Making immigrants feel at home

A look at how three leading companies — ATI, Husky Injection Molding and American Express — ensure they get first crack at the top newcomers

Welkom. Bienvenue. Willkommen. Benvenuto. Any way you say it, making an immigrant feel welcome in the workplace is a critical step in ensuring a successful fit.

Michel Cadieux, senior vice-president of human resources for ATI, a Toronto-based global manufacturer of graphics technology with 3,600 employees worldwide, recently got a powerful example of just how diverse his workforce is and how the company has created a culture that embraces immigrants.

“I hired a lady from Romania the other day, and we sent out an e-mail to the employees,” he said. “And the Romanian community within ATI sent her e-mails welcoming her to ATI. There’s a sub-community that starts to build where we have people from all over the world and that in itself helps make people successful because they feel welcome.”

Contrast that to the experience an immigrant would have at a Bay Street firm where everybody is from a homogenous background, and it’s not hard to see the competitive advantage ATI has been able to build through skilled immigrants, he said.

“How you make that person feel welcome is a key thing,” he said. “We’re fortunate. We have critical mass to do that. But our founders were also from Asia and that helped set the tone right from the beginning.”

ATI has been in the skilled immigrant game for years. This year alone the company has handled 100 visa applications, Cadieux said.

“We happen to be a strange company to be located in Toronto,” said Cadieux. “Most companies like our own are located in Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the world.”

Because of that, the company has been aggressive in recruiting the best talent it can find, regardless of where it is. ATI pays for the visa applications and has an outside legal firm to help the company and the candidates jump through the administrative hurdles.

“We do everything we can,” he said. “They’re great people, and we need them.”

Cadieux said some employers consider accents to be problematic, but that’s simply not something ATI cares about. What really matters is the worker’s technical ability.

“Not to say they don’t have to be able to communicate, but we don’t get hung up on accents, we don’t get hung up on intonations and I’ve seen other employers do that,” he said. “I think the majority of our employees have accents of some type or another, so it’s no big deal.”

Plus, most of ATI’s business isn’t done in Canada anyway. ATI’s annual report shows that only two per cent of its sales are in Canada, and 70 per cent are in Asia.

“The reality is that most of our customers have accents.”

Husky Injection Molding: Perfecting assessment

Logie W. Bruce-Lockhart, recruitment manager for Husky Injection Molding Ltd., a Bolton, Ont.-based injection molding equipment designer and manufacturer, said the company has a lot of experience dealing with immigrants and workers from other countries.

That’s because its European operations are based in Luxembourg, a tiny nation of 490,000 in the heart of Europe, where many workers commute in from three countries on a daily basis.

This, along with its diverse Canadian workforce, has given Husky exposure to workers from various educational backgrounds. It didn’t take long for the company to realize the treasure trove of information it was sitting on when it came to assessing credentials.

“We have tremendous exposure to a wide range of universities or people trained from other countries,” said Bruce-Lockhart. “When we started benchmarking our people, we realized that not all of the high performers have come from places that we thought they might have come from.”

Husky put together a matrix of where its people were coming from. It found it hadn’t been recognizing the value of schools that had proven track records of producing star candidates.

So Husky sat down with employees and asked them to list the top schools in their countries and it came up with a list of desirable educational institutions that it began to screen in, rather than screen out, applicants from.

It’s also aggressive in marketing itself to skilled immigrants. While programs like internships and co-ops are valuable, Bruce-Lockhart said Husky wants to grab top talent before they get anywhere near those programs.

“We want to pick these people off and get them started before anyone else gets an opportunity,” he said.

American Express: Taking employee referrals to the next level

About one-quarter of the 4,000 strong Canadian workforce for Markham, Ont.-based American Express are immigrants. This has provided a solid foundation for the company to build a referral program to attract talented immigrants to the company, said Simon Parkin, recruitment leader for Canada and Latin America.

When it comes time to hire, recruiters will sit down with current employees, tell them the positions American Express is looking to fill and ask if they know of any friends, relatives or members of their community who might be a good fit.

“What we have found is that a lot of the new employees for American Express who came to Canada in the last few years have strong networks of new immigrants,” said Parkin. “We’ve really been pretty successful in attracting their networks and the great thing is they’re truly experienced individuals, so it’s not like we’re just hiring warm bodies.”

The company has no shortage of candidates — on a typical day it receives 150 to 200 applications — but tapping into its immigrant workforce and their network has proven to be an excellent source of top-notch candidates, some who aren’t even in the country yet.

“We get referrals for people who are coming over in the next month or two,” said Parkin. “We’re usually in contact with them before they actually leave their country of origin, and we’re actually setting up interviews with them for the first week they arrive.”

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