A Migration Agenda for the Private Sector

By Khalid Koser

This article is reprinted with permission from Project Syndicate.

Khalid Koser speaking at the Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin

Khalid Koser speaking at the Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin

As Europe’s refugee crisis continues to evolve, offers of assistance have come from some unexpected places. Interventions by governments, civil-society groups, and aid organizations have been complemented by a broad-based response from the business community. This mobilization highlights not only the role that the private sector can play in managing migration, but also the importance of extending this engagement beyond the response to the immediate crisis.

Contributions have been made by companies large and small. Shop owners have provided refugees with free food and clothing, and local transport firms have helped people move across borders. On the corporate level, FedEx, JPMorgan Chase, and Google have all made direct contributions of more than $1 million to humanitarian organizations. American Express and Daimler are matching their employees’ donations, Western Union is offering ten cents per transaction made by consumers in the European Union, and Norwegian Air has raised money through inflight collections.

Meanwhile, the Bayern Munich Football Club has opened a training camp for refugees, and Siemens has launched a traineeship program in Germany for asylum-seekers.

On the web, Facebook is connecting asylum-seekers with members of their diaspora, as well as citizens who want to help, and a program called “Refugees Welcome” is helping refugees find vacant rooms in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Greece, Sweden, and the Netherlands. In France, an Amazon wish list has been established to allow people to purchase goods for refugees (portable fuel packs and warm boots are the items most in demand).

The private sector’s response to the refugee crisis has helped efforts to address it in three important ways. For starters, the business community has generally proved faster and more flexible than governments. On the whole, the private sector is not encumbered by political constraints or bureaucracy that can impede government action. And many companies are organized to move quickly in response to market opportunities – or in this case a humanitarian emergency.

Second, the business community has filled a gap in the response that the public sector risked overlooking. The international community has been focused on immediate humanitarian relief –rightly so. But the current crisis also has an economic component: in many cases, it represents a business opportunity, as new arrivals offer their talents and knowledge to forward-thinking firms. As a result, it is not just corporate social-responsibility departments that are driving companies’ response.

Finally, the business community’s reaction has underscored the long-term advantages of migration, something that politicians in fear of (or in thrall to) xenophobic currents have struggled to accomplish. The private sector’s enthusiastic involvement helps make the case for the bright side of the refugee influx: it can help close Europe’s demographic deficit, plug gaps in its labor market, and supply a cohort of young workers and taxpayers for the future.

But while the private sector’s involvement is to be applauded, its impact will be limited if it is not extended beyond the current emergency. Like governments, the business community rallied in a meaningful fashion only after large numbers of refugees began arriving on European shores. The private sector must not overlook the role it can play in helping to stabilize and support economic growth in the countries from which refugees flee.

Furthermore, there are far more Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey than in Europe, and many of the innovative responses now emerging in Europe would have a greater impact (and larger returns on investment) if they were concentrated where most refugees reside.

Above all, businesses must ensure that their current efforts are sustained into the future. The programs companies have put in place will bear long-term fruit only if they are seen through to the end. Firms must prepare for the decline in public goodwill that is likely to occur as efforts to integrate the newcomers hit inevitable obstacles. Local spikes in unemployment, temporary pressure on education and health services, incidents of criminality, and hints of radicalization could spark a backlash in the media and among shareholders. Business leaders must help keep a clear, public focus on the long-term benefits of immigration through statements, media engagement, and direct lobbying of government officials.

The lesson from Europe’s refugee crisis is clear: all aspects of migration are better managed when businesses, civil society, and governments work together. As the crisis continues to unfold, sustaining and deepening this cooperation – in Europe and elsewhere – will be both a challenge and an historic opportunity.

Toronto is diverse but not as inclusive as it could be

Toronto exemplifies multiculturalism, but struggles with inclusion and equality of opportunity.

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star

“Having diversity is interesting,” said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer for the Royal Bank non-commitally. “It’s when you do something with it that it becomes powerful.”

She had put her finger on one of the biggest challenges facing this city: moving from diversity to inclusion.

As a woman, an Ismaili Muslim and an immigrant from Tanzania, Hirji is acutely aware of the difference. Many Torontonians are not.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the United Way of Toronto, Hirji was careful not to offend the business leaders in the room. (Eighty per cent of the charity’s funds come from the corporate sector in direct donations and employee payroll contributions). But she made it clear that diversity — which Toronto has in abundance — is simply a description of the city’s talent pool. Inclusion is the act of tapping into the whole pool — not just the top layer — and mixing people from disparate cultures, backgrounds and generations together in a way that allows them to combine their strengths.

On that score, Toronto doesn’t do as well. Very few immigrants — who make up 46 per cent of the city’s population — hold senior positions in business, politics or civil society. Racialized Torontonians — as they call themselves — are disproportionately poor, underemployed and socially isolated.

Many influential Torontonians who could reach out — corporate CEOs, political leaders and heads of major public institutions — don’t; or don’t do it effectively. Many immigrants and their descendents in turn, live in ethnic enclaves, work for employers from their country of origin and socialize among themselves.

 Hirji wasn’t there to preach. Her primary message was that harnessing the talent and energy of young people, newcomers, members of First Nations, gays and lesbians and other minorities is good for business and good for the city. She offered three tips, drawn from her 13 years spearheading RBC’s drive to make its workforce a better reflection of the population: Start with a clear commitment from the top, develop an explicit plan and get buy-in from all employees.

2013-14 WIL Award: Sarah Tattersall,Talent Solutions Manager at 3M Canada

HR champion has assisted skilled immigrants in achieving meaningful employment in their fields.

By WIL Employment Connections

Each year, WIL is very pleased to recognize an individual, group or company that has demonstrated Winning, Innovation and Leadership as related to the clients served by our organization. This year, our selection committee unanimously and enthusiastically selected Sarah Tattersall as the receipient of the 2014 WIL Award.

As Talent Solutions Manager at 3M Canada, Sarah has consistently volunteered her time and talents to assist WIL’s clients in achieving meaningful employment in their fields. She demonstrates a WINNING commitment to connecting business and newcomer talent within her company and London Region’s broader business community.

Read more here.


3M Uses Language Game to Build Cultural Competence
A five-minute language exercise helps 3M supervisors better understand the experiences of skilled immigrant employees who speak English as a second language. 

TRIEC Thanks RBC and Gordon Nixon

As chair of TRIEC, RBC’s CEO Gordon Nixon has been a champion of  immigrant inclusion in the workforce. This article was originally posted on the Maytree blog.


By Sandhya Ranjit, TRIEC

Ever since the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) was founded 10 years ago by Maytree and CivicAction, RBC has been a key partner, partnering in and funding many of our initiatives. RBC has also provided leadership through its CEO, Gordon Nixon, and Chief Human Resources Officer, Zabeen Hirji, who have demonstrated their commitment to immigrant integration as chair and co-chair of the TRIEC Council since 2009. Gordon has stated on many occasions that he sees diversity and immigration as important parts of Canada’s past, present and future.

Gordon Nixon is retiring from RBC in the fall of 2014 and will step down as Chair of TRIEC Council. As his last act as Council Chair, Gordon published an op-ed in The Globe and Mail on how a diverse workforce can help enhance our economy.

TRIEC would like to thank him for his partnership.

View this video on the impact of Gordon Nixon’s and RBC’s leadership in immigrant integration.

A 10-year Record of Immigrant Success

Toronto immigrant jobs council finds much success, but much work remains.

By Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star

Oddly, Ratna Omidvar dreams of the day the organization she helped launch some 10 years ago goes out of business.

“In my heart of hearts, I wish five years from now we didn’t exist,” says Omidvar, the initial executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), who now chairs the group’s board of directors.

To her thinking, shutting down TRIEC would be a clear sign that the small yet influential council had succeeded beyond its wildest aspirations, opening employment doors for all skilled immigrants and convincing big and small companies that hiring talented newcomers is good for business.

Since its beginning, TRIEC has developed into one of the top agencies whose goal is to help newcomers find jobs in the Toronto area and raise awareness among employers about the advantages of hiring skilled immigrants.

As well, TRIEC has developed resources that help employers effectively hire skilled immigrants. Started in 2005, hireimmigrants.ca became a vital source of practical advice on recruiting and training immigrant employees. The program has since expanded into a national project.

One part of the program, the hireimmigrants.ca Roadmap, has been accessed by more than 50,000 unique users and is now fully integrated into the Ontario government’s website.

Read more here

Train Employers to Hire and Work with Immigrants

On August 20, 2013, Ratna Omidvar, President of Maytree, spoke at the Queen’s International Institute on Social Policy conference on the topic, “Immigration and Skills.” This is the second in a series of excerpts from her remarks and was originally published in The Maytree blog.

By Ratna Omidvar

In a country where immigrants make up 20% of our population, projected to increase to 25-28% by 2031, focusing only on the deficits of immigrants is short sighted. Just as immigrants have training needs, so to do employers. They must learn to deal with a new demographic. I like to compare what is happening in today’s growing workforce to what happened immediately after the Second World War when large numbers of women entered the work force. As a result, employers and policy makers had to go “back to school.” Many years later we have a healthy range of policies ensuring that women are treated with fairness in the workforce – such as maternity leave policies, rules on what you can ask or not ask in job interviews, the adjustment of height and weight restrictions and so on. Today, employers are facing a similar kind of demographic train and their approaches to sourcing, hiring, on-boarding, assessing, and promoting need to be refreshed, reviewed and updated to meet the changing times.

With a little help, the best teachers for employers will be employers themselves. There is a small but growing community of employers who are learning that the nuances of culture and language of immigrant candidates may be different, but this should not get in the way of identifying and managing talent. Many years ago, we launched a website called hireimmigrants.ca that is dedicated to finding and describing these practices. In a way, this platform helps employers borrow proven ideas from their competition.

A few examples of strategies that employers are using:

  • Husky identifies top engineering universities from immigrant source countries to screen in candidates from these institutions.
  • 3M uses a five-minute language exercise for its hiring managers and supervisors that sensitizes them to the challenges that speakers of English as a second language face. Supervisors sit in a circle and are challenged to replace every verb with a synonym. So for instance if you want to say “I went to a movie yesterday,” you have to challenge yourself to replace the verb “went” with another verb.
  • And from as far away as Germany comes this idea that employers will agree to accept and assess resumes that are filed without names or place of education.

Each of these examples has the seed of a policy that could govern the way corporations and public institutions source and identify talent, or how they allocate precious training resources. By translating good practices into policy, we can ensure larger scale impact.

Read other excerpts from this speech
Read the full speech.

Understand and Evaluate Your HR Practices

To get the support of leadership, it’s important to know where you are now and where you want to be. To do so, gather information about your current human resource practices and how they may screen-out skilled immigrants or prevent them from advancing to senior positions in your organization:

  • Understand both the challenges and successes of skilled immigrants in your organization.
  • Gather data about your workforce demographics to assess how your organization is actually performing in hiring and retaining skilled immigrants compared to others.
  • Conduct a skill-set inventory of your employees, and particularly of skilled immigrants in your organization. Are you leveraging their total skill-sets? Are they working to their individual capacity?
  • Review your recruitment process to determine whether your organization screens-out qualified candidates including skilled immigrants.
  • Determine who is immigrant-ready in your organization. Human resource staff tend to be better aware and equipped to act than line or hiring managers who tend not to have HR education or experience. This can help you identify where you can have immediate impact when introducing new strategies and techniques.
  • Interview skilled immigrants in your organization, including those who have since moved on to other opportunities (exit interviews are good opportunities to ask). They are an excellent source of information and learning.

Use the Workshop: Assessing the Recruiting Process to make a full assessment of your recruiting process.

Once you have finished the assessment you need to analyze the findings and ask key questions:

  • How many skilled immigrants did we hire this year? How does this compare to previous years?
  • Who are the hiring influencers in our organization?
  • In what areas (business areas, geographic) do skilled immigrants typically work?
  • What types of cross-cultural events, training or other supports were offered to employees last year?
  • How many skilled immigrants were promoted? To what levels within our organization?
  • How many left the organization? Where did they go and why?
  • What external resources and support do we need to recruit and retain skilled immigrants more effectively?

A Closer Look at Your HR Practices

In addition to examining your previous experiences with skilled immigrants, ask your managers and HR professionals:

  • What recruitment sources were most/least successful in attracting skilled immigrants to apply for employment opportunities?
  • What screening methods did we use to ensure a qualified pool of applicants included skilled immigrants?
  • What interview methods (including questions and skills assessment tools) were used and did they have an impact on the likelihood of skilled immigrants receiving an offer?
  • What accommodation policies are in place for skilled immigrant employees who may have religious and/or cultural observances?
  • Are there specific HR practices and/or policies that require reconsideration given the changing demographics in our workplace?

Creating and Supporting Champions

Once you have a clear picture of your organization’s HR and diversity practices, you can begin developing skilled immigrant champions in your organization.

Start by identifying one or more diversity champions at the most senior levels of the organization, such as C-level executives.

In many cases, you may be asked to justify why your organization should adopt new practices and activities benefiting skilled immigrants.

Arm yourself with a business case:

  • Skilled immigrants are a significant segment of the Canadian population and labour pool. In 2006, 20 per cent of Canadians were immigrants and by 2031, immigrants will make up one-third of the workforce. Imagine ignoring 30 per cent of the labour force in your HR practices.
  • The majority of skilled immigrants to Canada are accepted specifically for their skills and education (i.e. through a points system). Thirty-six per cent of immigrants aged 25 to 54 have at least a post-secondary degree, compared to 22 per cent among the Canadian-born population. For immigrants aged 25 to 54 who arrived between 2001 and 2006, this proportion jumps to 54 per cent.
  • Traditional recruitment processes can create barriers to qualified skilled immigrant applicants. Demonstrate this by presenting the Recruit section of this Roadmap to executives and hiring managers.
  • Explain the value and transferability of international skills and credentials, as well as support programs, such as community agency relationships, internships and bridging programs that connect skilled immigrants with employers in ways that save employers time and money.
  • Outline the need for interviewing standards and processes that reduce misunderstandings due to cultural differences, while enabling candidates to demonstrate skills.

Once you have identified your champions, and sold them on the business case, have them them send clear messages of support, commitment and ongoing incentives for change.

They should also articulate a policy or strategy to achieve a workforce that is reflective of your diverse community, customers and supply chain. This can include committing to a formal assessment of your recruitment and retention processes for opportunities to identify and eliminate barriers to skilled immigrants.

Hiring Influences

Hiring skilled immigrants is a sound HR strategy that can help grow your company, but hiring influencers are essential for that change to occur.

Do you know who hiring influencers are in your organization?

Use the Workshop: Stakeholder Assessment  guide to better identify those hiring influencers and understand how to shift their thinking.

The Benefits of Hiring Skilled Immigrants

When making the case for hiring and integrating skilled immigrants to senior leaders, you need to emphasize the benefits skilled immigrants bring to an organization.

Skilled immigrants:

  • comprise a significant and increasing proportion of the labour market. Employers should be immigrant-ready or risk losing top talent to competitors.
  • increase understanding of and access to local markets that are increasingly diverse and multicultural.
  • increase understanding of and access to international markets for operations or sales opportunities.
  • bring new ideas and perspectives that enhance innovation.
  • bring enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and new perspectives to business problems.

Building Leaders’ Cross-Cultural Competencies

Once you have the support of senior leaders to hire and integrate skilled immigrants, there are particular tasks they can undertake the build their own cross-cultural competencies as well as those of staff. This will help create an inclusive workplace that will attract and retain skilled immigrant talent.

Some of these tasks include:

  • Participating in cross-cultural competence training.
  • Identifying the building of cross-cultural competencies as an organization-wide goal that meets specific and defined business objectives.
  • Sponsoring initiatives (internal and external) related to hiring, mentoring, promoting and retaining skilled immigrants, such as embedding objectives in manager performance reviews that measure results in relation to skilled immigrants (mentoring, hiring).
  • Providing access to management, executive and board-level opportunities for skilled immigrants.
  • Creating specific initiatives to articulate and instill the value of diversity and inclusivity throughout the organization.