Enhancing Immigrants’ Essential ‘Soft’ Skills – a win-win solution

Virtually every job requires competencies in nine essential skills. Do you know what they are? Learn about the tools and resources available to employers to assess and support essential “soft skills” among employees, including new immigrants. 

By hire immigrants Ottawa

Finding and keeping workers with the knowledge and skills needed to get the job done is critical for today’s businesses. Learning more about the nine essential skills used in nearly every job can help you reap the benefits of effectively engaging immigrants at work.

Presentation by Shareef Korah and Lindsey McIntosh of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills: Why Employers Should Care about Essential Skills.

Many employers recognize that immigrants have the technical skills required to complete workplace tasks, but often find that they lack the equally valued “soft skills”, such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork, to excel at work.

A pilot project led by Bow Valley College, Success in the Workplace: Essential Skills Training for Immigrant Professionalsfound that this “disconnect” between the skills workers thought they needed (technical) and those their employers wanted (soft skills) often faded once both learned about the importance of essential skills.

Essential skills offer employers a common language that can help both employers and employees identify skills gaps and support essential skills development to increase job potential.

Integrating essential skills into business practices does not have to be time consuming or complicated. For example:

  • The Vocabulary Building Workbook can be used with immigrant workers to boost their communication skills – both oral and written – through a variety of exercises that teach new words commonly used in the Canadian workplace.

Businesses that effectively attract, retain and engage skilled immigrants benefit from increased innovation, productivity and overall competitiveness. Boost your success by tapping into this vital source of talent – and use essential skills to get you started.

For more information on essential skills and to access helpful guides, checklists and worksheets, check out the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills’ website.

Shareef Korah
Policy Analyst at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Office of Literacy and Essentials Skills-OLES

Ask the Expert – Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Asset

In the article, Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Asset, we examined a dilemma that many employers face. You hire an internationally educated professional who has the right skills, degree, and workplace experience to be in management, but who under performs without explanation.  This is where Business Edge, a bridging program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, enables and empowers skilled immigrants to move back into jobs where they can fully utilize their skills, education and professional experience at a management level.  Read the article.

There are also other strategies that employers can implement to assist their immigrant talent in performing better. In this series we are posing questions to HR experts to provide insight into getting the most out of diverse talent.

Question markWhat are the risks of linking challenges experienced by employees to culture? How can employers mitigate these risks?

By Athina Schloo, Director of Employee Programs and HR Initiatives, RBC

Culture is a complex and ever changing reality which differs from person to person and can sometime pose some challenges in the workplace. However, if we are quick to link employee challenges to culture, we often fail to see the uniqueness and full spectrum of talents that an employee brings to our workplace. We think it is more effective to see diversity and cultural differences as key levers that can drive our competitiveness and innovation. Every employee brings his or her unique talents, experiences and perspectives to the workplace. True diversity isn’t just a matter of having a strong representation of various groups, but of tapping into this full spectrum of ideas and abilities that people bring to the workplace. Encouraging this diversity is what leads to true insights and innovative practices.

A good place to start is to create a more “open” environment where staff can ask questions and learn about differences. No employee should “hide” something when they come to work. Employers will benefit by encouraging all employees to bring their full self to work every day. Encourage and seek out diversity of thought and actively include different perspectives.  That is fundamental to a workplace where innovation and competitiveness is fostered.

Success is dependent on promoting a work environment that is inclusive of every person and that allows every employee to reach his or her full potential.  We are a people business, as we grow as a global company, we recognize that our edge depends in our ability to attract and retain talent in a global marketplace. Today’s employees are a diverse mix of ages, races, religions, backgrounds, and personalities. They have different or similar lifestyles, sexual orientations, work styles, levels or education and ways of seeing the world. At RBC, we try to create an environment that recognizes the perspective of the individual and builds approaches customized to the individual. That ties in to one of our key values of diversity for growth and innovation.  It has worked well for us and it can work for others too. The idea is simple. The hard work is in being open to it and asking the right questions.

RBC recently released a new whitepaper, “Outsmarting our Brains“, with Ernst & Young that discusses how everyone has unconscious biases that can influence actions and decisions.  Left unaddressed, hidden biases have the power to derail an organization’s success.  By learning to recognize and address our biases, one can mitigate their impact and maximize the potential of individuals, teams and organizations.

Question markWhat are some strategies that employers can use to help newly promoted internationally-trained managers progress in their managerial development?

By Glem Dias, Talent & Diversity Strategist

For internationally-educated professionals (IEPs) that are transitioning into a managerial role there is an added level of complexity. They are operating not just outside their individual expertise, but must understand the cultural context where results depend on the ability to collaborate, influence and engage a team and others colleagues.

Here are some practices that an employer can use to support new IEP managers:

  • Work with the new IEP manager to create and implement a personal development plan (PDP) that addresses critical developmental gaps. The leader should meet with them once a quarter to review the PDP and provide feedback and coaching;
  • Match the IEP with another manager who is highly respected to share peer-peer level insights and lessons learned;
  • Provide a “new manager” toolkit and guide them to resources to hire, on-board, set goals, engage, develop and effectively manage performance of the team;
  • Encourage the new IEP manager to create a network to gain on-going feedback;
  • And consider “360 feedback” towards the end of their first year.

Question markAssume Sarah’s employer recognized cultural barriers were linked to certain performance issues. What interventions could her employer have made once the poor performance was perceived? 

By Sabina Michael, Program Manager, Business Edge 

The first step in a situation like Sarah’s is for the manager to provide timely feedback. Too often internationally educated employees such as Sarah receive their first form of real feedback’ in the form of a termination notice. This is too late; and it represents a situation where everyone loses.

Delivering feedback, however, is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. Managers who work with internationally-educated professionals (IEPs) need to recognize that different cultures understand and perceive feedback very differently.

In Canada, professional settings are often characterized by indirect communication. Thus, if a manager is delivering feedback to an employee from an indirect culture, they might deliver it in a method fairly similar to how they would for a Canadian-born employee.

If, on the other hand, the IEP comes from a culture where the communication is very direct, the employee may struggle with indirect feedback. They may find the ‘feedback sandwich’ difficult to decode, and therefore miss the point completely. A manager should strive to give direct feedback in order to clearly convey the message. Focus on the content of message, rather than on non-verbal cues such as body language, intonation and register in speech.

Further, it is critical to set clear goals and concrete deliverables. Employees are then able to understand and focus on the key deliverables. Managers should allow for frequent check-in meetings to provide employees with the opportunity to clarify questions and review performance. Additional support from a mentor, coach or ‘cultural buddy’ would also be of great help.

The manager and IEP alike should keep the following in mind. Each should strive to increase their understanding of the other person’s perspective before jumping to conclusions. And each should address cultural issues in an open, honest way before they become insurmountable. Sarah’s case is one where everyone loses. Described here is a situation where everyone comes out ahead.

More Resources

Video – Business Edge for Internationally Trained Professionals – learn more about the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto program from participants, employers and faculty.

Video – Integrating Talent Video– Reward and Recognition
Cultural differences can influence the effectiveness of performance feedback in a diverse workplace. The effects of these differences are highlighted in the fourth installment of Integrating Talent, a training video created by TRIEC that follows the fictional experiences of the skilled immigrant Tarek and his employer MetroCan Technologies.

Roadmap – Manage Performance
In this section of the Roadmap learn how to set goals, outline expectations and provide regular feedback to help skilled immigrant employees perform effectively.

E-learning coursePerformance Management
This course examines the role of cultural norms in performance management and leadership.

Work and Culture

Interactive online learning helps skilled immigrants and employers understand the role of culture at work, so that everyone benefits.

By The Wave

Qualified but can’t fit in: the dilemma of internationally educated professionals (IEP) in Canada.

Fact: Less than half of qualified foreign trained professionals find work in their field in Canada. Even less are able to keep their jobs.

Employers say poor “cultural fit” is a key reason why IEPs are either not hired or not kept. But we desperately need immigrant professionals and hiring does happen. Even so, employers have difficulty integrating newcomers, and newcomers complain that they don’t understand what Canadians want from them at work.  Everyone feels so uncomfortable and frustrated that they frequently don’t stay together for long.

Understanding Canadian workplace cultural norms is KEY to improving this situation for both employers and international professionals. Unfortunately cultural competency training, if you find some that is appropriate for your industry, is time consuming and costly.  Global Leadership Associates Inc, funded by Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education created Work and Culture Online to respond to this issue.

A practical solution: Work and Culture Online

WCO consists of 10 interactive online learning modules. The goal is to help both internationally trained professionals and their managers understand the role of culture at work, and to improve integration of newcomers into the Canadian workplace so that everyone benefits. It is available 24/7 as a go-to resource for employers, managers and internationally trained workers. You can access it for free or take the entire sequence as a professional development course complete with final exam and  certificate. Although just recently launched, WCO already boasts over 1,200 users and is attracting attention from around the world.

Increased cultural responsiveness means more productive workplaces

Work and Culture Online responds to the needs of both internationally trained professionals and their employers by providing an accessible resource that can be used as a reference, job aid and a professional advancement tool, anytime, anywhere. Links to existing resources and organizations providing support can be found throughout the modules.

Visit Work and Culture Online

Enhancing Immigrants’ Essential ‘Soft’ Skills – a Win-Win Solution

Integrating essential skills into business practices does not have to be time consuming or complicated and helps both the employer and new immigrant employee.

By Shareef Korah, Ottawa Business Journal

Finding and keeping workers with the knowledge and skills needed to get the job done is critical for today’s businesses. Learning more about the nine essential skills used in nearly every job can help you reap the benefits of effectively engaging immigrants at work.

Many employers recognize that immigrants have the technical skills required to complete workplace tasks, but often find that they lack the equally valued “soft skills”, such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork, to excel at work.

A pilot project led by Bow Valley College, Success in the Workplace: Essential Skills Training for Immigrant Professionals, found that this “disconnect” between the skills workers thought they needed (technical) and those their employers wanted (soft skills) often faded once both learned about the importance of essential skills.

Essential skills offer employers a common language that can help both employers and employees identify skills gaps and support essential skills development to increase job potential.

Read more here

Bridging the Gap Between Skills and Culture

Program provides skilled immigrants  with the soft skills needed to advance their careers.

By Jared Linzon, The Globe and Mail

When Luiss Zaharia moved to Canada in 2002, she knew that she would have to work her way up the corporate ladder, but she never imagined that it would be so difficult to find a career that matched her qualifications.

In her native Romania, she worked at Bancpost, a Bucharest-based bank, where she held a post equivalent to vice-president of operations. Though she made only about $400 a month and struggled to get by financially, she had an MBA in banking and stock exchange management, and managed eight of the bank’s branches.

She certainly had the know-how, she thought, for a job in Canada’s financial services sector. When she went to interviews in her field, however, hiring managers would turn her away, saying she did not have enough Canadian experience.

Read more here

Also read by The Globe and MailThis Business Program Changed the Future for these Newcomers to Canada.

For more about Business Edge by hireimmigrants read “Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Assetand  “Ask the Expert“.

Technology and Innovation in Talent Management

In this article, Cathy Gallagher-Louisy of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion, highlights the work of two Alberta employers who have used technology and innovative approaches to address the challenges of talent acquisition, retention and talent management in order to their diversify their workforce and create an inclusive work environment for all.  

This article was originally published in HUMANCapital, Winter 2013 issue , and reproduced with permission of HRIA and its publisher Naylor (Canada), Inc.

By Cathy Gallagher-Louisy, Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion

As an HR or Talent Management professional, the biggest challenges you face are attracting and retaining top talent, and providing an engaging workplace where employees can thrive.  These are no small tasks.  Alberta’s HR community is well aware of the myriad of challenges posed by talent shortages.

One of the best ways to address these challenges is by ensuring you are tapping into all available talent in the market.  This can be done through diversifying your talent pool and creating an inclusive work environment for all.

Talent pools look more different today than they ever have before.  Immigration is rapidly changing the demographic makeup of Alberta’s towns and cities.  We are challenged with providing engaging work environments for four generations in the workplace – with each generation having vastly different expectations of the employment deal. Furthermore, the fastest growing demographic in Canada is Indigenous People: Aboriginals, Inuit, Métis and Peoples of the First Nations. All these demographic changes impact the talent pool and ultimately Alberta’s workplaces.

Talent shortages, low engagement and high turnover all create significant costs for
organizations; therefore HR and Talent Management professionals have the opportunity to provide real bottom-line impact for their employers.  Organizations that create an inclusive and engaging work environment have a competitive advantage when trying to attract top talent – especially in a talent shortage.

The Challenges of Attracting, Retaining and Promoting Diverse Talent

Recently Halogen Software embarked on a unique interactive research initiative called HR Raging Debates, asking over 8,000 HR thought leaders for their views on the topic of the talent shortage. Their findings indicate that most view the talent shortage as a real problem, but it is not necessarily caused by the things we thought, such as lack of
employment-ready college and university graduates, or lack of the right skills or experience. Instead, they suggest the talent shortage is in part, being caused by organizations’ lack of ability to think creatively in order tap new talent pools and attract the right people.

Innovative, creative approaches are required by HR and Talent Management professionals to address today’s challenges.

Innovative Approaches Using Technology

We are pleased to highlight the work of two Alberta employers who have used technology and innovative approaches to address the challenges of talent acquisition, retention and talent management: The City of Calgary and Morrison Hershfield.  To find out more, we spoke with Cheryl Goldsmith, Business Partner, Talent Acquisition and Anne-Marie
Pham, HR Advisor, Diversity & Inclusion at The City of Calgary, as well as Zakeana Reid, Senior Manager, HR Strategic Initiatives at Morrison Hershfield.

LinkedIn Program at The City of Calgary

The City of Calgary  has implemented an innovative approach to increasing the diversity of their applicant pool.  The LinkedIn Program, implemented in October 2012, uses technology to leverage relationships and reach previously untapped networks.

Here’s how it works:  each week, The City posts five of their hard to fill positions on LinkedIn.  The unique aspect of the postings is that there is a “Contact Us” link which enables individual job seekers to directly connect with a City recruiter.  Potential applicants can ask questions about the position, and get information from a Human Resources Advisor  about working at  The City of Calgary, all prior to submitting an application.

“This significantly levels the playing field,” said Anne-Marie Pham,, HR Advisor, Diversity & Inclusion.  “Applicants no longer have to rely just on their existing network and who they know at The City to find out more about the position and its requirements.”

Implementation of the Program

In order to implement this new program, The City established recruiter accounts on LinkedIn, and put together a marketing and communications plan to internally and externally promote  The City’s LinkedIn page.  Internally, the Talent Acquisition team developed a plan to encourage employees to share LinkedIn job postings. They used all available channels, including The City s intranet, emails, banner ads, and in-person presentations to business units and HR advisors.

Externally, communications included presentations and regular communication with partner agencies of The City , such as Bow Valley Collegethe Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC)Champions Career CentreAboriginal FuturesAboriginal Human Resources Association, Hire Canadian Military, and many others.

“The City’s employees’ existing networks are diverse, and so are the networks of our community partners,” said Pham. “Through this program, City recruiters, with the help of employees and partners, are able to reach out to a very diverse network.”

Goals of the Program

The goals of The City’s use of LinkedIn are: to enrich the candidate experience, to make the The City of Calgary an employer of choice for all citizens, and to use LinkedIn as a key tool to create a broad and diverse pipeline of candidates for various positions.

“Our primary purpose was to be more inclusive for all individuals wanting to work at The City of Calgary ,” said Cheryl Goldsmith, Business Partner, Talent Acquisition.

Measures of Success

Measurement is a key component of any successful program.  Quantitatively, The City tracks the number of followers on The City of Calgary pages, the number of applicants sourced through LinkedIn, the number of interviews and hires made from LinkedIn-sourced candidates, and the number of shares through LinkedIn. Qualitatively, they collect feedback from hiring managers and new hires about the quality of their LinkedIn experience.  Response to the program has been very positive.

The City of Calgary  has found the use of LinkedIn to be valuable in several ways. First it is giving them access to more diverse talent pools; second, it is allowing them to more easily fill hard to fill positions; and third, it is allowing them to easily develop relationships with potential candidates and community agencies for future opportunities.

Management Capability Development Program at Morrison Hershfield

Morrison Hershfield, an employee-owned engineering with 2 offices in Alberta – Calgary & Edmonton –has increased the ethnic and gender diversity of their management team through the Management Capability Development Program.

In the early stages of the program, Morrison Hershfield wasn’t deliberately targeting women and visible minorities.  But the results of an assessment showed there were a number of women and visible minorities who were ready to move up into leadership roles.

Multi-year Approach

The Program has had a phased implementation over the last 6 years.

The first phase involved identifying potential employees for the program: existing high-performers who were at a point in their careers where they might be looking for their next promotion, such as those in senior consultant roles.

Next, they began behavioural and aptitude assessments using a science-based assessment tool called Pathfinder.  Based on 30 years of research, Pathfinder predicts the likelihood for an individual to have exceptional performance in a specific role.  They’ve determined that people who have specific characteristics and aptitudes would tend to perform well in people-management positions.

Although they want to retain high-performing employees and give them the next opportunity on their career paths, Morrison Hershfield wanted to ensure they were not putting people into roles where they were destined to fail. In many organizations, high-performers who are technically excellent individual contributors are often promoted into management roles because it is the only way to give them a promotion.  But not everyone is a good manager.

For those employees who don’t necessarily have the aptitude for people-management, Morrison Hershfield provides a technical career path that goes up to the senior director level, one level below Vice President.  This allows Morrison Hershfield to retain and promote high-performing employees without having to give them management responsibilities.

“We don’t want good employees to leave, even if they aren’t great managers,” said Zakeana Reid, Senior Manager, HR Strategic Initiatives. “It’s important for us to provide them with opportunities for advancement where they can thrive and feel like they are valued for their unique skills and contributions.”

Significant Challenges

While multiple studies have shown the benefits of having more gender diversity in leadership teams, the challenge of promoting women into management roles in the engineering field is twofold.  Few women go into engineering as a career path.  Female enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs in Canada reached a peak of 20.6 percent of total enrollment in 2001 and has fluctuated between 17 and 18 percent for the greater part of the past decade.

Further exacerbating that problem, studies have shown that many women leave the engineering field within the first five years of joining.  Since so few women join the field in the first place, and many leave within five years, the pool of management-ready women in engineering is even smaller.

“Studies have suggested that some women who join engineering may become disengaged by being in an environment where there is a majority of scientific men, many of whom tend to enjoy working individually.  Whereas, many women may feel more engaged when their workplace provides more of a sense of community,” said Reid.  “Interestingly, the types of attributes that Pathfinder has found to be characteristics of good managers happen to be aspects that some women in engineering want to have more of in their working lives.”

Training and Development for Management Roles

The third phase of the program involved training and development.  The HR team worked with identified candidates to improve their capabilities around financial management, implementing policies, HR management, and more – essentially how to be a manager at Morrison Hershfield. Developmental plans were created in the company’s talent management system, Halogen, which automatically recommends appropriate courses.

Communication

Communication to employees was about career development rather than diversity and inclusion.  “We wanted to ensure our learning management system and developmental tools were available to all employees at all levels,” said Reid.  “Removal of barriers is about ensuring all people have the same access to same tools.”

The final phase of the process was waiting for available opportunities to arise.  “Just because a bunch of people are ready for promotion, doesn’t mean 20 new management positions suddenly open up,” said Reid.  Over several years, retirements, resignations, re-organizations, and the addition of some new lines of business opened up additional management positions.  When these opportunities arose, they were prepared with promotion-ready people who could apply for those roles.

Results, Results, Results

Although the program was a talent management program, not initially intended to focus on diversity and inclusion, there have been excellent results for Morrison Hershfield’s diversity and inclusion goals.  As a Federal Contractor, Morrison Hershfield is subject to the Employment Equity Act and the requirements of the Federal Contractors Program.  Between 2006 and 2010, they tripled the representation of women in management, and more than quadrupled representation of visible minorities in management.  Also, because of increased representation in middle management, Morrison Hershfield now has a more diverse pool of high-potentials candidates when executive roles become available.

Innovative Use of Technology Yields Great Results

Acquisition, retention and development of diverse talent are essential for every organization today – especially in a talent shortage.  Sharing promising practices like these programs at Morrison Hershfield and The City of Calgary, and leveraging great ideas about the innovative approaches that are being used by some employers can help all HR and Talent Management professionals access new sources of talent and remove barriers, creating more inclusive workforces for all Albertans.

Managing Inclusion from the Middle

In this article Lisa Anne Palmer provides useful  tips for organizations to support middle managers to create culturally-inclusive work environments. (This article was originally published in the Ottawa Business Journal.)

By Lisa Anne Palmer

Many organizations invest a great deal of time and effort in the hopes of creating an inclusive work environment. They have top down initiatives to assess organizational maturity, communicate corporate values and highlight senior management commitment. They have bottom-up initiatives led by employee councils to promote and celebrate the spirit of diversity. These efforts make a great deal of business sense and are important elements of a sound Inclusion Strategy.

Then, why is it that HR and senior management within these same organizations are so often left scratching their heads to figure out why they are not achieving the desired results?

Support ‘Managers in the Middle.’

Middle managers are the ones who have to juggle competing priorities and oversee operations while fighting day-to-day fires. What’s more, times of fiscal restraint are placing added pressure on Ottawa’s managers with regards to employee motivation and engagement.

Overworked middle managers are the people that senior management, HR and employees rely on to implement the lion’s share of inclusion initiatives.  They are the gateway to the organization as they do the majority of hiring, communicating, requesting of accommodations, and managing of performance, etc.

At the end of the day, middle managers can have the greatest impact on the success of initiatives designed to effect cultural change. Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of managers at all levels from a range of organizations. The vast majority are on side with creating inclusive work environments and leveraging diversity. By the same token, many are still at a loss for how to accomplish this while they meet pressing demands.

Concentrate meaningful levels of effort and resources to support middle managers to integrate diversity.

It is not enough to ‘sell’ managers on the benefits of implementing diversity for their organization – organizations need to make it easier for middle managers to create inclusive work environments. Managers not only need the proper skills and personal attributes, but also tools and strategies that simplify integrating diversity management into their daily human resources and business activities.

How can organizations support middle managers so that they have the knowledge, tools and strategies they need to create inclusive work environments?

They can begin by ensuring that the proper infrastructure is in place to support managers as they strive to create a culturally-inclusive work environment. Progressive policies and senior management commitment provide a solid foundation. However, simplifying related processes so that managers can more easily integrate key elements into their daily operations is what will lead to desired results.

Here are 7 tips for organizations to support middle managers to create culturally-inclusive work environments:

1.    Provide useful and easy-to-access resources: Introduce managers to excellent resources that can connect them with a pipeline of diverse candidates such as theOttawa Job Match Network. Added benefit – this service is free, which can help defray costs during times of fiscal constraint.

2.    Work with recruiters to get strategic:  Engage those who have expertise in outreach to diverse audiences and provide an easy way to post job ads using media geared to qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds. Your organization can also work with Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Federal Internship for Newcomers Program to source highly-qualified job-ready candidates..

3.    Make it easy for Managers to raise their own awareness and that of their employees. Refer your managers to free-of-charge cross-cultural training through Hire Immigrants Ottawa (HIO). In addition, provide them with available on-line training resources and videos through the Cross-Cultural Teamwork Series.

4.    Have key contacts within the organization that can provide managers with additional support: Ensure that managers have access to advisors with the necessary skills to help them raise awareness and address challenging situations. For instance, HR representatives and leaders within your organization can receive advanced training as Facilitators of Cross-Cultural Change (FC3), also offered through HIO.

5.    Simplify cultural accommodation processes: Review existing related processes and establish the necessary infrastructure for requesting accommodation. Ensure that middle managers and employees are well aware of accommodation processes and how to use them.

To find out more about tools and strategies that can help you support managers to create inclusive work environments, you can visit the HIO website. A good place to begin is HIO’s Tools and Resources page, where you can access excellent, free-of-charge tools and strategies to suit your needs.

Lisa Anna Palmer is Principal and Owner of Cattelan Palmer Consulting. Lisa is also Ottawa’s 1st Passion Test Facilitator and helps individuals from all diverse backgrounds who face job loss or who feel stuck in their jobs to better align their career to what is most important to them. Lisa continues to be an avid supporter of HIO where she served as an employer council representative (2009-2011).

Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Asset


Canadian employers share a problem: You hire an internationally educated professional who has the right skills, degree, and workplace experience, but who under performs without explanation.  This is where Business Edge, a bridging program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Mangement, enables and empowers skilled immigrants to move back into jobs where they can fully utilize their skills, education and professional experience. 

(In the next few month we will have guest experts comment on the story. Please note student names used in this article have been changed for privacy reasons.)

By Dana Wagner, Maytree

You hire qualified people with the right skills and experience. You expect that some will thrive and some will not because they simply don’t fit your workplace. However, if a new hire does under perform somewhat curiously, and particularly if that person was educated and perhaps raised outside Canada, there is a strong case for a slightly different outlook. Is she truly a bad fit? Or, are you about to fire an asset to your company?

Sarah’s case

In the eyes of her employer, Sarah was doing something wrong. She was not meeting her project targets and she was not getting much internal visibility.

Sarah is a mechanical engineer educated in Iran and for the past four years, she worked
as a manager in engineering in Canada. When she was moved from a management role because her employer thought she was better suited to a technical position, Sarah decided to resign. Although she knew management was right for her, she wasn’t excelling and she didn’t know why.

“I tried to gain confidence in my job, but after each mistake it became harder, especially because nobody explained what went wrong,” said Sarah.

A unique program at the Rotman School of Management identifies the problem as an inability of some employees to navigate intercultural dynamics in the workplace. Professionals who are new to Canadian workplace culture often find their soft skills are no longer working, like their communication, networking, and ability to advance. Over time, internationally educated professionals (IEPs) can lose confidence and stop engaging.

It’s a particularly disruptive problem in the workplace because culture is difficult to recognize as a root cause. “It’s very often attributed to the person,” said Sabina Michael,
Program Manager of the Business Edge for Internationally Educated Professionals at Rotman.

IEPs can be fluent in English, overqualified for their position and, on paper, poised to advance. But their inability to navigate a new culture can come across as a language problem, or worse, as a lack of interpersonal and other soft skills.

Intercultural barriers limit opportunities to gain visibility in a company and harm relationships with colleagues and management. Since underperformance frustrates managers, the underperformers will either stagnate or be fired.

Employers lose when IEPs experience career-limiting, intercultural challenges. Companies invest in hiring international talent, but when IEPs don’t show initiative, they don’t contribute in meetings, or they don’t give feedback effectively, “it doesn’t help them, it doesn’t help the employer.”

Delivering the Business Edge

In response to the glut of overqualified and underperforming IEPs, Rotman developed a program to strip the guesswork from navigating Canadian business culture. Business Edge targets men and women who are underemployed but determined to advance.

Participants in the six-month program learn skills needed to gain visibility and build networks. Communication is emphasized, for instance, how to decode subtle messages and manage difficult conversations.

The premise is that awareness unlocks potential. Michael encourages employers to think about the cultural shift employees experience when they switch companies, and imagine that magnified when someone has switched countries. From this perspective, it’s clear that people are able to adapt to a new culture, it often just takes awareness.

“When you are raised in a particular culture you are attuned to the signals of what is okay and what is not okay. Thrown into a new culture you don’t see those signals,” said Michael. “The program really trains you to be a cultural detective.”

A unique program element is its gender focus. Separate courses are offered for men and women because, while problems they face may be the same, the ways they deal with them can be very different. For instance, men and women may take a different approach in negotiating style, networking, and relations with a manager.

An assessment of participants at the one year mark after completion indicates the approach is successful. Over 70 per cent of Business Edge graduates in the last cohort advanced their careers, whether by landing a new position, a promotion, or achieving a lateral move where they negotiated additional responsibilities.

A graduate of the program, Sarah is now employed in a new management role with a global automotive manufacturer, with an even broader scope of responsibilities than in her previous job. She impressed her new employer during interviews and when she asked for better terms, they agreed right away.

“I know myself better and I know my strengths better,” said Sarah.

Intercultural dynamics in your talent management strategy  

If it is rare for IEPs to recognize intercultural barriers, you – the employer – are even less likely to have the ‘aha’ moment.

To recognize if IEPs underperform because of an alien workplace culture, Michael points to performance reviews as a strong indicator. If interpersonal, communication, or other soft skills are sub-par, the source may be cultural, not personal deficiencies. Another sign is a person with high potential who you want to see take on roles of greater responsibility, but who is simply not changing and not adapting.

You may also need to shift your thinking on investment in international talent to the medium-term. One such investment is in providing additional support structures for IEPs. Often, workplaces have internal support like one-on-one mentoring with management, but managers are not right for intercultural coaching. Michael emphasized that IEPs will not openly discuss vulnerabilities with a manager, and in addition, most managers do not have the time or competencies to coach on soft skills, especially those linked to culture.

If you are unable to provide additional support for IEPs, managers can be trained on recognizing intercultural barriers and how to better communicate from their end. “Canadians tend to be very indirect in our feedback,” said Michael, pointing to a common problem where managers give feedback that someone is underperforming, but the person simply has not heard it.

“Integration is much harder than people anticipate and if they don’t have the support systems for integrating, it becomes very hard,” said Michael.

An inclusive talent management strategy enables IEPs to identify and overcome barriers to their success, and you, to capitalize on the talent at your fingertips.

Learn more about Business Edge, funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.

 Tips for employers

  • One-on-one coaching remains a highly effective tool to identify and overcome barriers that prevent IEPs from reaching their full potential
  • Coaching for IEPs should be an additional component to one-on-one professional development with management, since they are less likely to openly talk about problems to a supervisor
  • A starting point to identify the IEPs who underperform because of intercultural dynamics is to look at performance reviews, especially results on interpersonal and other soft skills
  • Managers should be trained on recognizing career-limiting errors linked to culture and on ways they can help, for instance, by improving their own communication style

Video
Business Edge for Internationally Trained Professionals – learn more about the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto program from participants, employers and faculty.

Diversify Your Team: Looking Beyond Recruitment

Law firm Stikeman Elliot recognizes the value of hiring a diverse staff but they also realize the need to also invest, mentor and engage these new staff members to develop a productive working atmosphere. This article was originally published by HRM Online oJune 13, 2013

Canada’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, so your customer base and talent pool are likely a mix that wouldn’t have been seen 20 years ago. There are plenty of soft reasons for increasing diversity, but if you still need to be convinced, how does an increase in sales and revenue sound?

Companies with teams are likely to have better results, according to a University of Illinois study, which found that for every percentage increase in the rate of racial or gender diversity up to the rate represented in the relevant population, there was an increase in sales revenues of approximately 9% and 3%, respectively.

It’s an area that law firm Stikeman Elliot has been focused on for 15 years, starting with an ad hoc, grass roots system and building to today’s organized process for hiring, developing and promoting staff.

A focus on diversity gives the company two advantages, according to Anne Ristic, the Assistant Managing Partner Toronto. One is in recruitment – a focus on diversity gives a broader pool of candidates and therefore a better opportunity to hire the best talent. Secondly, as the firm, like many companies, increases its global client base a diverse team is an advantage for building relationships and understanding other culture groups.

“Having diversity in our workforce helps us increase our cultural fluency and our ability to connect with clients from different cultures whether in Canada or internationally,” Ristic said. It’s also  a recruitment tool as diversity becomes increasingly important for attracting top candidates.

Over the past 15 years the company has seen a big increase in diversity at every level, learning that simply hiring a more diverse group is not enough.

“When we started our focus tended to be on recruitment. We thought we just need to recruit people from different communities and then the problem would take care of itself,” Ristic said. “We realized we needed to do more on both sides – community outreach to get people applying in the first place, and then on the other side, once people are working with you, investing in mentoring and engagement. It’s important to look at what you’re doing at every stage along the pipeline.”

So how did they do it? First was to analyze every step of their employee’s lifecycle, from hiring to partner, and developing clear, objective, written criteria for every stage so everyone from new candidates to the hiring team to the executive branch understood the criteria and expectations.

They also expanded the mentoring program so each junior staff member had more than one mentor, ensuring a more diverse mentor group which gave all the employees more opportunities to learn, grow and take on more advanced assignments.

But sometimes it’s the small thing that counts. If you have ever attended an event where there was nothing you could eat or had someone repeatedly butcher your name you know how demoralizing that can be. “We ask about dietary restrictions and religious observances. They sound like small things but I think taken together it has made our workforce feel that a broad range of communities recognized within the firm,” Ristic said. “We probably get more feedback on the small things than any of the big things.”

For example, Stikeman’s “Hear my name” initiative allows co-workers to listen to a recording of an individual saying their own name before calling them. This broke down barriers where team members might resist asking for help or collaboration out of fear of mispronouncing a name.

There’s also a reflection room available for religious observances, and the company’s Outlook Calendar includes multi-faith holidays to help accommodate any potential conflicts.

It’s made a difference to engagement at the company, with the last few years’ surveys showing Stikeman staff feel welcomed and supported by the company.

“You need to keep moving forward and keep engaging people. We’re not resting on our laurels and thinking we’ve got it all under control,” Ristic said
.

The Top Five Ways for an Employer to Leverage International Talent

The Waterloo Immigration Partnership provides useful tips on how you can maximize immigrant talent. Check out hireimmigrants.ca local resources section to do the same in your region.

1) Provide an internship opportunity to an internationally trained professional

Through the Immigrant Internship program employers are matched with job-ready, skilled, professional immigrants. Placements offer valuable Canadian work experience to a newcomer and all candidates have been screened and assessed for English usage. Employers benefit from multi-lingual professionals who bring global experience to your company and an opportunity for increasing intercultural awareness. Placement opportunities are a minimum of four months.

For more information contact Lil Premsukh at 519.748.5220.2387 or [email protected]

2) Mentor an internationally trained professional and encourage your staff to do the same

The Mentorship for Immigrant Employment Program brings together internationally trained individuals with local mentors in their field to gain a better understanding of the job market; establish networking contacts; and learn more about sector specific language and professional practice in Canada. The volunteer commitment of no more than a couple hours a month over a 4-6 month period is a valuable opportunity to increase intercultural awareness, learn about your field from an  international perspective and support a newcomer’s efforts to become professionally established in our community.

To become a mentor, or for more information, contact:  in K/W 519.579.9622 and in Cambridge 519.621.1621.

3) Integrate Skills International.ca into your company’s recruitment practices

SkillsInternational.ca is a one-of a-kind database for employers to search for, and find internationally trained professionals to fill their recruitment needs.  Candidates are work authorized, language-ready and pre-screened by organizations who work with immigrants in Waterloo region and across Ontario. Use of this no-cost resource in your recruitment strategy will build your competitive advantage in accessing a hidden talent pool of skilled and motivated professionals.

To get started contact Marlene Meechan at 519.664.3402, [email protected]   or visit www.SkillsInternational.ca

4) Conduct mock interviews and/or resume critiques for internationally trained professionals

Internationally trained professionals, while bringing valuable skills and experiences to Canadian employers, often face barriers in getting their foot in the door.  Professional resume development and interview practice are opportunities to better prepare newcomers by building confidence, understanding behavioural and situational interviewing techniques and ensuring their resume meets employer expectations.  While employment specialists in the community assist job seekers, meeting an employer face to face and gaining their perspective can be invaluable to assisting newcomers to become professionally established in our community.

If you are interested in offering your expertise please contact Lil Premsukh at 59.748.5220.2387 or [email protected]

5) Participate in organized networking and recruitment opportunities and in employer learning seminars

The Immigration Partnership provides opportunities for international talent and employers to connect by organizing and presenting networking and recruiting events. These events provide an opportunity for employers to have a complimentary exhibit space to meet immigrants, promote job opportunities and give an overview of their business. In addition, the Immigration Partnership also presents learning seminars for employers i.e.: business owners, human resource professional and hiring managers. Such seminars (usually a lunch and learn) would cover such topics as: how to offer an inclusive workplace, cross-cultural understanding, how to interview and hire immigrants and other topics which employers may indicate as a knowledge/information.

For more information contact Nora Whittington at 519.575.4757.3173 or [email protected]

Check out the hireimmigrants  local resources section to find  immigrant talent and related programs.

Making Connections – Halifax Regional Municipality and Greater Halifax Partnership

Business needs talent. Talent needs opportunity. A networking program completes the equation. This story was originally published by The Cities of Migration.

Most highly skilled newcomers face a common challenge when looking for work – a lack of local connections and networks. How can a city help its newcomers quickly leap over this hurdle? By keeping it simple. The Connector Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia starts from a simple premise: connect established community, business and government leaders with new talent and help them build professional networks.

For cities, the potential is obvious. Newcomers get jobs, cities get skilled residents and thriving labour markets. Recognizing that the availability of jobs is the primary factor in a newcomer’s decision to stay or leave, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has made workforce recruitment and retention a primary goal of past (2005-10) and current (2011-16) economic plans. To put good policy to work, HRM engaged the Greater Halifax Partnership (the Partnership), the city’s lead economic development organization, to deliver the Connector Program.

The program’s innovation lies in its simplicity. Its approach:

  • Taps into a willingness among knowledgeable business and community leaders to share their professional networks with newcomers;
  • Uses face-to-face interactions – 30 minute meetings – and networking events such as speed interviewing to facilitate connections between employers and newcomers;
  • Provides newcomers with opportunities to learn about the local job market, enhance their networking skills, build a professional network, and improve their job search

A Multiplier Effect

The Connector Program was designed to meet recruitment and retention goals by building and expanding networks between newcomers to Halifax and established members of the community.

Partnership President and CEO Paul Kent explains: “Connectors meet one-on-one with participants, at their office or for coffee, to share their knowledge about their organization or industry sector and current labour market demands. And then they give the participant referrals to three other contacts in their network.” Because Connectors are employers as well as established community members and business leaders, when the professional network of the newcomer grows, “the potential job pool for the Connector also expands” (HRM Council report).

This multiplier effect addresses local labour needs, by connecting newcomers with opportunities to contribute and settle in their new community and by enriching the talent pool available to employers. The Program has ambitious objectives: to raise awareness and change perceptions on the benefits of hiring immigrants; help newcomers establish a professional network and find employment in their field; connect local employers to skilled, employment-ready newcomers; and establish Halifax as a welcoming city and make it the destination of choice for talent.

While the challenge is complex, the program provides a simple solution. Dick Miller, a Connector from The Shaw Group, explains: “Businesses connect with immigrants to try to develop business leads for them, employment opportunities, talk to them about the benefits and to also help them develop a network. It creates an opportunity for an immigrant to engage with the business community.”

Don Sinclair of Halifax insurance company Fraser & Hoyt recently met with newcomers interested in the insurance industry and came away both impressed and committed to help: “I met a group of “ very bright, focused and keen young men and women who see a positive future for Nova Scotia. I’ll be chatting with my contacts in the local insurance industry this week.”

The low tech, high touch approach is working. Prasad Ranay, a program participant, says: “For me, being a person from outside of Halifax it makes a lot of sense for the initial touch and contact with the community. It’s expanded my network as well as expanded my skills and reach in the community.”

Success

According to the Partnership’s Paul Kent, the Connector Program illustrates the power of relationships. Over 500 local Connectors representing over 300 organizations – including all three levels of government – have already participated, working with 428 international students and newcomers. As a result, 177 new immigrants have found jobs. Given that the model is easily adapted for use with various talent pools, it’s no surprise that the program is being replicated in 14 other Canadian cities.

The Connector Program is not just growing externally, but within Halifax as well. GHP has expanded the program to young and emerging talent, adding a campaign to welcome international students studying in Halifax. A recent Speed Interviewing & Networking event using a ‘speed dating’ model brought together nineteen HR and IT professionals from Halifax’s leading digital industry companies with 40 international students and immigrants.

Even though it’s a relatively young program, past participants have already become Connectors, helping other newcomers establish themselves in Halifax. Program participants like Evgenia Tumik are thrilled at the opportunity the Connector Program offers:

“Through meetings I had while participating in the Connector Program, I was able to develop a strong network of professionals in my field. The referral process led me to apply to the position where I am currently employed. With the help of Connector program, I managed to find a position in my field right after graduation. I am so happy to be living in Halifax and hope to give back to other newcomers in the future.”

The Halifax Connector Program is funded under the Canada-Nova Scotia Labour Market Agreement. The Connector Speed Interviewing Event Series is funded by the RBC Foundation. Its work has been recognized by both the Conference Board of Canada and the International Economic Development Council.

Since the publication of this article the Connector Program also received Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s IQN Workplace Integration Award.

Know your Workforce: Using Data Strategically for Inclusion & Organizational Excellence

In this article, Hire Immigrants Ottawa explains the importance of measuring diversity programs in your organization. In May 2013 they held a workshop highlighting two employers’ practices in using such data to improve their organization’s talent management processes.

By Hire Immigrants Ottawa

Gathering demographic data about your employees is widely regarded as a best practice in diversity and inclusion, according to the Canadian Institute on Diversity and Inclusion. 
Their recent report, What Gets Measured Gets Done, suggests that an Employee Census can be a critical first step in designing, implementing and evaluating the efficacy and impact of diversity initiatives. Yet the same report also estimates that nearly one-half of Canadian organizations do not track basic demographic data of their workforces, and few organizations measure the impact of their diversity initiatives.

To learn more about this important topic, Hire Immigrants Ottawa held a workshop on May 15, 2013, for HR professionals, hiring managers and other stakeholders. The session was
led by two Ottawa employers who are using employee data strategically for inclusion and organizational excellence.

Janice McCoy, Superintendent of Human Resources, Ottawa Carleton District School Board, provided an overview of the OCDSB Journey to Building an Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive Culture. Workshop participants heard how OCDSB implemented a workforce census in order to understand the diverse characteristics of their employees and their capacity to serve an increasingly diverse student and parent population. McCoy illustrated how these data are being used to identify employee training and development needs, and to inform the development of the School Board’s policies and procedures.

Lois Emburg, Program Manager, Diversity & Inclusion with the City of Ottawa, spoke about the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens, a practical tool used to promote diversity and inclusion at the City of Ottawa. Emburg spoke about the successes the City has had using the tool and how the City is now undertaking a survey-based evaluation project to measure the impact and effectiveness of the Lens.

Additional Resources you can use:

What Gets Measured Gets Done: Measuring the Return on Investment of Diversity and Inclusion. This report by the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion presents a cross-sector overview of what Canadian employers are currently doing to measure diversity and inclusion, and human rights and equity initiatives within their organizations, and specifically highlights promising practices among leading organizations. The report includes a Toolkit to assist HR practitioners in the area of assessing the ROI of diversity.

Equity and Inclusion Lens
 is an innovative and practical tool that enables all City of Ottawa employees and managers to promote equity and inclusion in a systematic fashion. The Lens is it is accompanied by 11 Diversity Snapshots, which serve as effective education and awareness tools. The Lens is designed for use in all types of work situations, whether it’s working with people, designing communications, developing policies, planning projects, or recruiting, interviewing and training.

Count me in! Collecting human rights-based data is a practical guide for human resources professionals interested in collecting employee demographic data. Produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, this resource includes examples of Canadian companies that have undertaken data gathering initiatives, which the Commission says can play a useful role in creating strong human rights and human resources strategies for organizations in all sectors.

National Household Survey: this 2011 Statistics Canada’s survey has replaced the Census “long-form” as a primary source of information pertaining to characteristics of the Canadian population.  Data about immigration and ethnocultural diversity is now available on-line, and Statistics Canada provides free access to several data products that will be of use to HR professionals and employers who want to better understand the diversity of the communities in which they operate.

Strengthening Teamwork and Building More Effective Service Delivery – The City of Edmonton

City of Edmonton’s Canadian Workplace Culture project develops staff’s communication skills to be more effective in their jobs.

By ERIEC, Wave Blog

The  City of Edmonton is running a Canadian Workplace Culture pilot project for their staff who are Internationally Educated Professionals (IEP) and newcomer graduates from Canadian Universities.  Participants are individuals whose first language may not be English; in fact many of them speak three or more languages and English is the most recent language they have learned. The newcomers were invited to participate in this eight-month project about communication skills and conversation management for the professional workplace. The diversity within the group in terms of number of years of service with the City, how long they have been in Canada, marital status, age, gender and occupation was immense.

Why did the City consider implementing such a project? Language is more than words; it is also about how we communicate. We can learn English grammar, but it’s another thing to learn the soft skills, the cultural nuances and the unwritten rules of communication. That is why the curriculum of the pilot program focuses on integrating IEPs and other graduates into the Canadian Workplace. The sessions follow a structured curriculum and cover a range of topics that includes introduction to the Canadian-workplace culture, non-verbal communication signals, and giving informal and formal presentations. The group meets twice a month between February and December 2013.

To implement a successful program, buy-in from senior leadership is ‘a must’. In this case, the Manager of Drainage Services, and the Diversity and Inclusion Consultant in the Human Resources Branch partnered with Norquest College to assist Drainage staff in improving both their language and presentation skills. The City views this as an investment in their employees and the participants sees this training as an investment toward their careers.

Effective communication is an essential skill in today’s workplace which can lead to collaboration, sharing of information and relationship building. The anticipated outcomes for participants also include increased self confidence and ongoing positive interactions both with team members and customers.

The City hopes that the pilot will be highly successful and that this will lead to similar program offerings to other employees within the City of Edmonton.  Hopefully other employers will follow The City’s lead in building a diverse workforce!

(Special thanks to Candy Khan, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Jeff MacPherson Branch Manager Human Resources, City Of Edmonton for this week’s blog contribution)

10 Ways to Diversify Your Workforce

10 Ways to Diversify Your Workforce

Hiring and promoting employees whose cultural backgrounds represent the clients they serve is key for an organization to succeed .Companies seeking to do this should take the following 10 steps. (This article was originally published on April 23 2012 by Peter Fragale from Diversity Executive)

In health care, a diverse staff can provide great value in meeting the needs of patients from a wide range of cultures — a lesson that carries over to other industries.

An immense challenge lies before the nation’s health care sector: diversifying its workforce. A 2012 study by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, “Diversity as a Business Builder in Healthcare,” found that diversity is lacking in health care leadership. This is unfortunate because industry leaders surveyed in the study believe diversity in the workplace improves patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. This impact on the customer likely has similar effects in other industries.

A key tenet of excellent health care — like any service-oriented industry that meets a customer’s needs — is the caregiver’s ability to understand patients’ needs. This includes their diverse cultural needs — since, as the study noted, minorities account for 98 percent of the population growth in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas during the last decade.

It’s all part of knowing who you serve. Where does a patient, or customer, come from? How about their culture, values and sensitivities? Are these just as important to how we meet their needs?

Knowing all this begins with hiring — and promoting — employees whose cultural backgrounds represent the patients the organization serves. This takes a commitment both internally with employees and externally in the communities served. Companies seeking to do this should take the following 10 steps:

1. Embrace diversity: This seems basic, but it’s critical and worth noting first. A diverse workforce is a true competitive advantage. Promoting a culture that values employees for unique skills, experiences and perspectives distinguishes an organization as all-inclusive, relevant and truly understanding of what customers want and need. In essence, it is a treasure trove of customer and business intelligence.

Internally, the more leaders understand and respect their employees’ differences, the easier it will be to make seemingly difficult conversations more comfortable. This is critical when serving a religiously, culturally or otherwise diverse customer base.

2. Create a visual of your team: Keep ethnicity and gender data on hand so that hiring managers can create a visual picture of the individuals on each team. When numbers and percentages fail, this mental image of who is on the team can help senior leadership see where diverse populations are underrepresented or underutilized and especially compare them to the customer population. Of course, this comes with the need to reassure the team that only the most qualified candidates should be hired.

3. Build a hit list of superstars: Ask existing staff to refer potential recruits, since great employees usually associate with one another or can easily spot a top performer. Not hiring immediately? Collect and build a list of superstars to hire in the future. Keep in touch with them in the meantime.

4. Network with diverse organizations: Develop relationships with ethnically diverse professional associations and organizations, as well as local community boards and civic associations. Attend their conferences, speak at their functions and reciprocate by inviting them to company open houses and job fairs. Also, connect with vendors and suppliers who share a value for diversity and alert them to job openings for which they may have a candidate.

5. Set diversity expectations with recruiters: When using outside recruiters, ask for a diverse set of candidates and examples of high-caliber recruits they have recently placed. If they cannot easily rattle off a litany of names, then find another recruiter.

6. Invite staff into the inner circle: Create an environment of inclusion where all staff members feel valued, embrace the company’s mission, feel part of its vision and are fully tuned in with the organization’s business strategy. Help them understand just how important diversity is to serving customers best and that every individual is a big part of that. It’s easy to lose top performers because they feel detached, especially in large organizations.

7. Let your employees shine: Acknowledge — and celebrate — your staff’s accomplishments and set them up for success. This small step goes a long way in engaging employees and encouraging them to go the extra mile. Give opportunities for employees to demonstrate excellence. Assign them projects that suit their skills, recognize their achievement and celebrate it in a public way — either inside or outside your organization. In this recognition, make a point to celebrate them as a diverse individual, not just their work.

8. Mentor and shadow: The best learning happens in the field, so develop a mentoring and shadowing program that pairs hiring managers with employees of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds or genders. This creates a trusted, educational environment where employees can feel safe about asking questions regarding different backgrounds, and also lets them see different cultural styles at work.

9. Achieve employees’ dreams: Encourage leaders to know the career desires of the staff who report to them. This puts them in the position to always know when a promotional opportunity might be the best fit and help further their career goals. It also gives the opportunity to challenge employees with new assignments that broaden their skills and expose them to different chances for success.

10. Over-communicate: Relationships matter, and they are only built with repeated communication. This could mean deliberately initiating a conversation with an employee, listening to what they say, providing feedback and calling their attention to your follow through. Or, it can mean brief acknowledgements of their work, which add up and make a difference over time. On the other end of the spectrum, it should take the form of an internal communications plan that, from an HR perspective, tells employees what positions are open, how to apply, updates from HR, etc.

A key to all these steps is relationships — inside and out — with those already hired and targeted to join your team. No matter the industry — be it health care or another — businesses can use focused attention on recruitment of minorities as a way to build culture, morale and the strength of the entire business.

Enhance Skilled Immigrants’ Essential ‘Soft’ Skills to Boost Success

Resources that build on essential skills, such as communication and teamwork, can help you make the most of the technical skills your skilled immigrants already possess.

Finding and keeping workers with the knowledge and skills needed to get the job done is critical for today’s businesses. Learning more about the nine essential skills that are used in nearly every job in Canada can help you reap the benefits of effectively engaging immigrants at work.

Many employers recognize that immigrants possess the technical skills required for their businesses and have much to offer to their organizations. However, employers often find that newcomers lack “soft skills” such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills that are often valued more than technical skills.

A pilot project led by Bow Valley College, Success in the Workplace: Essential Skills Training for Immigrant Professionals, found that the “disconnect” between the skills workers thought they needed (technical) and those their employers wanted (soft skills) often faded away once both learned the importance of essential skills.

Essential skills offered employers and foreign trained professionals a common language that allowed them to recognize an individual’s strengths and to develop a focused training plan that would lead to improving skills needed on the job.

Both employers and workers indicated that they felt more confident in their skills at work and foreign trained professionals increased their ability to more effectively interact with clients, deliver presentations and work with colleagues.

Integrating essential skills into business practices does not have to be time consuming or complicated. For example:

  • The Vocabulary Building Workbook can be used to help new recruits to improve communication skills, both oral and written, by helping immigrant professionals boost vocabulary commonly used at work in Canada.
  • The Working with Others Tip Sheet can also be drawn on to offer workers practical tips to help improve teamwork skills when interacting with co-workers.

Canada’s aging population and slowing labour force growth have positioned skilled immigrants as a vital source of talent and skills needed by new and growing enterprises. Businesses that effectively attract, retain and engage these workers benefit from increased innovation, productivity and overall competitiveness.

For more information on essential skills and to access helpful guides, checklists and worksheets, check out the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills‘ website.

Best Employer Competition Recognizes Firms for Career Development

Desjardins Group is committed to career development and promoting from within, which helps keep the turnover rate at just 4.6 per cent, according to the 2012 Financial Post’s 10 Best Companies to Work For.

This commitment extends to supporting skilled immigrant employees and is one of the reasons Desjardins is one of the winner’s of this year’s competition, a subset of Canada’s Top 100 Employers that is limited to fast-growing, private-sector employers that offer opportunities for rapid career advancement and cutting-edge employee perks.

Sandeep Munshi, an engineer from India, started working at Desjardins’ insurance division in Mississauga, Ont., in 2004, two years after immigrating to Canada.

Over the years, Mr. Munshi has worked his way up from sales agent to field claims advisor with the support of Desjardin’s internal career counsellors and training and education support.

That education support, which includes tuition subsidies and bonuses for the completion of certain professional accreditation, paid for Mr. Munshi to become a chartered insurance professional.

His ultimate career goal is to become a commercial property appraiser, combining his engineering background with his Canadian insurance experience, a goal that Desjardins fully supports, according to the Financial Post article.

The company also offers other resources to help employees grow their careers within the credit union, including resumé-writing and interviewing support.

All of the winners of the 2012 Financial Post’s 10 Best Companies to Work For have substantial hiring needs, despite the slower economy, mostly due to retiring baby boomers, says Richard Yerema, Managing Editor of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

While the national unemployment rate is at 7.5 per cent, a high concentration of the unemployed are unskilled workers with most professions and trades near full employment, says Mr. Yerema.

Opportunities for career advancement, competitive compensation, retirement plans, benefits programs and work-life balance set apart this year’s winners and help them attract and retain top talent in a competitive labour market, he says.

Financial Post’s 10 Best Companies to Work For (in alphabetical order):

TalentNet: Develop Inclusive Talent Management Competencies

Immigrant employees are often overlooked and undervalued, resulting in costly turnover. Managers must be able to recognize talent and facilitate social capital for employee retention.

TalentNet is a free, immersive learning game that helps players learn about effective management practices for employee engagement and development in a multicultural workplace.

You will learn how your own cultural orientation affects your perceptions and expectations without your being aware of it.

When you start TalentNet, you will be a new manager of a multicultural team. You will want to develop the ability to recognize the competencies of the employees, and to ensure that they feel engaged and are productive.

Widening your cultural lens will make it easier for you to help them adapt to your organization’s culture, and at the same time, allow you to tap into their competencies and abilities, insuring maximum organizational capacity.

You will learn how to develop develop inclusive talent management competencies for employee engagement, performance appraisal, and identification of high potential employees.

Play the game.

Enhance Retention Through Promotion and Recognition

Seeing a clear path to promotion is one way to increase employee retention. Many Canadian employers are used to employees taking charge of their own career development but in many cultures, it is customary for employees to wait for an invitation for promotion.

To ensure these employees have the same access to career advancement, and thus remain engaged with your organization, there are ways for managers to be proactive and encourage skilled immigrants to apply for suitable opportunities:

  • Show an interest in the employee’s career growth and invite more ongoing dialogue about learning needs, skill development and future career goals.
  • Identify high potential employees that include skilled immigrants and develop them for expanded or more senior roles in the future.
  • Identify lateral employment opportunities to help skilled immigrants tap unused skill sets and develop new skills with a different part of the organization.

There are a number of other ways to ensure employees remain committed to your organization even when new jobs and monetary rewards are not available.

One of these is to provide regular recognition and appreciation for hard work. Taking time to acknowledge efforts publicly can be just as powerful as providing monetary-based bonuses.

Additional Resources

  • Cost of Hiring Calculator: This calculator will assist you in capturing all relevant direct and indirect costs of hiring a new employee. Once you have completed the calculator, you’ll be able to see how enhancing retention can significantly reduce your costs.
  • Guide to Succession Planning: Succession planning enables organizations to grow talent by aligning employees with potential future vacancies. This guide outlines the typical steps in the selection planning process.
  • Succession Planning Position Template: This template allows you to track employees’ development and readiness for senior roles.

Addressing Poor Performance

Addressing poor performance gives employees opportunities for growth.

Express your concerns in productive ways by providing examples and reiterating expectations. Then outline a practical approach with dates and targets.

Additional Resources:

Specialized Language Training

If language is primary barrier holding a skilled immigrant employee from contributing more to your organization, provide specialized language training, which is a proven, successful retention strategy.

The following are some suggestions:

  • Invest in external, occupation-specific language training for skilled immigrant employees who require specialized language enhancement.
  • Help all employees, including skilled immigrants, to develop presentation and business communication skills by offering skills development opportunities, such as Toastmasters or specialized courses.
  • Host a social styles workshop to help new employees understand how colleagues might perceive their communication styles.

Additional Resources

  • Employer Success Stories: Read how Teranet increased employee collaboration, confidence, and performance through an in-house communications program. And read how Iris Power Engineering and Teshmont Consultants are maximizing the talents and skills of immigrants in their organization:
  • Webinar: Learn why and how Algorithmics works with a community agency to develop customized language programs for skilled immigrant employees.
  • Webinar: Learn how business communication classes can help you leverage the talent of your diverse workforce, improve teamwork and increase innovation, morale and employee retention.

Understand Career Goals and Learning Needs

Ongoing talent development is essential to retaining employees. For skilled immigrants, especially those not yet working to their full capacity, employers should be especially sensitive to both their professional needs as well as cultural differences.

In many cultures, workplace harmony is valued over competitiveness and ambition (pursuing job promotions is frowned upon), and hard work is understood implicitly to lead to a future promotion. For skilled immigrants working in progressive employer environments that value professional development, this could pose a dilemma – the pressure to participate in training in conflict with a desire to work well at one’s job.

Some employers interpret a lack of enthusiasm towards professional development to passivity when it is merely a cultural difference.

Tips to Understanding Career Goals and Learning Needs

  • Assess the current skill sets of skilled immigrant employees to identify untapped expertise as well as areas requiring improvement.
  • Provide occupation-specific skills training (including specialized language classes), job-sharing, job-shadowing and mentorship opportunities to help skilled immigrants develop the competencies required for promotion. Consider using a non-profit employment service agency for the training. This will also ensure that your organization is on the road to creating a more inclusive work environment for all employees.
  • Identify paths to grow into other opportunities in the organization.

Regular Two-Way Feedback Boosts Employee Performance

Effective employee performance management is essential to ensuring all employees, including skilled immigrants, are performing at their best.

The first step is to ensure your performance management policy has clear guidelines to address all employees’ performance, including skilled immigrants.

Performance appraisals are an integral part of any performance management program. These appraisals are opportunities to provide constructive feedback and are essential to managing performance. For skilled immigrants, this feedback should demonstrate how they can progress in their position and gain new skills.

While annual performance appraisals are important, you shouldn’t wait until then to give employees feedback on their performance. Instead, incorporate two-way feedback into daily operations and ensure positive and constructive feedback is a natural and frequent aspect of the work environment.

This may be difficult for members of some cultures who are not accustomed to providing critical feedback to management, whether actual or perceived. And be sensitive to differences in employee attitudes, perceptions, experience and culture so you can position your feedback as effectively as possible.

Ultimately, the purpose of giving feedback is to direct behaviour, motivate employees and improve performance, not to comment on personality or style.

Additional resources

Development Opportunities Boost Engagement and Performance

Training and development is a critical component to ensuring all employees are able to perform effectively and continue to grow their skills and careers. It also helps boost employee engagement and loyalty because they feel the organization is taking an interest in their development.

Along with the regular training and development opportunities you provide employees, skilled immigrants will also benefit from specific programs geared to providing the Canadian framework that will help them put their international experience into context.

The following initiatives provide that Canadian context as well as opportunities for skilled immigrants to enhance their skills so they grow their careers in your organization:

Job-sharing and job-shadowing: Give skilled immigrants opportunities to see and learn about what other areas of your organization are doing. They gain a deeper understanding of their specific career goals in the context of your organization.

Skill-set maximization and development: Provide opportunities for skilled immigrants to work on special projects in the organization that can tap unused skills or develop others, such as including their perspectives in implementing new techniques or methods for organizational problem solving as well as innovative product or service development.

Internal mentoring: Introduce skilled immigrants to others within the organization who can serve as career touchstones, providing a real understanding of skills and competencies required for positions that skilled immigrant employees may want to play in the future.

External mentoring: Consider external mentoring opportunities that will serve as a development opportunity for your skilled immigrant employees. External mentoring is collaborative agreements between non-profit employment service agencies and employers, such as The Mentoring Partnership in Toronto or the Mentoring Collaborative in Calgary, that bring together skilled immigrants (mentees) and established professionals (mentors), who are often skilled immigrants themselves, in occupation-specific mentoring relationships. Mentors develop their coaching, communication and leadership skills, which are transferable to many social, academic and professional situations.

There are other mentoring programs across the country. The Local Resources section has links to immigrant employment councils across Canada that offer mentoring programs as well as links to local services that can help you find other mentoring programs in your area.

Outline all available training opportunities: Share information about your organization’s training budget for occupation-based skills training without waiting for skilled immigrant to ask. This tuition reimbursement policy template can be adapted to suit your organization’s needs.

Identify high-potential employees: Develop a formal leadership development program that includes skilled immigrant employees.

Leverage cultural knowledge that skilled immigrants have: Recognize and make use of the cultural intelligence, language skills and international networks among skilled immigrants to develop international business or marketing programs aimed at local ethno-specific markets.

Tools for Enhancing Skills

  • Calculate the return on investment of employee training to make a business case for providing professional development opportunities.
  • Support employees — including skilled immigrants — through processes for licensure/certification in their professions (e.g. financial support for exams, paid time-off for study, etc.).