York study finds that career development doesn’t aid immigrants

Workplace training and development doesn’t help immigrants get ahead in their careers, even though it benefits other employees, according to a study led by a York University professor.

Researchers conducted an analysis of the 2003 Canadian Workplace & Employee Survey, the most comprehensive survey of career success outcomes to date. They found that immigrant and non-immigrant professionals are equally likely to undergo training and development initiatives funded by employers. However, immigrants don’t reap the rewards of higher pay, promotions or increased job satisfaction reported by their non-immigrant counterparts.

“We believe non-immigrants may be better able to leverage their training and, as a result, achieve higher salaries and promotions,” says the study’s lead author Tony Fang (left), professor of human resource management in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “Overall, our results indicate that there is an urgent need for employers to develop better policies for integrating and leveraging the talents of immigrant professionals,” he says.

On average, immigrant professionals – those who hold at least an undergraduate, graduate or professional degree – earn less than non-immigrants ($27.30 per hour versus $30.10 per hour). They also tend to have lower promotion rates and shorter tenure with their current employer (7.0 years versus 8.3 years). In addition, they are less satisfied with their jobs and compensation.

A major barrier for immigrants, Fang notes, is lack of cultural fluency, including language limitations and unfamiliarity with local training methods. “Overall, our analysis suggests that training and development must be accompanied by specialized, cross-cultural training that will help fill these gaps and smooth the process for newcomers,” says Fang.

Corporate cultures that revolve around teamwork can also be a stumbling block. "Non-immigrants may fit better in the team culture because of familiarity – they’ve already had these types of experiences at work and school,” Fang says.

In terms of self-initiated and self-funded training, immigrant professionals take about the same number of courses as non-immigrant professionals. However, immigrants spend more time on the most recently taken training courses than their non-immigrant counterparts (3.0 days versus 2.4 days).

Fang acknowledges that cultural biases and stereotypes may prevent immigrants from gaining salary increases and promotions, irrespective of their training or skill level. 

“Though this will be more difficult to test, we’re hoping to address this hypothesis in future research,” he says.

He adds that minority-friendly companies consistently outperform Fortune 500 companies.

“By not offering these newcomers the support they need, we’re wasting talent and creating a huge hole in our economy,” says Fang.

The study, “Career success of immigrant professionals: Stock and flow of their career capital”, was co-authored by Professors Milorad M. Novicevic of the School of Business Administration, University of Mississippi, and Jelena Zikic of York’s School of Human Resource Management, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. It will appear in the International Journal of Manpower on Sept. 18.