Canada welcomed over 400,000 new immigrants in 2022, but are we doing everything to help them successfully build new lives and careers in their new home? New Canadians face numerous hurdles, from not having their experience, education, and experience recognized to needing to start over building their professional networks and even their credit.
These are challenges that Ayo Owodunni, a management consultant and City of Kitchener Ward 5 councilor, has experienced firsthand. Owodunni and his family moved to Kitchener from Lagos, Nigeria in 2016. He says the integration process into Canadian culture and the local community was difficult in those early days.
“I went through a tough integration process, and I think no one should have to go through that. I was fired from two jobs within a short period of time. I would have been fired from a third, if not for an inclusive leader who was courageous and who spoke and challenged certain things,” Owodunni says.
Those experiences inspired Owodunni to write his first book, Values Culture Period: Redefining The Value of Values to Drive Business Results. It focuses on helping business leaders identify and create solutions to drive positive returns for employees and their businesses.
“I started to realize that there are patterns to some of these things, and there are things that organizations can do better. More important, there are things I could also do better,” Owodunni says.
His second book, Inclusive Leadership – The Immigrant View: The guide to helping immigrants thrive in your organization, continues to build on his experiences integrating into the Canadian workforce. While researching for the book, he says he noticed a misconception among employers that most New Canadians were refugees. In reality, 56.3% of immigrants to Canada in 2021 were in the economic category.
“That’s the largest number of immigrants that are coming in, and the immigrants that are coming in today in Canada are different from the immigrants that were coming in a generation earlier. You have individuals that are extremely smart, well-educated, and have careers. Then they just had to be brave enough to leave everything, and start a new life in a place that they probably only knew one or two people—or just read about it online,” he says.
While these immigrants are coming to Canada with all the ingredients to be successful, they often have to start their careers from scratch. Owodunni says it can be difficult for people born and raised in Canada to understand that challenge. Many economic-category immigrants have earned post-secondary degrees at recognized colleges or universities. They’ve built careers or started their own businesses—but employers in Canada often dismiss those things.
“It does something to your ego. It shocks you. There’s this mindset of ‘You told me I’m the best of the best. You put me through all these rigorous exams. You check my health. I had to go through a criminal history and background check, and all these things just to ascertain that I am fit enough to come into your country. And then I come to your country, and suddenly I’m not good enough because I don’t have enough Canadian experience,” Owodunni says.
Immigration is a core component of Canada’s economic growth across every industry, from construction and manufacturing to healthcare and technology businesses. Recognizing international experience and credentialling is crucial to helping immigrants successfully put their skills to work.
“There are so many opportunities that we will miss out on simply because we’re not taking this thing too seriously. We could lose a lot of talent. We’re losing doctors to other countries—and by the way, we’re in a health crisis. I think it’s important that every organization—small business, large business—all come to the drawing board and say we need to provide better, more effective programs that could help immigrants coming in,” he says.
The benefits aren’t limited to this generation of new Canadians either, Owodunni notes. The more successful immigrants are, the more they will be able to give back to the community and the next generation who choose Canada as the country to bring their talents.
“As we help immigrants, they in turn are able to give back to their communities. They pay their taxes. They serve. They give back. They become a part of the community. Look at our city council. Our mayor in Kitchener is an immigrant. I’m an immigrant. Paul Singh as an immigrant. Look at all these individuals who are serving in this capacity simply because they were able to settle and say, ‘How can I serve my community because my community has been good to me?’ We need more and more people to be able to say that.”
You can listen to our full interview with Ayo Owodunni on the deConstructed podcast here or wherever you listen to your podcasts.