Halifax Company Uses Settlement Agency to Find Immigrants

There’s a saying at Maple Trade Finance: “Borders aren’t boundaries.”

They aren’t kidding. A small company with a global reach, Maple Trade frequently supports Canadian export companies that are connecting with international buyers. “There’s an advantage in having employees who understand the differences of our clients’ markets,” says company co-founder and President Carole-Ann Miller.

Communication skills and cultural sensitivity are strongly emphasized during their recruitment process. “Whether we’re facilitating payments from other countries or simply engaging in day-to-day business, it’s not uncommon for employees of foreign companies not to speak English. To interface with the buyers in those countries, we need a multilingual staff.”

Maple Trade’s challenge is locating these global, cultural and language skills in one of Canada’s smaller provinces. The Halifax-based financing company persistently runs into the local “boundary” of staffing problems.

“The Nova Scotia talent pool continues to be one of our greatest difficulties,” says Miller. “The demographics of this region do not always reflect the needs of our business.”

Simply finding the right people for the job within the local community can be a challenge.

Foreign language skills seen as strengths

For Maple Trade, being “borderless” means relying on skilled immigrants with the necessary linguistic skills and cultural experiences. The company chooses to see an immigrant’s foreign language skills as strengths, rather than liabilities.

Emphasizing its small size, its relationships with community programs, and its culture of mentoring, the company is challenging assumptions of how to integrate new immigrant employees.

Local settlement organizations provide one avenue for sourcing international talent.

“We hadn’t had much success with traditional job advertising, particularly when we were looking for foreign language capabilities. Someone suggested I try the Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services. ISIS’s Work in the Nova Scotia bridging program is helping us to overcome these staffing problems,” says Miller.

“Now, when we need an employee with particular language skills, we go to ISIS first. If we think a candidate offers a value-added relationship for both parties, we offer them a work placement, giving them the opportunity to gain Canadian work experience and references.”

Small size helps firm create inclusive environment

The company’s small size is an advantage when welcoming new Canadians into its workforce. Maple Trade takes pride in its intimate work environment, something Miller says appeals to many internationally-trained employees.

“One of the advantages of being a small employer is cultivating a warm and nurturing environment,” says Miller. “We care about our people and support their diverse needs through one-on-one relationships.”

In this intimate atmosphere, many employees go the extra mile, helping new Canadians integrate using “onboarding” programs. Balancing the commitments of both a placement and a settlement organization can be difficult for immigrants, so Maple Trade employee Kathryn Patterson liaises with all parties, helping them understand each other’s goals.

A mentor and coach with ISIS’s English in the Workplace program, Patterson uses the program’s business etiquette and language curriculum to speed up the adjustment process.

The knowledge-sharing is often mutual. Since she started mentoring with ISIS, Patterson has gained some surprising insights into Maple Trade’s core business practices. Her views of bilingualism, for example, have changed considerably after coaching French-speaking immigrants in customer relations.

“Our internationally-trained employees speak excellent business French. We’re a Canadian company, so this can be a real asset when dealing with both domestic and foreign clients,” she says.

Employees like Patterson have helped Maple Trade Finance Inc. win an award for Best Employers for New Canadians in 2009.

“We’re very much a team here in this office,” says Patterson. “We have to work together, and fill in for one another. Coaching our placement candidates not only teaches me more about my business, but makes me more flexible as an employee.”

Tips for Employers:

  • Hire skilled immigrants with foreign language skills to connect effectively with global markets.
  • Establish links with the local ethnic community using mentoring and other settlement-oriented programs.

Based in Halifax, Maple Trade Finance is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maple Financial Group, a Canadian-based global financial organization with offices located worldwide. The company has about 20 employees and services small and medium sized organizations in the manufacturing and trade sectors.

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