Award shines light on employers that integrate immigrants

Mentoring new Canadians a favourite among winners

In such a diverse environment as the Greater Toronto Area, where multitudes of languages, ethnicities, experiences and histories greet one at every turn, employers may not need much convincing to recognize the benefits of tapping into the wealth of energy, perspectives and skills newcomers have.

Even so, they may flounder when it comes to knowing how. How to conduct job interviews that are thorough and probing yet not culturally judgmental? How to create the work environment that gives recruits from all over the world a sense they belong?

It was with the aim of fostering a healthy exchange of inclusive workplace practices that the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) set up the website hireimmigrants.ca last year. The Immigrant Success Awards — for which the first set of winners were announced this month — had similar objectives. It’s designed to highlight employers that have come up with immigrant integration practices others can learn from.

“One of objectives is we wanted to learn more. What’s being done well out there? What are the good practices? Where are the innovations? We feel there are a lot of companies doing good things but they may not be coming to the surface,” said Elizabeth McIsaac, director of operations of TRIEC, a collaboration comprised of representatives of Toronto-area employers, unions, occupational regulatory bodies, post-secondary institutions, assessment service providers, community organizations and the three levels of government.

“The second objective is we wanted to recognize employers that have innovative and excellent practices. Shine the light on them and raise awareness — on the importance of the issues and that there are good practical solutions that HR professionals can take on as part of their practice,” she said.

Although the awards had just 16 submissions, McIsaac said the number of participants is understandable given that it’s the first year for the awards. She expects the number of participants to grow in coming years as the award gains recognition.

Submissions are assessed on the bases of innovation, sound planning, implementation and the capacity for replication.

Norma Tombari, senior manager of diversity and workforce solutions at RBC Financial Group and one of the judges on the awards panel, said she saw a number of innovative practices in the submissions.

Among them is surveillance technology firm I3DVR, which has skilled immigrants making up 50 per cent of its overall workforce and 100 per cent of its research and development department. The Scarborough, Ont.,-headquartered firm employing 85 people — winner in the small business category — emphasizes internal growth opportunities by asking employees to identify jobs they would be interested in. When openings come up, time permitting, employees can access job shadowing or mentoring programs, which help them make the transition into new roles more smoothly.

The company offers employees access to English-as-a-second-language training, which helps improve reading, writing and speaking skills. Further, to create opportunities to practise their English and to foster a welcoming environment, the company holds regular get-togethers including monthly luncheons and seasonal events such as Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Another example is St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, winner of the influencer category. Among the integrative practices it offers is a bursary program for foreign-trained nurses, which has helped it hire 34 nurses since 1999. The hospital also recruits via multiple sources, including CareerBridge, an internship program for skilled immigrant professionals.

Most impressive to Tombari, however, is the hospital’s mentoring program, which helps open up career opportunities for skilled immigrant professionals and has grown from seven pairs to more than 120 pairs of mentors and proteges. Eight in 10 proteges have found full-time employment, further education or more defined career paths through the experience. And eight in 10 mentors have offered themselves up again as mentors in future pairing.

Indeed, mentoring is one practice Tombari sees coming up time and again as a way to recruit and develop skilled immigrants.

“It’s a phenomenal way to learn, for one thing. It’s a very personalized learning. And when you’re coming to a new work environment or a new work culture, it’s not something that you learn in a day. So it’s just phenomenal to be able to speak to another individual who can shed some light on workplace etiquettes, dos and don’ts, some of the unwritten rules, how to position oneself, how to promote oneself,” said Tombari.

As for TRIEC, the IS Awards is just one of the projects on the go, said McIsaac. TRIEC staff continue to work on the website to stock it with employer stories and integration strategies to turn it into a “learning environment.” This year, the council will roll out more employer seminars, such as those on bias-free interviewing techniques. Further down the road, the council is hoping to use some of this learning and contribute to HR curricula in colleges and universities, McIsaac said.




Immigrant success
And the winners are...

•Small employers category: I3DVR

•Mid-sized employers category: Family Service Association

•Large employers category: Ernst & Young LLP

•Influencer category: St. Michael’s Hospital

•Individual category: Amy Go, executive director of the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care; Executive Director of Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care and Ken Pustai, vice-president of human resources at TD Bank Financial Group.

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