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Study shows readers know the value of skilled immigrants, and see a competitive advantage in hiring them, but they report some concerns

When it comes to hiring skilled immigrants, Canadian HR Reporter readers seem to be on the ball, according to a recent study.

More than 90 per cent of respondents to an online survey said they have received a resumé from a skilled immigrant and 84 per cent said they’ve hired one. The Canadian HR Reporter Reality Check study was completed by 133 people between Nov. 1-6, 2005.

Canadian HR Reporter also spoke with a number of respondents to get more in-depth information about their experiences with skilled immigrants, When recruiters meet skilled immigrants.

Barriers to employment

By far the most often mentioned barrier to hiring an immigrant is language. One respondent said an immigrant wasn’t hired because, “the accent was extremely heavy and made it difficult to understand the applicant.”

“The most common reason is a language barrier,” another respondent said. “Speaking, reading and writing English is a bona fide job requirement for most positions in our organization.”

One issue identified is the difficulty in assessing foreign work experience.

“The biggest issue was generally a lack of verifiable similar experience,” said one respondent. “It’s a huge leap of faith to hire an individual at the same level as they were in another culture when you are unsure of the relevance of that experience.”

Another said that the inability to check references is a major drawback when hiring a skilled immigrant.

One respondent said it is difficult to get line managers to “buy into” hiring candidates who lack North American work experience. Another respondent said immigrants aren’t used to the Canadian-style recruitment and selection process.

“I have found that many skilled immigrants, including people who have Canadian qualifications but have foreign experience and no Canadian experience, often lack critical job search skills. These are not the skills in doing the job, but rather many have obtained employment in their home countries through very different recruitment and selection systems and consequently the concept of having to effectively offer their skills and abilities in a competitive labour market is very new and very foreign.”

Organizations don’t have a formal plan

The majority (82 per cent) said they don’t have a formal plan in place to attract skilled immigrants.

The main reason behind the lack of a plan is simple: most simply don’t have any issues in finding qualified employees and are already receiving plenty of applications from immigrants.

“(We) have not experienced any difficulty attracting applicants to warrant targeted recruitment strategies. We obtain a variety of applicants from people around the world seeking positions.”

One respondent at an aerospace company said there are many Canadians out of work in the industry and the company was inclined to look at that pool of expertise first.

Another said the company simply doesn’t have the resources.

“(We) found the process of hiring foreign workers too onerous to continue focusing our recruitment efforts there.”

The culture clash

Respondents identified a variety of challenges in bringing immigrants into their workplaces. Cultural differences were a source of concern for some.

One said that in Canada, open and honest communication is critical for effective leadership and team building. But many cultures view that as a sign of disrespect and they don’t want to complain or “rock the boat.” That person also expressed concern about workers who observe lengthy religious holy holidays. “We are able to provide time off but this can impact service levels and affect morale of other staff.”

Another said that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the different values in other cultures.

On respondent said there are offensive differences that cut both ways. For example, Canadians don’t have a problem with allowing others to save face, but in other cultures that can be very offensive. And some cultures have a tolerance to a level of corruption that many Canadians would find offensive.

Slight concern over interaction with customers

The majority (83 per cent) of respondents said they have no concerns about how employees will interact with skilled immigrants. But one-quarter said they are concerned with how customers, clients and outside parties will interact with immigrants.

Again, the prevailing reason for concern is language-related. One respondent expressed concern about negative perceptions and pre-existing prejudice from customers and clients “who may not be so open to having an immigrant worker serving them.”

One expressed concern about spelling and grammar errors that could make the worker and the company look unprofessional.

Another put it more simply: “I am mindful that some of our clients are quite demented.”

One respondent said staff have daily contact with clients who are generally agriculture, small business or special niche customers who expect one-on-one communication and relations.

“If the skilled immigrant is unable to effectively communicate with customers, then the individual will likely not be successful in their role. Unfortunately, there are perceptions in Western Canada of who the business community wishes to operate with.”

Another respondent said the organization has already run into some difficulties.

“Some of our customers have already demonstrated impatience and have exercised poor judgment when dealing with a worker whose first language is not English. This leads to additional, unnecessary stress for the new Canadian in the work environment.”

One respondent said that immigrants are better suited for some roles, such as engineering and accounting, and less suited for others, especially sales.

“Our organization depends on a salesforce that is exceptional when communicating with customers. To date, we have been unable to find a new Canadian, interested in sales, who could meet our high expectations for customer communications.”

How valuable is foreign work experience?

Half the respondents were unsure about this question. Of those who responded 44 per cent said foreign work experience is just as valuable, while only 7.5 per cent felt Canadian experience trumps foreign experience. But the bulk (48 per cent) said it depends on the circumstances.

The value of a multicultural workforce

If there’s one thing almost everyone could agree on in the survey, it was that having a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage.

“We have a very diverse workplace and this assists us in helping our diverse customer base. We have more solutions to issues and more cultural understanding.”

One respondent said that the “frazzled North American culture” could gain a great deal from those who are “new and different to us.”

One respondent said: “Our customers are located in different parts of the world and our company is all over the place so replicating that environment in our offices is a great asset since it makes us more aware and creative.”

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