Hard To See Which Programs Help Newcomers

Hard to see which programs help newcomers, study finds
Report says better assessment needed to steer resources into most useful initiatives

Nicholas Keung
Immigration/Diversity Reporter
Sep 08, 2008 04:30 AM

Ottawa and Ontario have implemented myriad programs from language training to mentoring to help newcomers integrate into the Canadian labour market, but are they working?

The answer, according to a new study by Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy, is: We don't know because little program evaluation has been done to decide how well those monies are spent.

“What is not known about current programs is what is working, exactly, and what is not, where there are unnecessary overlaps and where resources are being used most effectively,” concluded the report to be released today. “But what we do know, the report added, “is that they are typically used by about 40 per cent of recent immigrants who experience problems in getting work.”

The study came at a critical time with Canada pouring resources into such initiatives in the last five years to improve newcomers' employment results and with the $920 million, five-year funding that came as a result of the 2006 Canada-Ontario immigration agreement.

Thirty per cent of that money is being dedicated to labour market integration programs on credential recognition, language training, job counselling, career bridging, internships and mentoring.

Since 2003, Ontario has invested more than $85 million to fund 145 career bridging projects to help 20,000 foreign trained immigrants. Another $3.4 million will be spent on job-specific language training in classrooms and workplaces in the next two years.

Despite the many solutions identified to address these challenges, report author Nan Weiner, a veteran human resources consultant and a university lecturer, said there still lacks a systemic approach to review the results.

“So is it chatting with somebody that's making a difference? Or is it the social networking that is giving somebody the confidence?” asked Weiner. “We need to put resources into the best programs, so let's evaluate these programs and see what works and we will do more of that.”

In approving program proposals by agencies, the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration said the projects must demonstrate there is labour market need for it, and that outcomes and performance measures are built into the delivery plan.

Spokesperson Michel Payen-Dumont said success is measured in the number of newcomers who participated in and completed the program, as well as the number who received certification or licence and found employment after the training.

“Our most recent results for 2007-2008 show that 25 bridging projects helped 800 newcomers get a licence to work in their field. Another 17 projects helped 1,300 newcomers find jobs in a non-regulated profession,” Payen-Dumont said. “Sixty-six per cent of those who took part in training projects found jobs during the year.”

The study pointed out that officials often overlook the diverse needs among immigrant groups.

Weiner said it is important for program evaluators to include immigrants' voices in the assessment process.

Although it is hard to track the long-term impacts of these programs, most of them still in early developments, she said officials must have a system in place to ensure that they are cost-effective to justify the investments and improve results.

“The very existence of programs creates the sense that the problem is solved in the minds of some stakeholders, while others are well aware of the gap between current and desired outcomes,” she said.

“If Canada is seen as a place where it is difficult to use one's skills, not only will immigrants choose not to come to Canada, but newcomers already in the country will leave. This is already happening.”