincial gain of 6.6 per cent and a national growth rate of 5.4 per cent.
The immigration figures shows that about one out of every five Canadians was born in another country. In the Toronto region the ratio is almost one out of every two, while for Ontario, it’s more than one out of every four.
The national figures are skewed by the concentration of immigrants in the metropolitan regions of Toronto, Vancouver (39.6 per cent) and Montreal (20.6).
In terms of the country of origin for foreign-born people in the Toronto area, the highest proportion came from India, followed by China and then Italy.
Statistics Canada also released data Tuesday on languages spoken by Canadians, including those born here and those who came from other countries.
English remains the dominant language in Toronto region. It is the mother tongue — the first language learned — by 54.1 per cent of the population. Canada’s other official language, French, is the mother tongue of 1.2 per cent of people in the community.
(Census metropolitan areas do not conform to established municipal boundaries. Statistics Canada determines its own geographic definition of a metropolitan area with a population of at least 100,000, but it also includes surrounding urban and rural communities based on analysis of commuting patterns and other factors. Looking at metropolitan areas this way takes in to account the growing impact of suburban areas on Canada’s largest cities.)
In terms of what Statistics Canada refers to as “non-official” languages, Chinese (all dialects) was the first language of 8.1 per cent, followed by Italian (3.7) and Panjabi (Punjabi) (2.6).
The census is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada and is based on information filled out by Canadians on May 16, 2006. The data released Tuesday on immigration and language follows information released earlier this year on overall population growth, families, as well as the age and sex breakdowns of the population.
Future census information to be released over the coming months will give demographic breakdowns of a variety of topics, including the aboriginal population, visible minorities, labour force activity and education.
Immigrants in ‘survival jobs’ look for more
Globe and Mail Update
December 3, 2007 at 10:34 PM EST
TORONTO — Like generations of immigrants before him, Mohammad Bajwa, MBA, has taken a “survival job” – as a part-time night security guard – while he looks for a position in banking.
A man in a hurry, Mr. Bajwa, 45, used the quiet times after midnight to study for the Canadian Securities Course, hunkered over his books at the security desk in the lobby of the downtown Toronto condominium where he works.
And although he has been in Canada only a little more than three months, Mr. Bajwa passed the securities course. Now he is anxious to move on.
“Back home I had a very good job. I was working for a commercial bank, one of the biggest international banks in Pakistan …in the internal audit department.”
Following in the footsteps of countless others, Mr. Bajwa left everything behind to come to Canada – via Australia, where he earned his MBA – in search of a better future for his four children.
“Here, education is free. That was the most attractive part for me, the kids’ education. Canada is a good country, it’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. It’s more peaceful and, so far, my opinion is that there is no racism in Canada,” Mr. Bajwa said in an interview after a ceremony to mark his graduation from a “financial services connections” program sponsored by Toronto-based ACCES employment services, a non-profit agency that specializes in the placement of immigrants.
“That’s why I decided to come to Canada.”
For the short-term, he doesn’t mind that he has to work as a security guard to feed the kids, Mr. Bajwa said. “But it would be difficult for me to just continue with an odd job for a long time.”
Like so many others – professional engineers delivering pizzas, mathematicians working as custodians, PhDs driving taxis – Mr. Bajwa hopes to work his way back into a position comparable to what he had in Pakistan.
“Everything revolves around your job. If you have a job, you can run the show.”
Mr. Bajwa, who is fluent in English, Urdu and Punjabi, has some reason for optimism.
Through the financial services connections program, he has already been interviewed by two of the major Canadian chartered banks. A third bank has contacted ACCES with a request to interview all of its graduates within a few weeks.
Canada takes in more than 250,000 immigrants a year, and according to a recent report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the majority do not land work in the fields for which they trained. This is slowly changing as the labour market tightens.
“Although six out of 10 skilled immigrants may be deemed downwardly mobile, their skills underutilized, four out of 10 find appropriate employment – some independently, and some through intervention,” the study’s authors found.
It is incredibly frustrating for skilled professionals to be unemployed, or underemployed, in Canada because their educational credentials are not recognized or because they have no Canadian experience, according to career experts who specialize in finding suitable employment for qualified immigrants.
Still, there are success stories, especially as more Canadian employers, concerned about skill shortages, take a closer look at this new source of talent.
Career Bridge, a non-profit organization that places skilled professionals in internships with Canadian employers, cites some examples of immigrants who started in survival jobs, but later moved into solid, full-time careers: the man with a master’s degree in engineering who started as a laundry worker before eventually landing work as a water main and sewer engineer; the immigrants with postgraduate degrees in finance who now work as financial analysts, having first taken survival jobs loading trucks and working in coffee shops; the MBA who started as an assembly-line worker and now works as a hospital vendor administrator.
Mr. Bajwa’s language skills are solid and, prior to leaving Pakistan, he was moving up the ranks at Habib Bank Ltd., where he started as a credit and collections officer. Later, as a member of the internal audit team, he conducted audits of nearly 250 domestic and 25 overseas branches of the bank in such locations as Lebanon, Dubai and Bahrain. When he left the bank in 2007, Mr. Bajwa was an audit team leader.
What he lacks, however, is Canadian experience.
“It’s difficult to just break that barrier,” he said.
“Once you get in there, you can demonstrate your skills, your abilities.
“You can show the people, ‘this is who I am.’ You can just prove yourself.”
Where they’re from; where they’re going
Globe and Mail Update
December 4, 2007 at 9:06 AM EST
The proportion of foreign-born people in Canada has hit the highest level in 75 years, accounting for one in five of the total population, new Statistics Canada census numbers show. The following is a list of where newcomers are from, and where they go once they get here:
Where they’re from
58.3%: recent immigrants born in Asia, including the Middle East, making up the largest proportion of newcomers to Canada. This was little changed from the 2001 census. In 1971, by contrast, just 12.1 per cent of recent immigrants were born in Asia.
16.1%: Newcomers born in Europe make up the second-largest group of recent immigrants. Europe used to be the main source region of immigrants — in 1971, they accounted for 61.6 per cent of newcomers to Canada.
10.8%: Recent immigrants who were born in Central and South America and the Caribbean have risen from 8.9 per cent in 2001.
10.6%: Immigrants who were born in Africa, also up from 8.3 per cent in 2001.
Where they go
The Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver metropolitan areas were home to more than two-thirds – 68.9 per cent – of the recent immigrants in 2006. In contrast, slightly more than one-quarter of Canada’s total population lived in these three areas.
Within the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, newcomers tended to live in the central municipalities, but an increasing share of newcomers chose surrounding regions.
A growing proportions are choosing to settle in smaller municipalities too.
Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton and London are now home to 16.6 per cent of newcomers. That is a greater proportion than in 2001, when it was 14.3 per cent.
Diversity at work: 77 employees, 27 languages
Globe and Mail Update
December 3, 2007 at 10:34 PM EST
MISSISSAUGA — ProMation Engineering Ltd. produces sophisticated robotics for the automotive and nuclear industries. Its operations require extraordinary teamwork and precision. Effective communication is crucial to its success.
So, with a work force of 77 employees hailing from 25 different countries, founder Mark Zimny’s greatest challenge – and greatest source of pride – comes from ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
Mr. Zimny, a Polish-born mechanical engineer, knows first hand how difficult it can be for skilled immigrants to find their bearings in a new country. “I’m aware of their expectations and their barriers,” said Mr. Zimny, whose first job upon arriving in North America in 1985 was to work an overhaul of the Disneyland monorail system in California.
Now, 22 years later, as president and chief executive officer of ProMation, Mr. Zimny has just landed a multimillion-dollar contract to work with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. on the refurbishment of Candu power plants, using radiation-proof robots to safely perform welding and other functions in nuclear facilities.
He credits his company’s success, in large measure, to the wealth of talent that resides within its walls and ProMation’s openness to hiring engineers who received their training outside of Canada. “There are a number of good universities scattered around the world.”
Many of his employees’ university diplomas are prominently displayed in ProMation’s front lobby. Their alma maters include Universitat Zu Koln, Germany; Universidad Distrital Frandisco Jose de Caldas, Columbia; Maziupol Metallurgical University, Ukraine; Politechnicaka Krakowska, Krakow, Poland; Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, India; University of Sarajevo; Colegio De Ingenieors Peru; University of Toronto; University of Waterloo.
Between them, ProMation’s employees speak 27 languages, including English.
“We take the best of all the people and try to find one common base for all of us in one small shop and we have discovered, actually, that it’s very easily done.
“It requires a lot of patience, but the results are fantastic, because we are getting a lot of enthusiasm,” Mr. Zimny said in an interview after receiving an award for his company’s diversity efforts.
Allison Pond, executive director of Toronto-based ACCES employment services, said her agency gave the award in recognition of ProMation’s “leading-edge work in building diversity.”
Inadequate language skills and lack of Canadian experience are the major barriers to skilled immigrants seeking work in the fields they trained in, Ms. Pond said.
ProMation gives them that crucial first job in Canada – usually through subsidized internships at the outset – and also supports them as they gain more proficiency in English, she said.
“Within a year, we have a full-time employee capable of solving the engineering problems for me,” said Mr. Zimny, who improved on his own English-language skills by taking business courses at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, where he had no choice but to master new vocabulary.
His company also encourages, and fully reimburses, any employee who continues his or her education, he said. Their wages go up as they acquire more experience and knowledge, he added.
To succeed in Canada, immigrants have to work hard and be willing to learn, Mr. Zimny said.
At the same time, as the labour market tightens, employers have to learn to recruit and manage Canada’s increasingly diverse labour force.
ProMation’s employees come from all over the place: Canada, Poland, India, China, Romania, Ukraine, Colombia, Peru, Serbia, Afghanistan, Angola, Belarus, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Croatia, England, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Macedonia, the Philippines.
“We have involved ourselves in this kind of human resources environment, where we overcome the typical barriers, because we are forced to do it … there is a shortage of skilled labour in Canada,” he said.
“Without this type of [recruitment] approach, we wouldn’t be able to grow. It’s as simple as that.”
Torch and twang helping ESL students learn language
Globe and Mail Update
December 3, 2007 at 10:34 PM EST
Globe and Mail Update — Rana Lee, a recent arrival from South Korea, listens to Brad Paisley’s fishin’ song and quickly gets the drift – the guy loses the girl. It is a country and western song, after all.
One line perplexes her, though: “I spend all day out on this lake and hell is all I catch.”
University of Toronto professor Jennifer Harris, who teaches an advanced course in English as a second language, swings by Ms. Lee’s desk and explains that to catch hell means to get in trouble. The fellow is in trouble because he spends more time on the lake than at home. But, ultimately, he chooses fishing over romance.
This is the new ESL.
Prof. Harris uses country and western music to teach her foreign-born students sophisticated grammatical concepts, in addition to common slang and idioms.
Toronto ESL teacher Maureen Stewart writes lyrics and sets them to classical music to teach university graduates from non-English-speaking countries about language, pronunciation and everyday life in Canada.
And, at the request of his clients, Vincent Dong now includes a hockey primer in the “language of business” course he has developed for immigrant professionals who have found work in their fields of expertise, but still need coaching on language and cultural issues.
Of the many things that confuse foreign-born employees about Canadian workplace culture, few are as unfathomable as that time-honoured office ritual: the postmortem of last night’s hockey game, says Mr. Dong, a chartered accountant and founder of Toronto-based Language Education for Accounting Professionals.
The majority of newcomers to Canada speak neither French nor English as their first language. At the same time, more than 70 per cent of skilled immigrants come with at least one university degree and high aspirations. This is fuelling demand for higher-level language programs, according to a recent study by Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Once a week, Prof. Harris incorporates a country and western song into her U of T class. Her students are Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Mexican and one German-Iranian. Most aspire to become teachers, or were already instructors in their home countries.
Ms. Lee, who taught for three years in South Korea, came to Canada two months ago after reading about Prof. Harris’s course on the Internet. Like many well-educated newcomers to Canada, she was attracted to the U of T language course because it goes way beyond the ESL basics.
“Once you know about the language, you have to know about the culture and the grammar and the vocabulary,” Ms. Lee says.
Prof. Harris incorporated Mr. Paisley’s I’m Gonna Miss Her into last week’s lesson. The previous week, another Paisley song, Alcohol, left a student wondering what it means to “put that lampshade on your head.”
The worksheet helped. “Drunk: bombed, hammered, loaded, intoxicated, inebriated, tipsy, under the influence, wrecked.”
Drawing examples from Mr. Paisley’s lyrics, Prof. Harris also discussed possessives, infinitives, causatives and participle adjectives during that particular class.
“We take a very analytical approach to language,” Prof. Harris says.
Her class dissects the songs, line by line, to look at how language is used, how sentences are formed, “why we use certain language in certain situations.”
In the process of listening to country and western, the students also learn about the improper use of English – the dropped Gs, the double negatives.
“Some students have never been exposed to the word ain’t. Until we do this music, they say, ‘I hear this word all the time. I don’t know what it means,’ ” Prof. Harris says. “Of course, it’s not in any book of proper English.”
In Ms. Stewart’s ESL classes, a song about how to perform in a job interview is set to a minuet by Johann Sebastian Bach. Verses about shopping, the weather, ordering fast food, a visit to the doctor, love and relationships are sung to selections by Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi and Johann Strauss.
Ms. Stewart, who has written a book and created a website, eslclassics.com, about the concept of using classical music to teach language, says “people from all over the world are familiar with classical music,” so it resonates.
“Certain [sentence] structures are just so complicated, but if you hear it set to a tune, and you repeat it and repeat it, it helps,” says Ms. Stewart, who adds that, according to a theory known as “the Mozart effect,” classical music helps memory retention.
Mr. Dong says he sees a growing demand for programs that go well beyond the nuts and bolts of language training, with several employers now incorporating his “language of business” course into their professional development programs and picking up the tab for employees.
“We have a class on hockey because it’s talked about so much, and the students feel uncomfortable. They have no idea what anyone is talking about,” says Mr. Dong, the Canadian-born son of immigrants.
“You can’t separate language and culture; they’re inextricably intertwined,” adds Mr. Dong’s program co-ordinator, Devon Scoble, who uses Roch Carrier’s classic book The Hockey Sweater to convey to newcomers the depth of Canada’s passion for hockey – and the adoration, in Quebec, of the Montreal Canadiens and hockey legend Maurice Richard.
Mr. Dong says business relationships are often strengthened through small talk and socializing, whether it’s bantering about hockey or going to lunch with a client. (His course also includes a class on how to decode an Italian menu. A word to the wise: best not to order spaghetti, which can be messy, if the purpose of the lunch is to impress a contact or close a deal.) As to the hockey chalk talk, Mr. Dong says: “The difficulty in trying to tell somebody about offside and cross-checking and somebody like a Wayne Gretzky [is that] you can’t teach it in 10 minutes.”
Mr. Carrier’s book is a good starting point, however. And when a hockey debate does break out at work, “newcomers can at least say, ‘Oh, this is what it’s all about.’”