December 8, 2011

Overlooking Immigrant Talent Puts Canada at a Competitive Disadvantage

Canadian organizations need to do a better job of recruiting and integrating skilled immigrants or risk losing them to other countries, according to a report from Deloitte.

“It’s really important for Canadian organizations to tap into immigrant talent. We’re overlooking it right now and that’s exacerbating Canada’s productivity problem. It’s also putting Canada at a competitive disadvantage,” says Jane Allen, Chief Diversity Officer at Deloitte.

“The talent pool is shrinking, we know that, and if we can’t provide the jobs that match the education and talents of immigrants that come to Canada, then they’re going to choose to go elsewhere.”

And if Canada doesn’t tap into the skills of immigrants who are already here, it is essentially shutting the door on opportunities for economic growth, states the Deloitte white paper Welcome To Canada. Now What? Unlocking the Potential of Immigrants for Business Growth and Innovation.

Business Case for Skilled Immigrants

For Deloitte, the case for a diverse workforce that includes skilled immigrants is clear. Employees with global experiences and perspectives create more value for the firm’s multinational clients, explains Ms. Allen in the video below.

“It also enables us to attract talent because people want to work in the kind of environment where people come from all different backgrounds and have knowledge and experience from elsewhere. It makes for an exciting and vibrant workplace,” says Ms. Allen.

The white paper, the second in Deloitte’s “Dialogue on diversity” series, builds on the professional services firm’s roundtable discussions with employers, community organizations, special interest groups, government agencies and ministries, and immigrants across the country.

Immigrants Face Barriers to Employment

Skilled immigrants are chosen based on their education and experience. The points-based selection system leads new immigrants to believe they will find work in their field right away but they face several barriers to employment in Canada, says Ms. Allen. These include:

  • employers being risk-averse
  • lack of recognition or familiarity of foreign credentials
  • insensitivity to cultural nuances and lingering biases in recruitment
  • requirement of Canadian experience.

“People like to hire people who are like themselves. They’re more comfortable with people like themselves and as a consequence they will often set the bar higher when it comes to things like language skills or Canadian experience than they would for others that they would hire,” says Ms. Allen. “Not recognizing that experience is really causing employers to overlook a huge skill base.”

In this video, Ms. Allen gives more details on the barriers immigrants face and what employers can do to overcome them.

Internships, one of the solutions recommended in the report and by Ms. Allen, provide immigrants with relevant Canadian experience and a better understanding of Canadian workplace norms, while giving employers the chance to “test drive” the skills and experiences of immigrants.

While foreign-born workers need to understand the Canadian workforce, including its culture and tradition, they shouldn’t be expected to become clones of Canadian-born employees. If they do, then Canada will miss out on the experiences, skills and flavors this person could add to the work environment.

“People from varying backgrounds see problems differently and develop different solutions,” states the report. And this leads to innovation, which companies need in order to be successful.

Creating an Inclusive Environment

HR professionals and business leaders should review their policies and practices through a diversity lens to ensure equal opportunities for all people, whether they were trained in Canada or abroad. Recruiters and other stakeholders should also be given opportunities to develop their understanding of global qualifications and cultural differences.

One way to do this is to have leaders volunteer with different cultural organizations or agencies that help immigrants settle in Canada. This could include volunteering as an ESL coach or as a mentor to an immigrant professional, which also helps the immigrant integrate into the workforce.

Employee resource groups are another way to help immigrants integrate. These groups create an environment where people can connect and interact with colleagues from similar backgrounds. They help newcomers build their professional networks, which help them with career advancement.

In the video below, Ms. Allen talks about Deloitte’s initiatives to help immigrants integrate into the workplace, including a buddy system, employee resource groups and mentoring.

Additional Resources

  • Diversity at Deloitte: This section of the professional services firm’s website features both this year’s and last year’s white papers based on Deloitte’s “Dialogue on Diversity.”
  • Webinar: Jane Allen participated in an online conversation, hosted by Cities of Migration, talking about why diversity is important and how organizations can integrate skilled immigrants to fuel economic growth.
  • Blog: Follow what Jane Allen has to say about diversity on her Deloitte blog.

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