Firms honoured for work with skilled immigrants

American Express, Deloitte, Thales Canada win TRIEC awards
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/28/2011

American Express Canada has had a diverse workforce for many years but, with much-expected growth in the company, it needed to do more to attract, retain and develop skilled immigrants, said Nancy Steele, director of technologies at the Markham, Ont.-based firm. As a solution, Steele initiated a skilled immigrant strategy.

“The broader strategy was to look at talent in general across the organization,” said Steele. “As we’re going to grow, take on new people and invest a lot in Canada, we looked at what we’re going to do to keep up the pace of growth and diversify a little bit.”

The strategy, implemented in 2009, earned Steele the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award at this year’s Immigrant Success Awards in Toronto, presented by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). Now in its fifth year, the awards recognize leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants in the Toronto region.

As Steele was looking at ways to hire new employees, she realized there needed to be more work done to hire immigrants.

“There were a lot of gaps in the process of how we hire and recruit, where we hire and recruit and the type of talent we were getting,” she said. “There were many opportunities we didn’t see.”

To recruit skilled immigrants, Steele worked with TRIEC and organized a mass recruitment day. TRIEC brought in 200 immigrants and 10 managers went though the interview process with the recruits, said Steele. There have been two sessions like this to date, with another one scheduled in the coming months, and 11 skilled immigrants have been hired through the program, so far, she said.

To retain skilled immigrants, Steele implemented initiatives to encourage these employees to grow within the company.

“We looked at strategies to improve the process to help these individuals not only get better jobs or jobs that are more suited to their skills, but develop them when they’re on-site and help them progress in their career,” she said.

Language training is available for those skilled immigrants whose language skills may not be “quite as robust” as what is needed, she said.

Managers undergo cross-cultural training to learn how to understand the challenges immigrants might be facing and evaluate any potential gaps in their training or performance, so they can coach them appropriately, said Steele.

The next step is to spread the strategy across more departments at the 600-employee organization, not just the technologies division, said Steele.

“When you’re solving a problem and you look at it from one angle, the diverse perspectives the immigrants can bring to the table are probably more valuable than people who don’t have that background,” she said.

Workplace integration

Innovative onboarding and integration practices are a top priority at Deloitte, earning the organization the Toronto Star Award for Excellence in Workplace Integration. Before new immigrants even start at Deloitte, they are paired with a work buddy to answer their questions and help them navigate through the organization and the Canadian culture, said Yezdi Pavri, vice-chairman at Deloitte.

During orientation week, new hires are introduced to a wide variety of networks they can join, including the Career Mom network, the Asian Nation network and the Canadian Black Professionals network, he said.

“The idea is not to create silos but allow people a safe and comfortable environment to connect to people with similar backgrounds,” said Pavri. “(Members) feel they are with people that are like-minded, they can express themselves more fully and openly and talk about challenges that people might be experiencing within that particular group.”

Immigrants also have access to language training, if needed, and cross-cultural training to ease the transition into the Canadian workforce.

Immigrant advantage

Skilled immigrants have created a business advantage at the transportation division of Thales Canada in Toronto, earning the company the RBC Immigrant Advantage Award. Ninety per cent of business is done globally and having a diverse employee population has helped the organization win bids in regions where it has staff who are familiar with the culture and the language, said Michael MacKenzie, chief operating officer of the transportation division at Thales Canada.

“It’s a real competitive advantage to have members on our team who really understand the customer’s culture and values and who can communicate with them in the local language,” said MacKenzie. “Having those capabilities really allows us to break down barriers and more effectively provide solutions that meet the unique needs of the global customers.”

Having a diverse workforce and employing skilled immigrants is very important to Thales Canada in helping the company maintain long-term relationships with clients and yielding tangible results for business, said MacKenzie. In turn, the company has a high level of immigrant satisfaction, with a 95-per-cent retention rate among skilled immigrant employees.

“There is a significant benefit from having a diverse workforce in terms of the richness of solutions we generate in our business,” he said. “Having people with diverse backgrounds and experiences and being able to bring them together allows for a much stronger solution.”

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