Connecting talent with opportunities

Immigrant Success Awards highlight excellence in immigrant employment
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2014

By Liz Bernier

Newcomers to Canada bring a wealth of diverse skills, perspectives, ideas and talent to the Canadian market — but, too often, they end up being an under-utilized resource. Organizations don’t always take full advantage of everything new immigrants have to offer.

That’s why the Immigrant Success Awards (IS Awards) endeavour to recognize organizations, initiatives and individuals who make an extraordinary contribution to immigrant employment.

On May 8, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) recognized two groups and one individual with RBC Champion of Immigrant Success Awards at the eighth annual ceremony, which recognizes leadership in immigrant employment within the Greater Toronto Area.

Entrepreneurship Connections helps newcomers realize business ideas

Entrepreneurship Connections, one of this year’s award recipients, was created to fill a crucial gap in the market, according to Allison Pond, executive director at ACCES Employment in Toronto.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve really noticed… a number of our clients wanting to start their own businesses and realizing that there aren’t a lot of services out there to support new Canadians in really getting their businesses started,” she said.

So ACCES Employment, along with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), embarked on a partnership to launch the Entrepreneurship Connections program.

The partnership was a natural fit, according to Peter Lawler, senior vice-president of financing and consulting, Ontario, at BDC in Toronto.

“The beauty of the program is that it is a real partnership model where there are various partners in the community who actually teach the curriculum. And BDC employees are very actively involved in teaching various components of the curriculum, along with other people in the community, so real-life professionals that are able to bring their skills to the table,” he said.

The four-week program, which has enjoyed “incredible success,” is an opportunity for newcomers to learn how to launch their own business ventures in the Canadian market, said Pond.

“We provide intensive components around the regulatory environment for business, legal considerations, human resources practices specific to the Canadian context, marketing and branding strategies, financing options — so we provide all those kinds of information and then they get started on a business plan,” she said.

After completing the four-week program, participants receive a year of support, introductions to networking groups and additional mentorship and guidance.

“Probably the most important piece is that we match them with a mentor. So each participant is matched with a Canadian mentor who can help introduce them to their professional networks, business networks, support, advice — all those kinds of things,” said Pond.

emergiTEL provides support for the whole career cycle

Aneela Zaib first came to Canada as an international student but it wasn’t long before she launched her own business.

“I did start my technical career, however, during that experience, I realized that the qualification process that is in place by traditional recruitment agencies was lacking… well-rounded qualification of the candidates,” said Zaib, Toronto-based founder and vice-president of sales and marketing at emergiTEL — another of this year’s award-winners.

Zaib founded emergiTEL to address the gaps other recruitment agencies had in terms of evaluating candidates, such as evaluating soft skills and long-term value to an organization. emergiTEL works closely with candidates to position their skills in a way that best displays their value to employers.

The recruitment organization works with candidates throughout their career lifecycle, assessing their strengths and weaknesses — and providing coaching where necessary. Many of emergiTEL’s candidates are newcomers to Canada.

“We are working as a bridge to translate and expose the value of these immigrants and their skill sets to the Canadian employers,” said Zaib.

“Immigrants face unique challenges… immigrants do not have a professional network because they didn’t grow up here (and), above all, lack of the specific terminology or the jargon that exists in their occupation — and not to mention the cultural differences as well.

“So that is a fact that I believe that usually traditional agencies do not recognize.”

LAMBA connects grads with business networks

Emiliano Méndez is co-founder of the Latin American MBA Alumni Network (LAMBA), an initiative that connects Latin American MBA graduates with a broad professional network of both peers and employers throughout Canada.

As an immigrant himself, Méndez co-founded the network after facing barriers to building professional connections in Toronto.

“Individually, our networks from our business schools were limited and being newcomers we did not have family networks to rely on,” he said. “So we decided to connect our individual networks to form something bigger.”

But LAMBA is not the only inclusion initiative that Méndez, this year’s winner in the individual category, is committed to.

He also helped launch a visible minority committee that is part of a Diversity Leadership Council at RBC, where he works as manager of strategy and transformation services. Méndez is a committed volunteer as president of the HRC Montreal Alumni Network in Toronto, where he also helps connect new immigrants with professional contacts.

Spotlight on immigrant success

The IS Awards provide an opportunity for all employers to reflect on how they may be able to support immigrant employment, said Zaib.

“We need to effectively leverage the talent available to us, including skilled immigrants, for long-term prosperity… the value that immigrants are bringing is innovation because we have immigrants coming from all over the world. It brings us the cultural know-how to reach the local and international markets, and it opens up a major talent pool of potential employees,” she said.

An immigrant-inclusive workforce is critical to our economic growth — and employers need to recognize the benefits, said Zaib.

“They are highly educated, they possess unique skills, and that international business connection and expertise that they’re bringing is ultimately going to prove successful for our employers, who can be more competitive — and it’s good for the business... (as we) compete for leadership in the global market,” she said.

“Immigrants have studied in their professions almost all of their lives… and they should not somehow be forced to leave the profession that they studied for and take up an alternate career, just because they are in a new place.”

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