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

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 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.

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

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

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.

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.

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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.

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