Passion for Helping Immigrants Rewarded

Canadian HR Reporter

By Shannon Klie

Sischa Maharaj understands what drives immigrants to come to Canada. A child of immigrant parents, her father migrated from Trinidad in his 20s and her mother migrated from Italy at the age of five, the former senior manager of intake programs for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has witnessed her own family’s quest for a better life.

That personal experience has fuelled her passion to advocate for the integration of skilled immigrants into the workplace, said Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

“It strengthens her personal resolve and commitment,” said McIsaac.

Last month Maharaj received the first-ever Canadian HR Reporter individual achievement award as part of TRIEC’s Immigrant Success Awards. The award recognizes an HR professional who has made a personal difference to new immigrants in the workplace.

Maharaj provided cultural training to more than 50 managers at the bank and also shared with them the benefits of hiring new Canadians and internationally trained professionals.

“Hiring managers are receptive to, and have a good understanding of, the benefits of hiring new immigrants as a direct result of Sischa’s efforts,” said Sue Simone, CIBC’s senior director of wealth management HR and Maharaj’s direct supervisor.

Within three months of starting her role at CIBC, Maharaj established a partnership with Skills International, an online database with more than 1,000 pre-screened skilled immigrants. CIBC was the first bank to link Skills International directly into its recruitment management system.

When recruiters post a position to the system, they only have to click on one button to ensure the job is also posted to the Skills International database. Skills International candidates can then apply directly through CIBC’s recruitment management system.

“We have over 100 recruiters at CIBC,” said Maharaj. “We need to have a solution that allows recruiters to instantly post their positions and find candidates very quickly.”

If the job is hard to fill or if recruiters have time, they can also search the Skills International database for candidates with the desired skills.

Maharaj liked the fact Skills International partnered with community agencies to pre-screen its jobseekers and provided information about that partnership to CIBC along with the jobseekers’ resumés. That kind of vetting meant there was a history behind each candidate brought into CIBC through Skills International.

“We’re not just seeing the person for half an hour or an hour, there’s actually someone in the community working with that person,” said Maharaj.

Maharaj also attended, or sent CIBC recruiters to, various career fairs and information sessions for internationally trained jobseekers. As a result, the bank made 18 job offers to skilled immigrants from these events.

Based on the questions immigrant jobseekers asked her at these events, Maharaj created a web portal for newcomers to Canada on CIBC’s careers website with information on mentorship, paid internships, interviewing tips and a diversity recruitment calendar with events for jobseekers to meet directly with CIBC recruiters.

“You can’t just post (jobs) online. You have to do more than that. You have to give them access to hiring managers and recruiters,” said Maharaj.

A common concern Maharaj heard from skilled immigrants was that employers weren’t recognizing their international credentials.

Maharaj took that information to Simone and, as a result, the bank partnered with World Education Services, a New York-based company that evaluates international credentials for employers in Canada and the United States.

Helping immigrants get into the workforce and be employed at their skill level is a business imperative for the entire country, said Maharaj.

“I believe every single individual has personal strengths and we need to take advantage of those strengths,” she said.

But HR’s work doesn’t stop once the immigrant is hired, she said. The workplace needs to be inclusive so skilled immigrants can succeed and move up the ranks. Programs that can help in this endeavour include networking groups for immigrants as well as language and cultural training, she said.

In addition to her responsibilities at the bank, Maharaj volunteered with TRIEC’s mentorship program, providing one-on-one coaching to skilled immigrants and helping them find a job that matches their skills.

“The greatest feeling is seeing the transformation from unemployment or underemployment to empowerment, hope and motivation and making a difference in corporate Canada,” she said.

While Maharaj has left her position at CIBC, her new role as the assistant director of the MBA career centre at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management gives her the opportunity to coach more jobseekers and help employers reach out to skilled immigrants. About 40 per cent of Rotman’s students are from abroad and many of the Canadian students are new immigrants, she said.

“As an HR professional, every single person has an opportunity to make a personal difference regardless of their level, regardless of their experience. They can all make a difference in terms of raising awareness and communication,” said Maharaj.



TRIEC recognizes employers and professionals who make a difference

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) is a collaborative organization that promotes the hiring and promotion of skilled immigrants and comprises employers, unions, occupational regulatory bodies, post-secondary institutions, assessment service providers, community organizations and all three levels of government.

The goal of TRIEC’s Immigrant Success Awards is to recognize and celebrate employers and individuals who demonstrate excellence in the promotion of skilled immigrants in the workplace and to build employer awareness of the issues and solutions available to them.

And the winners are:

Small employer award: Steam Whistle Brewing. More than one-half of the brewery’s management team is composed of skilled immigrants, including staff from the Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Russia, Japan and Cuba. The company accepts referrals for potential candidates from existing employees in an effort to attract more skilled immigrants and has a 90-per-cent employee retention rate.

Mid-size employer award: Xerox Research Centre of Canada. The centre has 137 employees from more than 35 countries. Twenty-eight per cent of employees graduated from a foreign university and almost one-half of those have doctorate degrees. The centre has embedded diversity in its hiring process by having eight to 12 employees, including skilled immigrants, on each team that interviews new hires.

Large employer award: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The conservation authority offers the Professional Access and Integration Enhancement Program, a one-year paid internship program for internationally educated environmental professionals. Ten per cent of the authority’s 712 employees are skilled immigrants and it delivers cultural competence training to full-time staff and volunteers.

Influencer award: George Brown College. The college has worked with other colleges to develop Canadian Integrating Immigrants to Employment, a three-phase project that seeks to eliminate barriers for immigrants in Ontario’s colleges.

Toronto Star people’s choice award for outstanding achievement in immigrant success: Alan Rego, manager of external relations at Procter and Gamble. After working for two years in jobs below his skill level, Rego took an internship at Procter and Gamble through Career Bridge, a non-profit program that offers paid internships for skilled immigrants. Never forgetting his own struggles as a skilled immigrant in Canada, he launched Communications, Advertising and Marketing Professionals (CAMP), a networking group for skilled immigrants.

Canadian HR Reporter individual achievement award: Sischa Maharaj, senior manager of intake programs at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, October 8, 2007, by permission of Carswell, Toronto, Ontario, 1-800-387-5164. Web site:

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