Keynote Address at the Immigrants Professional Conference Provides Emphasizes Importance of Soft Skills

February 28, 2014
Lionel Laroche, one of Canada’s leading experts on how immigrant professionals find jobs in Canada, told more than four hundred delegates to the Immigrant Professionals Conference that finding a good job here takes drive, adaptability, a positive attitude and ownership of the challenge. Above all, he encouraged international professionals to “just do it.”Laroche was the keynote speaker at the 2014 BC Immigrant Professionals Conference held in Burnaby. It was the fourth annual conference organized by the Immigrant Serving Organizations, DIVERSEcity, ISSofBC and MOSAIC.Laroche explained that many newcomers to Canada don’t realize the importance that Canadian employers place on soft skills such as interpersonal communications and managing yourself. He said many immigrants come from countries where employers, when hiring, put 90 per cent of the emphasis on technical skills and just 10% on soft skills. In Canada, it’s 50/50. He cited as one example, the emphasis that Canada places on presentation skills, which starts when kids are in kindergarten. In many other countries, individuals are not expected to do presentations until they are in university.Most immigrants come into Canada with high technical skills. Their soft skills may have been high in their home countries, but they’re likely low in Canada because the standards for good soft skills are different. Soft skills are heavily influenced by a country’s culture. He said the biggest problem immigrants run into is that they don’t know how different soft skills are in Canada compared to their home countries.Immigrants often are not hired for jobs or don’t get promoted because they have low soft skills. One common reaction is to complain to other immigrants from same country. That’s what Laroche did when he first came to Canada from France. He said it felt wonderful because the advice he received from his French colleague was in line with how he thought things should be done, but it was advice based on the French way of doing things and it didn’t help him at all. Laroche told the audience, don’t choose a mentor from your home country. Choose mentors who have been able to achieve what you want to achieve.Laroche offered a three step process for preparing to search for work in your field in Canada:

  • Have your technical skills assessed by people in your profession
  • Have your soft skills assessed by people in your profession and by counselors/career search professionals.
  • Determine which one you need to work on first and get started.

Laroche shocked delegates when he told them it takes six to 15 years for immigrants to feel they have been successful in Canada. He said most immigrants think it will take them a matter of months, but typically a newcomer takes a job that is below what they were doing back home. At that point, two things can happen. Some immigrants stay at that level and get stuck in survival jobs until they retire. Others learn about the Canadian system, develop their soft skills, and combine that with what they brought with them to Canada and end up exceeding where they would have been had they stayed in their home country. Laroche gave the example of Naz Rayani who came to Canada from Africa with almost nothing and now owns a pharmacy in the Victoria area and has been awarded the Order of Canada for the volunteer work he has done. Laroche pointed out that out of the 100 richest people in Canada, 30 were born outside the country.Laroche advised delegates not to complain. He said that in Canada, a positive attitude is critical, unlike France, where complaining is a national sport. He also pointed out that Canadians are willing, to adapt to newcomers being in the country and while Canadians are more adaptable than nationals in many other countries, Canadians still expect newcomers to do most of the adapting and that means much more than buying a barbecue or putting on a hockey sweater.Internationally trained professionals need to learn the unwritten rules of organizations in Canada and follow them, and Canadians need to explain rules and give feedback.In closing, he encouraged delegates to be open-minded, do labour market research, and look for jobs where they are for you. Establishing yourself in Canada, said Laroche, is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.