In 2007, André Goh, manager of diversity management at the Toronto Police Service, introduced affinity groups into the police force. It was an uphill battle, with some executives questioning whether or not it would create cliques, marginalize people and cause more ostracism, he said.
But affinity groups were quickly embraced by employees and the force now has eight groups based on race, culture, sex and community.
“The diversity of the groups is a success story in and of itself because it now affords opportunities for sharing information, networking and mentoring,” said Goh. “And the affinity groups are open to anyone who supports the goals of the group.”
Goh’s efforts were recognized at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC)’s seventh annual Immigrant Success (IS) Awards held in April. He took home the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award. The awards recognize employers and individuals who are leading the way in integrating skilled immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area.
To recruit a diverse workforce, the Toronto Police Service moved away from its historically passive recruiting strategy to actively reach out to a wide variety of communities and demographics, said Goh.
“We run sessions for young men, Muslim women, South Asian women, LGBT, you name it — whatever you want we will cater to your community needs. And suddenly the numbers jumped because many people said, ‘I just thought you didn’t want me.’”
Each recruiter mentors up to 15 new recruits to walk them through the process of becoming a police officer, which includes federal, provincial and municipal requirements.
New recruits to the 7,500-employee police force look very different now than they did 10 years ago. While 90 per cent of the recruiting class was white in 1993, 40 per cent of the January 2013 class were visible minorities and spoke 22 different languages.
“Our goal is always to represent the communities we serve,” said Goh. “And, well, the communities are everything and everyone.”
Three other awards were handed out at the IS Awards:
• CBC Toronto Immigrant Advantage Award: SMTC
• Toronto Star Award for Excellence in Workplace Integration: The Regional Municipality of York
• RBC Immigrant Advantage Award for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Trinity Tech.
Global electronics manufacturer SMTC boasts an impressive skilled immigrant workforce — 95 per cent of the employees on the production floor are immigrants as well as 50 per cent of those at the head office, said Claude Germain, president and CEO.
Headquartered in Markham, Ont., the company also has operations in the United States, Mexico and Asia with 2,500 employees worldwide — including 300 in Canada. Canadian employees only deal with customers in Canada about two per cent of the time, so it’s important to have a diverse workforce that can communicate with customers around the world, said Claude.
“We’re very customer-centric and we try to hire people who fit our customers’ needs,” he said. “It’s so much easier when you’re dealing with someone with the same nationality who speaks the same language — it’s just good business sense.”
SMTC provides orientation and job-specific training to skilled immigrants in their native language.
“We have 20-odd nationalities represented in our corporate workforce. It’s a bit of a United Nations to be sure, but the key languages are Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese, so those are the languages we key in on a lot,” said Germain.
Each new employee is assigned a mentor with a similar background who helps them integrate into the company and their community as well.
In terms of recruiting, SMTC advertises job openings in various languages in community newspapers and on community radio stations, but most of its recruiting is done through word-of-mouth, said Germain.
“When you hire folks from a community and they realize it’s a good place to work, the work they do is interesting and global, it attracts other like-minded individuals,” he said. “Once you turn the crank and get the machine going in terms of bringing in a terrific workforce, it leads to other opportunities within that community.”
Regional Municipality of York
A few years ago, the Regional Municipality of York started receiving a number of employment applications with credentials that were gained in a foreign country. The HR department struggled with this because it didn’t have any way to assess those credentials — so it decided to do something about it.
In 2009, it developed the Foreign Credential Evaluation Process Guide, according to Beverley Cassidy-Moffatt, acting director of HR at the 3,500-employee municipality based in Newmarket, Ont.
“It gives hiring managers a tool to work with so they can look at these resumés from candidates outside of Canada and be able to assess whether or not they meet the qualifications of the job,” she said. “It has really opened up for us a terrific pool of candidates that before we really didn’t know how to assess those credentials.”
Twenty-seven per cent of the region’s workforce was born outside of Canada, and employees speak more than 60 languages.
The foreign credential guide has also helped the municipality find candidates for some of its difficult-to-fill, specialized positions, such as water and waste-water engineers, said Cassidy-Moffatt.
“It was surprising to us how many people who are foreign-trained have been trained in water and waste water. The guide is enabling us now to be able to identify what those credentials are and if we need to have them assessed, we can advise them on where to go.”
The municipality also partners with local agencies to offer internships for foreign-trained professionals throughout the region, said Cassidy-Moffatt.
“It’s proven to be a win-win situation for all involved,” she said. “We’re able to provide that elusive Canadian experience that new Canadians are looking for and, in return, we get well-qualified, quality employees. Plus, it just feels good knowing that we’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
Skilled immigrants at engineering consulting firm Trinity Tech directly affect the bottom line — 30 per cent of company growth and 40 per cent of innovation solutions can be directly attributed to them, according to Dunstan Peter, president and CEO.
“New immigrants have different ideas and thoughts from different parts of the world, so it’s helping us to innovate and apply new solutions to the clients,” he said.
Sixty per cent of the 120 employees at Trinity Tech are immigrants.
Having employees who speak multiple languages is also very important to the organization, said Peter.
When Trinity Tech expanded its business to Mexico, the cultural knowledge and language skills of its Spanish-speaking employees helped build key relationships and establish the business. Now, the Mexican operations make up about 15 per cent of the company’s total revenue, he said.
Trinity Tech works closely with ACCES Employment, an employment service provider that connects employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds. Through this partnership, Trinity Tech is able to offer new immigrants — the majority of whom are internationally trained engineers or technicians — their first Canadian work experience.
“I like to give them a chance and open the door for them as their first employer, help them get into the Canadian market,” said Peter. “When they work with me, I mentor them, we help them to get their designation and help them grow within themselves.”
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