Salary surveys in India same as those in Canada

It took an internship program to get Sanjay Ray’s foot in the door

“I didn’t waste any time,” is how Sanjay Ray, compensation consultant at Manulife Financial, now describes his hit-the-ground-running job search upon immigrating to Canada.

Two months after arriving from India, Ray joined the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario and enrolled for CHRP certification at Ryerson University in Toronto. Within the first seven months, he had sent out more than 1,000 job applications and cold-called more than 100 HR consultant firms in search of a job opening. He went to career fairs, answered newspaper ads and attended networking sessions. All to no avail.

Ray, who came to Canada in February 2003 with more than 10 years’ HR experience in India, can only guess as to why employers weren’t interested. “From the feedback that I did get, it seems that I didn’t have relevant experience, which I take to mean Canadian experience.” It wasn’t until Ray registered as an intern candidate at Career Bridge that he got his foot in the Canadian workplace, through a placement at Toronto-based insurance company Manulife Financial.

Career Bridge is a not-for-profit internship program set up to help foreign professionals find work in their fields. Since its start in November 2003, the program has placed more than 150 new immigrants in internship positions at 60 organizations in the Greater Toronto Area.

Diane Bean, executive vice-president at Manulife, said the company got involved with Career Bridge because “as an employer, we obviously have a strong interest in making sure the talent pool in Toronto is as good as it can be. And one of the issues is it’s just taking too long for immigrants to get into the workforce at the appropriate level.”

Since taking on Ray as its first Career Bridge intern, Manulife has brought in four other interns. The company also put Ray on its full-time payroll. “I think that people here were amazed at how easily experiences were transferable. Even though his own work experience was in a different country, a salary survey is a salary survey and a performance assessment is a performance assessment. Sometimes the forms change, but the basic process is very similar,” said Bean.

“While we probably expected a need to train more or do more orientation, there were in fact huge areas of comparability. The differences were minimal and had all been over-estimated.”

Ray entered the world of HR after graduating in science then enrolling in a post-graduate diploma program in HR management at Xavier Institute of Social Service. He first found work in the manufacturing sector, then in the banking industry, at ANZ Grindlays Bank and HSBC.

Employers in the banking sector in India were among some of the most enthusiastic adopters of innovative HR practices, said Ray. Working for the corporate investment side, he became well-acquainted with issues around recruiting and retaining highly valued executives, compensating them with bonuses and managing their performance using balanced scorecard tools.

His experience at the international banks prepared him for one of the fastest growing industries in India, the business process outsourcing industry. Working at Wipro Spectramind, one of India’s leaders in business process outsourcing, meant keeping up with the fast pace of change. “We kept having to change our HR policies as and when needed. Policies became redundant after six months’ time.”

With the company hiring some 200 new workers a month, the challenge for Ray was to find and to hang on to people with the rare combination of strong communication skills and strong technical skills.

“We were hiring a large number of people and trying to retain them through innovative HR practices which, if I were to list them all, would take up a few pages,” said Ray, citing as examples higher education subsidies, twice-a-year performance reviews, concierge facilities at work and free transportation and free lunches.

Now, a year and a half into his job as compensation consultant at Manulife Financial and just one course away from completing his CHRP certification, Ray looks back on his HR experience in India and still finds it applicable to the Canadian context.

“Apart from Canadian employment laws and certain areas of employee relations, there’s little difference between the HR practised in India and the HR practised here,” said Ray. Nevertheless, the months of rejection by Canadian employers have taught him to downplay any aspect of his work in India that’s even a bit out of step with Canadian norms.

For example, the first resumes Ray sent out included much mention of psychometric testing, a screening tool widely used in many labour markets throughout Asia. “But it’s in use only at a few companies in Canada because of the legal environment here. When you use certain words that aren’t in common use here, it raises questions. I had to remove it from my resume.”

Ray said his research on integrating in the Canadian job market prepared him for a step down when he arrived, “but I didn’t figure that I would be at a junior position. It was a surprise, actually.”

Ray said he sees the main problem with Canadian employers is they don’t have in place a process to evaluate foreigners’ credentials. To qualify for Career Bridge, Ray had his resume assessed by World Education Services (WES) for Canadian equivalency, but “most employers don’t use WES as an assessment tool. When I wrote in my resume that I can attach a WES assessment, they don’t ask for it.” Employers could also make more use of the language assessment services out there, he added. “I’m sure that if employers simply ask for the them, many immigrants would go through the assessments.”

At Career Bridge, director of communications and marketing John Mason said if employers systematically fail to consider foreign candidates, it’s because they don’t have the time to do the extra work needed for assessing or verifying credentials not familiar to them.

“HR practitioners are very, very busy people with many things on their plate. And evaluating language is a very specialized skill,” he said. “When you’re not sure about someone’s language, that application is not going forward. Same goes for education.”

That’s why some employers prefer low-risk bridging services like Career Bridge, which verifies applicants’ credentials and assesses their English skills.

Of the 60 employers that have used Career Bridge, 80 per cent have signed on more than one intern. With 1,100 candidates in its database, however, the program needs to find more employers to participate, said Mason. Some organizations may be deterred by the requirement to provide interns with a mentor to help with cultural issues, he added.

Kelly McDougald, executive vice-president in enterprise sales for Bell Canada in Toronto, said more employers should take advantage of the service. “I don’t understand the downside. You bring in an employee for four months and if they don’t work out, there’s no termination costs, there’s nothing.” Bell has brought 11 interns on board and of these, hired five.

“One of the things we’ve done is ask the successful Career Bridge interns to help us with subsequent recruiting. There’s quite a network that builds up within the Career Bridge community. They become references for each other,” said McDougald.

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