Majority of employers lack IEP integration policies

Language, culture top barriers: Pulse Survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/28/2013

The importance of internationally educated professionals (IEPs) in the Canadian workplace continues to grow. Demographic changes and economic trends underscore the role of IEPs, and their integration into the Canadian workplace is one of the issues that we hear most about from HR professionals. But how well are organizations integrating IEPs and tackling the various barriers?

Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) conducted a Pulse Survey to find out organizations have in place around IEPs.

Majority of employers lack IEP integration policies

Getting better with IEPs

Majority of employers lack IEP integration policies

By Amanda Silliker

All internationally educated professionals (IEPs) at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto are invited to participate in a six-month IEP transition program. The program follows a structured curriculum with a couple of sessions per month that focus on integrating newcomers into the Canadian workplace, said Kevin Kirkpatrick, manager of recruitment at the 5,000-employee hospital.

The sessions cover a range of topics including self-assessment, time management, HR processes, organizational culture and history, privacy best practices, an introduction to the Canadian health-care system, collaboration and teamwork, and communication skills, he said.

“A successful orientation program into an organization for IEPs ensures that you have high-performing employees and employees that can grow with the organization,” said Kirkpatrick. “If you can… remove barriers to success, then the return to an organization is increased retention.”

The hospital is among a small group of employers — just 12 per cent — that have clearly defined policies in place for integrating IEPs, according to a Pulse Survey of 209 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) do not have such policies in place.

To implement a successful integration program, senior leadership buy-in is a must, said Kirkpatrick.

“You need those champions. If you don’t have those, the success of it is going to be less and less because a champion will come both in the notion of supporting the programs but also, in a lot of cases, it comes with financial clout.”

Mentorship programs are a great way to help integrate IEPs, said Kibum Park, an IEP who came to Canada from South Korea in 2006 and is now a compensation and benefits consultant at MCAP, a 640-employee mortgage financing company in Toronto.

“It helps to quickly learn the culture — assimilate to the soft skills and people skills,” he said. “The interaction really helps to learn the thinking of locals… the subtle nuances, for instance, are things that you can quickly catch and learn through the interactions.”

One-half (49 per cent) of HR professionals think it’s easy to integrate IEPs into the workplace while 36 per cent think it’s difficult, found the survey.

And 62 per cent said it is easier to integrate IEPs now than it was 10 years ago. One-third (30 per cent) said the level of difficulty has stayed the same and nine per cent said it is more difficult.

Many barriers can make it difficult to successfully integrate IEPs. Language barriers are the top concern, according to 93 per cent of respondents.

“They’re so eager to be part of this society but sometimes it’s hard because of the language barriers… including for myself,” said Karina Davies, an IEP who moved to Canada from Mexico six years ago and is now human resources lead at Sears Canada in Toronto. “Sometimes when people are talking to me it’s like, ‘Am I saying it correct? Am I pronouncing it correct?’ It can be hard.”

To help improve English language skills, employers may want to consider promoting clubs such as Toastmasters, which can also help with presentation skills, said Park.

Cultural barriers are also a challenge, according to 78 per cent of respondents. Offering team-building activities or social activities outside of the workplace can help IEPs overcome those cultural barriers, said Park.

St. Michael’s integration program includes sessions dealing specifically with language and culture. The group setting and classroom environment of the sessions — which usually include between 10 and 20 IEPs — make it more comfortable for IEPs to develop in these areas, said Kirkpatrick.

“It’s a bit more of a soft sell, as opposed to it being a discussion with your manager that says, ‘You need to work on your communication skills.’ This is a non-punitive manner where someone can come and get… the learning they need in a collaborative surrounding,” he said. “That’s the key to it — we don’t want to be singling people out.”

The recognition of foreign credentials is another barrier to integrating IEPs, according to 84 per cent of respondents.

Although Davies worked in HR for two years in Mexico, she had a difficult time getting her credentials recognized by hiring managers in Canada.

“I came here six years ago to study English, I met my husband and decided to stay… and everything was fine until I decided to go look for a job,” she said.

So, Davies enrolled in a post-graduate HR management program at George Brown College in Toronto. Upon graduation, she was hired as an HR administrator at Sears, which has 30,000 employees across Canada.

The recognition of foreign credentials is especially challenging in the health-care sector. St. Michael’s Hospital works with the Career Bridge program to offer internships to IEPs, but only for non-clinical areas, said Kirkpatrick.

“At the end of the day, it is a challenge to navigate through the licensing barriers — it’s a different level of complexity.”

Compared to 10 years ago, 46 per cent of HR professionals said they are hiring more IEPs, found the Pulse Survey. One-fifth (21 per cent) said the number of IEPs they’re hiring has stayed the same while just six per cent said it decreased.

Many employers are recruiting IEPs to fill the skills gap caused by retiring baby boomers.

“In order to grow our economy and ensure we are able to meet the demands for services, we have to look at all hands on deck and all the different types of quality resources and employees,” said Kirkpatrick.

St. Michael’s is also hiring IEPs to make sure the hospital is reflective of the community, he said.

“In an area like Toronto, where the patients we serve are very diverse, so should our care providers and staff because, at the end of the day, people want the comfort of understanding someone who is working with them at their most vulnerable time is going to have that cultural sensitivity,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s in our best interest to be culturally diverse.”

Getting better with IEPs (Analysis)

By Kristina Hidas

Hiring internationally educated professionals (IEPs) is becoming more and more of a reality for HR managers across Canada — something reflected in the results from the latest Pulse Survey.

While the challenges around professional accreditation remain considerable, the good news is employers have more, and better, policies in place to support the process.

One of the most widely used and successful programs is mentorships, which are being used to support IEPs across all the industries represented in the Pulse Survey. Employers are also using employee resource groups, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs and workshops for cultural awareness and soft-skills training.

Some organizations are helping new recruits find housing and child care and have established six-month and even 12-month integration programs to help IEPs during their first year on the job and in the country.

Two-thirds of all survey respondents either have previous experience with hiring internationally educated professionals or are currently doing so at their organization.

Of those, almost 60 per cent described it as an easy process. The remaining 40 per cent said the process is difficult to navigate.

A solid majority (62 per cent) also said it’s easier to hire and integrate IEPs today than it was 10 years ago, which is a move in the right direction.

With one-half (46 per cent) of all respondents saying they are hiring more IEPs than one decade ago (21 per cent answered that the number has stayed the same, while only six per cent find the number has decreased over the past 10 years), it was encouraging to hear that more than one-half find themselves better supported by policies, legislation and programs. But judging from the written feedback, there is still a need for more, and more clearly delineated, policies within organizations.

Survey respondents rated the importance of five barriers to integrating IEPs — culture, language, recognition of foreign credentials, lack of Canadian work experience and lack of membership in professional networks.

While language barriers and recognizing foreign credentials came out on top, others were mentioned as well, including:

• employer attitudes

• the inability to offer employment until citizenship has been granted

• candidates’ willingness to relocate.

Canada and Ontario have made significant advances in speeding up the process of immigrating.

In August 2012, the federal government announced changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) that will allow Canada to do a better job at selecting skilled workers who can “hit the ground running upon arrival.” (For more information on immigration changes, see page 23.)

The changes to the FSWP reflect the changes called for in the survey feedback regarding IEPs — specifically, simplifying the accreditation process and enabling employers to fill their positions more quickly.

Kristina Hidas is vice-president of HR research and development at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto. She can be reached at or (416) 923-2324 ext. 370.

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *