Back in 2007 and 2008, when the economy was really hot, the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel in Saskatoon needed to ramp up its staffing. But there were few Canadians to be found, so it sought out foreign workers.
“A lot of it comes down to the economic prosperity we had,” said Dale Grant, general manager. “The viability of our business was being tested. We just didn’t have employees and we needed to have a source, for lack of a better word, to run our business. That’s really where it got to.”
Grant had to use labour market opinions (LMOs) from Service Canada to staff the difficult-to-fill positions, particularly for the kitchen.
“People just weren’t applying for those jobs, so we had no choice,” he said. “We either shut down a significant portion of our business or restrict it greatly or find people to fit those roles. That’s how it started but it’s evolved greatly from there.”
Now, 75 per cent of the housekeeping staff is made up of immigrants, largely from the Philippines but also from Morocco, Peru and Eastern Europe, said Grant.
“As we recruited and brought on more immigrants into those types of positions, our turnover cut down immensely and we were just able to retain them better. For a Canadian, it was a very transient type of position. For an immigrant, it was, ‘Oh my god, they’ve got a job and it’s regular work.’ Relative to where they came from, they were being paid OK. And, quite frankly, as a hotel operator, the quality of work was so superior to what we were getting from Canadians that it became in our best interest to retain those people.”
For Canada to remain globally competitive, it has to broaden its thinking and truly integrate skilled people who may not have Canadian experience, credentials or references, said Welcome to Canada. Now What?,a report from Deloitte based on cross-country roundtable discussions.
“Only by taking calculated risks and being open to learning from the experiences of foreign-born workers will Canadian companies fully capitalize on the potential for innovation and growth that comes with hiring foreign-born employees,” it said.
It’s important because Canada lags in productivity compared to other countries, said Jane Allen, partner and chief diversity officer at Deloitte in Toronto.
“We’re very good at attracting immigrants to come to Canada, particularly skilled immigrants who are well-credentialled yet, when they come, we don’t take advantage of those skills and those talents and so it’s exacerbating our productivity problem,” she said.
Organizations often don’t see the systemic barriers to integration and acceptance that have been created within their workplaces.
“Companies are risk-averse when it comes to recruiting immigrants because they’re afraid it’s going to take too long to get approvals for them to work in Canada or that there’s going to be a lack of fit with the existing culture and that the immigrant won’t work out,” said Allen. “That’s a systemic barrier.”
The credentialling process must also become more realistic, clearly defined and streamlined, according to Deloitte. That can mean recognizing foreign credentials in the new immigrant’s home country, before he moves to Canada, to help smooth the transition and open up opportunities.
It’s the associations themselves, such as legal or medical, that have to do the equivalency determination and they are working at it, said Allen, citing an internationally trained lawyer program at the University of Toronto that helps foreign-born lawyers gain Canadian experience and qualify for exams.
“It allows them to feel they can get a foothold in industry here without having to go through the university education all over again,” she said.
There are many workers at the Sheraton Cavalier who are overqualified because their education or credentials are not recognized, said Grant.
“You look at the resumé and they’re engineers or they’ve got university degrees and it’s like, ‘You know what, you shouldn’t be doing this, you should be doing something so much more significant.’ And I don’t quite get why.”
It’s important for immigrants to realize how long it might take to find a suitable position that matches their talents, said RatnaOmidvar, president of Maytree in Toronto, an organization that promotes equity and prosperity.
“Once they are lost to it, I know it is 10 times as hard to get back into it. So my advice is, ‘Hang in there,’” she said. “People need connections, they need to understand how to get around, where the associations are, which newspapers to read, et cetera, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
There are also many immigrant professionals who are not in regulated professions who face another barrier, said Omidvar.
“Employers, just as regulators, need to change,” she said. “Employers can actually look at talent as it presents itself in its fullness as opposed to looking at it only from where it comes. That is the key — enabling employers in Canada to take off their blindfold because we all understand that hiring presents a risk and… most employers don’t want to take risks because they want people to hit the ground running.”
While there was some risk involved in recruiting from overseas, the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel was so desperate, it didn’t matter, said Grant.
“Quite frankly, the upfront costs were quite staggering but, you know what… the return on investment has been so overwhelming — we’ve got some of our best, longest-serving employees now.”
It’s about changing recruiting practices to remove biases and focus on the skills, not language and cultural differences, said Allen. And recruiters themselves should consider trips to the countries of interest, to immerse themselves in the culture and business world.
“Equally, it can help the Canadian company be better prepared to understand and accept and integrate the immigrants into the workplace.”
The most important thing is to work with hiring managers, said Omidvar.
“Help them understand the nuances in a letter or in a presentation; have them read out what is incidental and accidental and non-essential from what is essential because it’s often those non-essential things that colour one’s view of an individual,” she said.
Even if companies do hire immigrants with the right skills and talents, they can face a non-inclusive work environment, according to Deloitte, as they are not given the same opportunities or taken under the wing of someone and told the unwritten rules of how to succeed.
“It prevents them from getting promoted, prevents them from feeling comfortable and that they have opportunities in the company, so they’re not utilized as well as they could be,” said Allen.
As a solution, Welcome to Canada encourages employers to take several steps, such as reviewing HR policies and offering internships, mentorships or employee resource groups or affinity groups. Deloitte, for example, has a Canadian-Asian network and a Canadian black professionals network, said Allen.
“It gives people in the network a sense of community and group of people they can feel comfortable with asking questions, raising issues (when) they may not feel comfortable in a broader group. And our network provides mentoring to each other. It also helps them to establish ties with like groups in other companies and in the business community.”
While there are the risks of silos, in which groups don’t associate with each other, the advantages far outweigh the concerns, said Allen.
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