Job-related training of immigrants

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By Jungwee Park

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Due to challenges associated with differences in language, culture and labour market networks, immigrants may find it difficult to acquire job-related training in Canada. Similarly, immigrants with credentials and skills obtained in foreign countries may encounter difficulties getting their qualifications and experience recognized. This could act as a barrier to job training, especially if training prerequisites are related to credentials (Lochhead 2002). To the extent that such barriers exist, they could impede the labour market integration of newcomers since most immigrants do plan to get job-related training or education (Statistics Canada 2003).

Few recent Canadian studies have investigated job-related training among immigrants. Using data from the 1998 Adult Education and Training Survey (AETS), Hum and Simpson (2003) reported that immigrant workers had a lower participation rate in job-related training than their Canadian-born counterparts (Hum and Simpson 2003). According to this study, immigrants who arrived in Canada as adults, in particular, trained less.1 Since other research indicates that the labour market situation of immigrants has deteriorated in the past decade, their training situation merits updating.

Although immigration status by itself provides useful information, there are other characteristics of newcomers that may affect training. Economic, family-class and refugee immigrants arrive under different circumstances and thus have different training needs. Age at arrival and source country may also affect training. Immigrants' situations will also evolve after they arrive, so time since immigration and citizenship are other likely sources of variation.

The Access and Support to Education and Training Survey (ASETS), most recently conducted in 2008, provides detailed information on adult education including job-related training (see Data source and definitions). The survey also collects data on demographic, labour market and immigration characteristics. This article focuses on the population age 18 to 64 who worked at a job or business at any time between July 2007 and June 2008, excluding full-time students and temporary residents.

In addition to current job training, this article also covers job training during the past 5 years, which helps to assess whether persistent differences in job-related training opportunities among subgroups of employees exist.

Immigrants and non-immigrants are compared across several aspects of job-related training—participation, intensity, and perceived barriers—in order to answer the following research questions:

  1. To what extent do immigrant employees participate in job-related training? Is their participation comparable to that of Canadian-born workers? Are there differences in the subjects, objectives and satisfaction with training between the two groups?
  2. Are there any sub-groups of immigrant employees who show significantly different levels of participation in job-related training?
  3. Are there differences in the intensity of job-related training between immigrants and the Canadian-born? Are there differences in the employer support for training activities?
  4. Which demographic and labour market characteristics are related to the likelihood of immigrant employees' participation in job training? Compared to the Canadian-born, is the training of immigrant workers correlated with similar factors?
  5. To what extent do immigrant employees perceive barriers to job-related training? Do foreign-born workers perceive different barriers compared with Canadian-born workers?

Job-related training versus job education

Job-related learning can be divided into job-related training and job education related to a current or future job. Job-related training encompasses structured learning activities and includes courses, workshops, private lessons and guided on-the-job training, but does not lead to a formal education credential. Job education, on the other hand, involves programs leading to formal credentials (Knighton et al. 2009). Both types include employer-supported and non-supported activities. This analysis focuses on job-related training rather than job education since training is by far the larger component2 (for job education undertaken by immigrants, see Job-related education programs).

Immigrant workers had lower participation in job-related training

Overall, Canadian-born employees received more job-related training than immigrant employees (Chart A). Between July 2007 and June 2008, 35% of Canadian-born men received job training compared to 31% of immigrant men. Among women, 37% of the Canadian-born and 33% of immigrant workers took some job-related training.

Job-training experiences over the past 5 years also differed. For example, 62% of immigrant women employees reported not having received any job training in this period compared to 53% of non-immigrant women.

Research shows that previous training increases the likelihood of taking further training (Hum and Simpson 2003). Indeed, more than 60% of workers who received job training in 2008 reported that they had some training in the previous 5 years while only 36% of non-participants reported that they had some training in that period (data not shown).

Most training (83%) was at least partially supported by the employer. Means of support can include paying for training or allowing flexible hours (see Data source and definitions). The gap between immigrant and non-immigrant workers in terms of employer-supported job training was greater than the gap in overall training activities (Chart B). Immigrant employees were less likely to take job-related courses that their employers supported in any way than their non-immigrant counterparts. Much of the gap was due to differences in the rate of financial support for training.

Similar subjects, goals and results of job training for immigrants and Canadian-born

ASETS collects information on the main subject of one job-related course and classifies it into 1 of 14 categories.3 The categories range from apprenticeship training to professional training and personal development.

Professional training was the most frequently mentioned category for immigrants, accounting for one-quarter of training activities of both women and men (Table 2). A greater proportion of training taken by immigrant men (16%) was computer-related courses compared to their non-immigrant counterparts (9%). On the other hand, training taken by Canadian-born men was more likely to be related to apprenticeship, equipment, or sales than that taken by immigrant men.

Immigrants and the Canadian-born shared similar goals and expressed a similar level of satisfaction with their training. The improvement of job performance was mentioned as a training objective by most trainees (Table 3). The second most reported objective for both Canadian-born and immigrant workers was "to meet requirements."

The vast majority reported that they were satisfied with the effects of training in relation to their objectives. For example, 92% of immigrant men and 87% of immigrant women reported that their training activities helped them achieve the training objectives they had set. Overall, around three-quarters of all participants were satisfied with their training participation, indicating that they did not encounter difficulties attending because of, for example, workload or work-schedule conflicts (see Data source and definitions). In other words, immigrant workers were as satisfied with the process and results of job training as their non-immigrant counterparts.

Training participation varies by immigrant characteristics

Since the immigrant population varies widely across a number of dimensions, job-related training may be influenced by these factors. Five immigration-related variables—immigration class, citizenship, age at immigration, years since immigration, and country of birth of the immigrant—are examined. The results include incidence rates and regression analyses that identify differences in training participation while controlling for a number of other factors.4

About 31% of immigrant men and 33% of immigrant women employees participated in job-related training in 2008 (Table 4). The predicted probabilities of participating in training for immigrant men and women were significantly lower than those for Canadian-born workers after controls for other factors were in place. Immigrant men were almost 20% less likely and immigrant women were about 15% less likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to receive job training.

To study the effects for immigration-related characteristics, five additional regression models were estimated. For each of the five immigrant variables modeled, the Canadian-born are the reference group.

Certain groups of immigrants were less likely to receive training. For example, among female workers, family-class immigrants had significantly lower odds of receiving training and lower incidence rates (6% point difference) than Canadian-born workers. Family-class immigration is for family members who wish to come from other countries to reunite with the sponsoring member in Canada. Those who immigrated for family reunification may be less prepared for the labour market than other skilled immigrants (Aydemir 2010).

Non-citizen employees were also less likely to receive job-related training. Only 1 in 5 non-citizen men received job training in 2008 compared with 35% of the Canadian-born and 32% of naturalized citizens. The training participation rates for non-citizens remained significantly lower than those of naturalized citizens as well as the Canadian-born after controlling for other factors. As Canadian citizenship includes a language and residence requirement (at least three years over a four-year time span), naturalized citizens may be more prepared to undertake job training than non-citizen immigrants.

Male employees who migrated as adults (18 and over) were 25% less likely to receive training than their Canadian-born counterparts. Unlike those who immigrate at a younger age, adult immigrants are less likely to have a Canadian education and may experience difficulties getting foreign credentials recognized. Furthermore, challenges associated with migration, like language and cultural barriers, tend to be more pronounced among immigrants who arrive as adults (Hum and Simpson 2003).

Immigrants who came to Canada within the last 10 years were less likely than the Canadian-born to have access to job training. The rate of job training for recent immigrant women (24%) was significantly lower than the rates for established immigrants (34%) and non-immigrants (37%).

Source countries were divided into two groups. Immigrants from the United States and northern and western European countries—who may be more likely to speak English or French and experience fewer difficulties with their foreign credentials—comprise the first group. The second group encompasses immigrants from all other parts of the world. Female employees who emigrated from other countries were less likely to participate in job-related training than their Canadian-born counterparts.

Less employer-supported training for some immigrant groups

Similar to the results for all job training, the five immigrant characteristics were related to access to employer-supported training. Overall, the predicted probability for immigrant men's receipt of employer-supported job training was 24% lower than that for Canadian-born males. Compared with Canadian-born women, immigrant women employees had about a 22% lower probability (Table 5).

Family-class immigrants, both men and women, were less likely to participate in employer-supported job-training activities. Similarly, the probability of receiving employer-supported job training for non-citizen men was less than one-half that for their Canadian-born counterparts. Moreover, the participation rate in employer-supported training was much lower for non-citizen immigrants than naturalized citizens (11% versus 26%).

Immigrant employees who migrated as adults (18 and over) were less likely to receive training than their Canadian-born counterparts: 22% of those who as adults received employer-supported job training in the past year compared with 29% of Canadian-born workers.

Immigrants who came to Canada in the last 10 years were less likely to receive employer-sponsored job training than Canadian-born workers.

Results indicated that recent immigrants were about 30% less likely to receive employer-sponsored training, although only the results for women were statistically significant. The finding seems incongruous given recent immigrants' relatively higher level of educational attainment, which is an important determinant of participation in job training. However, recent immigrants may be disproportionately located in the types of jobs for which training is less likely to be provided (Lochhead 2002).

No differences in intensity of training

The intensity of job training is measured by the duration of training in hours and the number of courses taken. Among those who participated in job training, there were no significant differences in intensity between immigrant and Canadian-born workers. The average duration of job training activities for Canadian-born men was 56 hours per year whereas for immigrant men it was 68 hours (Table 6). The average for women workers, immigrant or Canadian-born, was about 42 hours. There was also no significant difference in the average number of courses.  

Similarly, there were no significant differences between immigrant and Canadian-born trainees in receiving employer support. More than 80% of training taken by immigrant men was reported to be paid for by the employer compared with 79% of training taken by non-immigrant men. The rate for immigrant women was 73% while that for Canadian-born women was 77%.

In summary, there were no meaningful differences in job-training intensity between the Canadian- and foreign-born. The primary effect of immigration status is thus related to the likelihood of participation in training.

Age, sex, and income are factors linked to training

To identify specific demographic or labour market factors affecting job training, additional regression analyses were estimated for immigrant and Canadian-born employees. Each model included demographic, job and workplace factors to help understand the particular effects of each condition on their participation in job-related training and employer-supported training.5 This section examines whether such factors have different effects for immigrants and the Canadian-born.

The effects of age and income stand out as the most important personal characteristics related to training. Among female immigrants, those from age 45 to 64 were more likely to receive training than those from 18 to 24 (Table 7). This finding is consistent with research suggesting that women in general receive less training especially early in their careers (Hum and Simpson 2003). Although the age effect also exists for non-immigrant women, the gap in training due to age is much smaller among Canadian-born women.

Among men, immigrant workers from age 25 to 44 were more likely to receive job training than their older colleagues. Training participation among immigrant men seems to be more concentrated for the core working-age group than for Canadian-born workers.

Low personal income was related to a lower probability of training for both immigrant and non-immigrant employees. Compared with immigrant women with the highest personal income6 ($100,000 or more), those in the lowest income group (under $25,000) were much less likely to undertake job training. Part of the reason for this lower training rate among low-income individuals is associated with the fact that opportunities for training and skill development are an important indicator of job quality (Canadian Policy Research Networks 2011). Those in high-paying jobs tend to have more job-training opportunities.

Unlike the situation for Canadian-born workers, the effect of education level on job training is negligible for both male and female immigrant employees when job and workplace characteristics are taken into consideration. Notably, when the occupational skill level was entered in the models, the significance of education disappeared for immigrants but not the Canadian-born.

Marital status had no effect on access to training for immigrant employees. This differs from other studies showing that married women tend to receive less training throughout their careers than other women (Hum and Simpson 2003).

Although other studies have highlighted the importance of language fluency (Hum and Simpson 2003), speaking a language other than English or French in the home did not have a significant effect on training.

Skilled workers receive more training

When controls are in place for demographic and labour market characteristics, the occupational skill level [Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) 2006] has a persistent effect on the probability of receiving job training for immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Compared with immigrant workers in occupations requiring a university education, employees in occupations requiring a high school education or less were much less likely to receive job-related training. According to Altonji and Spletzer (1991), the incidence of training increases with the verbal, math, and clerical skill requirements of an occupation and decreases with manual skill requirements.

Among immigrant workers, the probability of receiving job training for permanent workers and other workers did not differ significantly. However, among the Canadian-born, permanent workers were more likely to receive training than non-permanent employees.

Incidence of training highest in large firms

Among immigrants, men and women working in firms with more than 500 employees were more likely to receive training than those in firms with less than 20 employees. A similar training gap existed for the Canadian-born in firms with less than 20 employees. For immigrant men, employees of mid-sized firms also received less training than their counterparts in larger firms, which was not the case among Canadian-born women or men. Larger firms tend to have a greater incentive to train employees because they can pool training risks (Holtmann and Idson 1991), whereas smaller companies may have difficulty sparing resources for training when meeting the bottom line is a priority (Leckie et al. 2001).

The incidence of training was significantly higher in the public sector for Canadian-born men and women, but not immigrants. On the other hand, immigrant women working in services were more likely to have received training than those in goods-producing industries—a distinction that wasn't noted among the Canadian-born.

Barriers to training

The ASETS asked respondents whether there was training that they wanted to take, but did not, and whether there was training they needed to take, but did not. Having either the need or the desire to take training can be considered a proxy for being willing or ready to engage in a training activity (Knighton et al. 2009). In this analysis, these two groups and their reasons for not training are combined in order to examine perceived barriers to job training.

Three main types of barriers to participation in job-related training have been identified as situational, institutional and dispositional (Sussman 2002). Situational barriers arise from one's situation in life at a given time—too busy at work, financial constraints, family responsibilities or lack of child care, and language or health problems. Institutional barriers consist of established practices and procedures that exclude or discourage participation, such as high tuition fees, entrance requirements, limited course offerings and courses offered at inconvenient times or locations. Dispositional barriers involve attitudes and opinions towards learning, as well as perceptions of oneself as a learner (Cross 1981).

Compared with their Canadian-born counterparts, immigrant employees were more likely to perceive the presence of barriers to training access. Among immigrant women, 35% reported barriers compared to 30% of Canadian-born women (Table 8). Similarly, 25% of non-immigrant men and 31% of immigrant men perceived some barriers to training.

Situational barriers were more frequently reported among immigrant employees than Canadian-born workers. Among immigrant women who reported training barriers, about three-fourths indicated that their perceived barriers were situational. In particular, significantly more immigrant workers than their Canadian-born counterparts reported that their needs for job training were unmet due to family responsibilities,7 conflicts with work and financial constraints.


Job-related training is an important aspect of economic integration for immigrants since they may be challenged by differences in language, culture and labour market networks. Moreover, they may also encounter difficulties getting their foreign credentials recognized in the workplace.

This study found that immigrant workers were significantly less likely to receive training than their Canadian-born counterparts. Even after controls were in place for demographic and labour market factors, the training rate for immigrant men and women remained lower than the corresponding rates for Canadian-born workers. Training rates were even lower among family-class immigrants, i.e., those who arrived as adults within the past 10 years from countries other than the United States and northern and western European countries, and those who had not yet obtained their citizenship.

Among immigrants, workers with low personal income tend to receive less job-related training, even after controls are in place for other factors. Those working in lower-skilled jobs or small workplaces were also less likely to take training. Finally, women in goods-producing industries had a lower training rate than women in service industries.

Compared with Canadian-born employees, a greater proportion of immigrant workers identified situational factors as barriers to job-related training. Such factors include family responsibilities and financial constraints. 

Immigrant employees who did participate in training reported similar levels of employer support and satisfaction with training to Canadian-born workers. And among those who took training, the intensity did not differ between foreign- and Canadian-born employees. Moreover, both groups reported similar goals and job-training subjects.

Thus immigrants received less training overall than the Canadian-born, even after controls were in place for individual, job and workplace characteristics. Once they do receive training, immigrants report similar benefits to their Canadian-born counterparts.

Data source and definitions

The data source is the most recent cycle (2008) of the Access and Support to Education and Training Survey (ASETS). ASETS is a new survey of 72,000 households and is a combination of three previously conducted surveys: the Survey of Approaches to Educational Planning, the Post-Secondary Education Participation Survey, and the Adult Education and Training Survey (Statistics Canada 2008). Data collection took place between June and October 2008. Most survey questions refer to activities undertaken between July 2007 and June 2008. Information collected in this survey includes the incidence and intensity of adults' participation in job-related training, a profile of employer support, and barriers preventing individuals from participating in training they want or need to take. The survey also contains information on labour market and other personal characteristics. ASETS collects immigration-related information such as respondents' immigration status, age at immigration, immigration class, country of birth and citizenship status.

For this study, the population includes those age 18 to 64 who worked at a job or business at any time between July 2007 and June 2008 (total 17.0 million, immigrants 3.3 million), excluding full-time students and those who are neither Canadian citizens nor landed immigrants. The sample size was 17,500 (immigrant n=2,300).  

Given the complex nature of the survey design, bootstrap estimation was used to derive the variances for odds ratios and percentages.

Job-related learning refers to activities undertaken for the development or upgrading of skills for use in present or future employment rather than personal interest or other non-employment related reasons. ASETS collected information on two components of lifelong learning—education and training. Job education, also referred to as 'education programs,' encompasses learning activities provided in formal systems of education, which lead to a formal education credential, including primary and secondary level education, and postsecondary education like university and college diplomas and degrees. On the other hand, job training, also referred to as 'training activities,' includes courses and workshops not leading to a formal education credential.

Employer support consists of one or more of the following: providing the training, paying for the training (either directly or by reimbursing the employee), allowing a flexible work schedule to accommodate training or providing transportation to and from the training location. ASETS collected information on employer support for one randomly selected training activity rather than all training activities.

Satisfaction with training participation is determined by a response to the following question asked to training participants: "Were there any circumstances that made it difficult for you to participate in this program?" If the response was "no difficulty," the participant was considered satisfied with his or her training participation. The survey considered 'difficult circumstances' to include "you were too busy at work," "your program conflicted with your work schedule," "there was lack of support from your employer," "your family responsibilities were too great," "you had financial constraints," or "another reason."

Satisfaction with training effect is measured by a series of questions asking if the most recent job-related training had actually helped achieve each of their training objectives up to now (Table 3). If a respondent answered positively to any one of those questions, he or she was considered satisfied with the effect of the training.

Occupational skill includes four groups based on HRSDC's National Occupational Classification Matrix 2006:

  • management
  • occupations that usually require a university education
  • occupations that usually require a college education or apprenticeship training
  • occupations that usually require secondary school and/or occupation-specific training, and occupations for which on-the-job training is usually provided.

Industry was divided into two categories:

  • goods-producing industries comprising agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas, utilities, construction, and manufacturing
  • service industries comprising trade, transportation, finance, insurance, real estate and leasing, professional, scientific and technical services, education, health care and social assistance, information, culture and recreation, accommodation and food services, and public administration.

Job-related education programs

In 2008, about 1 in 10 employees participated in job-related education programs (Table 1). Almost one-half of those participants were supported by their employers. Between immigrant and Canadian-born employees, there were no statistically significant differences in participation in job-related education programs leading to a formal credential. In terms of the type of programs, however, there was a significant difference between immigrants and non-immigrants. Among male participants, a significantly greater proportion of immigrants than their Canadian-born counterparts took an education program leading to a credential above the bachelor level. This reflects the higher education level of immigrants compared to the Canadian-born population.


  1. Their participation is lower than not only that of the Canadian-born, but also immigrants who arrive as children (Hum and Simpson 2003).
  2. Although some studies combined the two groups for analysis (Underhill 2006 and Sussman 2002), the two components of job-related training were not combined in this analysis given that they represent two different concepts.
  3. If a respondent was enrolled in more than one job-related course, which occurred for 65% of participants, the 2008 ASETS randomly selected and asked about one course.
  4. Factors controlled for in the regression analyses include the following sociodemographic factors: age, education level, household income, ethnic origin, marital status, language spoken at home, and geographic region. They include the following job factors: job tenure, full-time/part-time, terms of employment (permanent or not), unionization, and occupation. Also included are the following workplace factors: firm size, job sector (public/private), and industry.
  5. Since similar results were found for both job-related and employer-supported training, only the results for the former are presented. Detailed results for employer-supported training can be obtained from the author.
  6. As the information on earnings is not available in ASETS, personal income is used for analysis.
  7. An additional regression analysis on perception of barriers to training access indicated that immigrant women with dependent children were more likely to report barriers than women with no children.


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Jungwee Park is with the Labour Statistics Division. He can be reached at 613-951-4598 or