A key theme throughout the Globe and Mail’s “Our Time to Lead” series is the integral role newcomers can play in fostering our economy, our communities and our national identity.

Increased immigration brings to our country a diversity of people, ideas and practices, which in turn make us better attuned to opportunities for innovation and responsiveness in addressing complex and changing needs—both here in Canada and around the world.

As noted in an October 2010 Conference Board of Canada report on boosting Canada’s global competitiveness: “Immigrants are by definition seekers of a better way—the very embodiment of innovation.”

“Innovation is at that forefront of great economies like those of Canada and the United States. This has been so for hundreds of years and the cause has always been the diverse experiences, cultures and knowledge that immigration brings,” says Navin Chandaria, president and CEO of the Conros Corporation. “We can see things differently and apply fresh thinking to new ideas, products and creations. That’s innovation.”

Recent encouraging statistics show that, at least in our academic institutions, we are embracing this reality. In a keynote address at the 2012 Conference for International Engineers, Ontario’s fairness commissioner, the Hon. Jean Augustine, noted that 36% of the estimated 1,800 Canada Research Chairs who steer the research conducted in our post-secondary institutions are foreign born.

This is an impressive number considering that immigrants currently make up 20% of the entire population. These positions are held by those we deem forward-thinkers—those who will push research in new, unexplored ways. Imagine how the Canadian labour market might also benefit from this level of engagement from newcomers.

According to Dr. Alex Jadad, Canada Research Chair in eHealth Innovation at the University of Toronto and University Health Network, “We are creating a brain drain in other countries that we turn into brain waste in Canada. These statistics show the value of converting a huge pool of underutilized talent into a brain gain at a time when our country needs, more than ever, fresh, talented blood to thrive in the 21st century.”

We are now well into the age of the global marketplace, where it is essential that we meet the needs of ever-diversifying markets. How better to do so than by ensuring that the Canadian workforce reflects these markets and can anticipate their needs?

Yet there are still significant barriers impeding the seamless transition of immigrants into the workforce. Systemic issues remain around the validation of professional credentials and there are disconnects surrounding language needs and language training availability, limiting eligibility criteria and other issues related to cultural bias.

Before we can benefit from the innovative input of new Canadians we must become more creative and responsive in how we support their integration into their new home. More focus on sector-specific training, better opportunities to gain work experience and simpler processes for validating and enhancing international credentials are needed.

The sooner we can get new Canadians into the workforce the sooner we will benefit from the diverse experience and ideas they offer and the more innovative we will be as a nation.

Navin Chandaria and Dr. Alex Jadad were recently honoured as Pioneers for Change for their leadership in finding new ways to think about immigration and innovation.

Kerry Kelly

Kerry Kelly is a digital information specialist at Skills for Change, a non-profit agency that offers innovative employment and training solutions to internationally trained professionals. See more…