When Zuleika Sgro chose human resources as a profession, she was inspired by her parents.
Originally from Uganda, they emigrated to England as refugees, where her father was certified as an accountant. Then they moved to Canada, where he had a tough time finding a job but, eventually, one HR professional gave him a break.
“There’s so many other people out there that are as talented, even more talented, that it can make great business sense for companies to hire and we’re missing out if we’re not doing that,” said Sgro, manager of talent management services and HR business partner at Questrade, an online brokerage firm based in Toronto.
When the fast-growing company needed to hire 100 employees in one year (it now has 300), Sgro set her sights on skilled immigrants and connected with community agencies such as JVS, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and Access Employment, while also building her own networks.
“Honestly, it is a longer process but if you’re efficient in your procedures and you have a champion of that process and you’re bias-free and you’re only focusing on job-specific requirements to hire, you won’t get inundated with these other factors that really have no representation if the person can do the job or not,” said Sgro.
“Everybody has a ramp-up time and simply because you’re from another country doesn’t mean you can’t ramp up… like somebody here in Canada.”
Sgro’s efforts were recognized by TRIEC and RBC, in partnership with Canadian HR Reporter, at the annual Immigrant Success (IS) Awards held last month, which recognize employers and individuals for leading the way in integrating skilled immigrant talent in the Greater Toronto Area. She received the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award.
“It’s so nice to be recognized for something that I feel is very organic within this company, within Questrade, and within what I believe to be a part of the HR profession. It’s always looking for those opportunities to be as inclusive and bias-free as possible, no matter what the barrier is, for the sake of being a good strategic HR business partner. Everybody feels fulfilled from a socio-economic perspective when they’re making these differences.”
Career Edge Organization bridges the gaps
Also working hard to help skilled immigrants is Toronto-based Career Edge Organization through its Career Bridge program for internationally qualified professionals. Started in 2003, it has facilitated close to 1,800 paid internships, according to Anne Lamont, president and CEO of Career Edge, which was given the CBC Toronto Vision Award for Immigrant Inclusion at the IS Awards.
“The internship allows for that supportive onboarding process, which leads to better integration and retention at the end,” she said, adding close to 85 per cent of the interns end up with full-time employment.
“It provides a supportive onboarding process where both the intern and the employer can sort of say, ‘Is this going to work, for both of us?’ The testing out… is just as much on the intern level as it is on the employer’s side.”
Career Bridge works with employers to identify opportunities at their organizations and interested candidates — who must have been in Canada for fewer than three years and have more than three years’ international experience — can apply for the internships as they would for any job.
More than 50 per cent of the people in the talent pool have a master’s degree or better, said Lamont, and Career Edge pre-screens candidates.
“We make sure that they’re eligible to work in Canada, that they’ve had their foreign credentials verified for Canadian equivalency… and we actually conduct an interview where we assess English-language business communication,” she said.
The association also helps candidates with behavioural interviews because many are unfamiliar with this approach.
“It can really derail the success of their progress,” said Lamont.
Huawei Technologies Canada focuses on brand awareness
Huawei Technologies is a global telecommunications company headquartered in Shenzhen, China, with 130,000 employees. But its Canadian company, which set up shop in Markham, Ont., in 2008, had trouble recruiting specialized IT and engineering individuals — so it looked to skilled immigrants.
Internationally qualified professionals have often experienced Huawei technology in other countries, said Sal Florio, director of human resources at Huawei Technologies Canada. Brand awareness and loyalty are also strong among those from abroad, unlike local professionals who are more familiar with names such as Google.
“We were up against some well-known brands and competitors for scarce talent,” he said. “We started looking to hire new immigrants, new arrivals in Canada and, in some cases, even hired from abroad and we were successful in doing so because of our broad presence across the globe — our brand is well-known outside of Canada.
“Additionally, the technology in Canada was lagging the rest of world and we were able to bring in people that had more current, more up-to-date technology.”
The 400-employee company, which was given the RBC Immigrant Advantage Award from TRIEC, attributes all of its success to its mostly immigrant employee base.
Huawei also has an employee referral program and provides new employees with a two-day orientation program, a buddy system and in-house training that includes business communications in English and presentation skills.
“We continue to be of the mindset that it doesn’t really matter if (employees are) from here or anywhere else, for that matter — we look primarily at the skill set they bring,” said Florio. “We don’t look at borders per se; we look at, ‘What is it you bring to the table? What can you bring to the organization?’ That’s how we approach our recruiting.”
Maxxam Analytics takes co-op approach
Maxxam Analytics, which received the Toronto Star Award for Excellence in Workplace Integration, systematically recruits skilled immigrants through a co-op program. It has taken 400 placements since 2005 and hired one-half of them full time.
The 2,200-employee testing laboratory has about 28 labs across Canada but recruiting employees, particularly those specializing in laboratory chemistry, is an ongoing challenge, said Jon Hantho, president and CEO.
“We have this great support system that allows them to get through the harder stuff which is, frankly, more soft stuff, like language and culture,” he said. “Really, it’s about trial and error over eight years, just, ‘How do we make people more welcome from day one? How do we get them integrated and comfortable?’”
And the company is still learning, said Hantho. This year, for example, it is moving to have more of an “assertive” buddy system, he said.
“We have a great advantage because we have so many alumni of this program in our operations, they’re totally empathetic, they see that bug-eyed look in someone’s eyes going, ‘I’m really quite scared, this is new to me,’ and they were there, and so it’s their ability to reach out to them and say, ‘It’s OK, I was there too, this is what you need.’ So that buddy system with people who were alumni of the program just makes it all the easier for people to integrate, so it does self-perpetuate.”
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