Employment: A Key Determinant of Newcomer Youth Integration?
By Temitope Abiagom
Immigrant young adults are an important source of talent for the Canadian economy as they account for almost half of the total migration population (Statistics Canada, 2017). This cohort of migrants is often favoured by immigration programs that aim to fill labour shortages and redress Canada’s aging workforce. While the integration and employment outcomes of these youth are of concern to policy-makers and stakeholders, the emphasis is often on skills development and labour market readiness. This econometric focus is evident in immigrant youth employment initiatives, which educate newcomer youth about the Canadian workplace culture and support them in their job search (Dobrowolsky, Bryan, & Barber, 2015; Yan, Lauer, & Jhangiani, 2008). However, employment in itself is not sufficient in achieving successful economic integration. The notion that employment predicates the overall adaptation of immigrants contributes to the little attention given to other aspects of immigrant engagement. Including the understanding of everyday experiences of newcomer youth in the workplace, and their sense of belonging and barriers, in addition to access to employment, offers a more comprehensive approach to understanding their career trajectory and economic outcome (Bhagat & London, 1999; Dobrowolsky et al., 2015; Yan et al., 2008).
Developing social and friendship networks contributes to a newcomer youth’s sense of belonging (confidence in one’s identity and connection to people and social institutions), well being and career progression (Berry, Phinney, & Vedder, 2006; D. Harrison, T. Harrison, & Shaffer, 2019; Wilson- Forsberg, 2015; Yan et al., 2008). In turn, a positive sense of self, attachment, and well-being facilitate creativity and contribution to an organization’s innovation and competitiveness, which may positively impact career outcomes (Bhagat & London, 1999; Harrison et al., 2019). On the other hand, newcomer youth may face barriers such as perceived discrimination, limited language skills, distributive and procedural unfairness, lack of mentorship and organizational support that hinder their integration in the workplace. These challenges suppress their ability to use their voices and express their creative ideas while compromising their economic outcome compared to their Canadian-born counterparts (Bhagat & London, 1999; Harrison et al., 2019; Yan et al., 2008).
Also, the experiences of newcomer youth in the workplace contribute to the degree to which they adapt to society. The pressure to “fit in” may lead to assimilation, whereby they prefer engagement in their new community rather than showing interest in maintaining their cultural heritage and identity. Marginalization may also occur when there is neither cultural maintenance nor involvement with other people. Separation occurs when cultural maintenance is sought while avoiding a relationship with others. Integration, the most favourable process of immigrant adaptation by policymakers, stakeholders and immigrants alike, is the existence of both cultural maintenance and active participation in the larger society (Ager & Strang, 2008; Berry et al., 2006).
While employment is vital to the integration of newcomer youth, policy-makers and organizations must think beyond economic contribution.
Temitope Abiagom is a Master of Social Work student and a James R Johnston’s scholar at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. Her MSW thesis focuses on the experiences of newcomer youth in the workplace. She has experience in community social work, counseling, program development and evaluation.
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