2015 Employer Council of Champions Summit

Panel Discusion: Ottawa’s Skills and Human Capital: Supply and Demand

Ram_Magdalene_Saad
Ram Raju, President and CEO, Kivuto
Magdalene Cooman-Maxwell, Director, Employer Engagement, LASI WorldSkills
Saad Bashir, Director, Economic Development and Innovation, City of Ottawa

Panellists representing both supply and demand spoke of their experiences meeting their own needs and those of the Ottawa’s labour market. Ram Raju, president and CEO of Kivuto, said globally connected professionals are helping to fuel his software company’s international growth. Half the staff at Kivuto were born outside Canada, and 50 per cent of the company’s recent promotions were immigrants – the result of an aggressive approach to recruitment, said Raju.

“If someone speaks three languages, we want them before we figure out what we’ll do with them,” said Raju. “If we did not have so many people speaking so many languages, it would be a serious competitive disadvantage.”

Magdalene Cooman-Maxwell noted that Ottawa is ranked number one among 33 of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas in terms of percentage of labour force with a university degree, and 27 per cent of those workers are immigrants. Her work at LASI World Skills involves connecting foreign-trained professionals with jobs that make the most of their skills, even if that means shifting their expectations.

“The challenge for the people we work with is making the psychological transition between what they were and what they can actually be in Canada,” said Cooman-Maxwell. “It takes a community to move someone to a new field. We have talent, but we need connections with employers to help them find the talent.”

Saad Bashir’s job with the City of Ottawa puts him at the intersection of supply and demand. He sees continuing demand across Ottawa’s diverse business sectors, from life sciences and clean technology to the fast-growing world of digital media and software. He also hears from newcomers who find him through Google and ask for his job-hunting advice. “My advice to fellow immigrants is to stand out from the crowd,” said Bashir. “If you need to upgrade your skills, do it. If you need to develop better social skills, do it. Employers are looking at how someone will fit into their team, so soft skills are extremely important.”

Ram and Bashir pointed to the rapid pace of change as a challenge for all professionals in the knowledge economy, not just immigrants. “Employers complain to the city all the time about needing software engineers. Six months later, they come to us with a whole new set of tools they need to hire for,” said Bashir.

“A lot of issues are not immigrant-specific,” Cooman-Maxwell agreed. “Many Canadian-born professionals are going through similar things. Changes in technology affect all of us.”

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