Conservation Authority Engages Skilled Immigrants as Volunteers and Employees

Brian Denney, Chief Administrative Officer at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), wants the organization to play more of a role in making cities sustainable. In order to have its voice heard, there were a few changes the conservation authority needed to make, including doing more to engage skilled immigrants.

The conservation authority recognizes different cultures experience nature and the environment in different ways, so it’s important for TRCA to learn about these different attitudes in order to be able to better engage volunteers from diverse backgrounds. This is where the Volunteerism and Diversity Co-ordinator comes in.

The co-ordinator is responsible for the Environmental Volunteer Network (EVN), of which 35 environmental and community agencies are members. The goal of the network is to provide diverse volunteers with hands-on work experience and education in the field of conservation and environment, while providing non-profit environmental and municipal agencies in TRCA’s jurisdiction with ready, willing and able environmental volunteers.

To help the conservation authority become a more inclusive employer, Catherine McEwen, HR, Safety and Communications Manager, worked with a diversity consultant to identify unintentional barriers in the organization’s hiring process and then change the HR policies to remove these barriers.

TRCA also offered diversity training to employees to help them better understand cultural differences. The training covers topics such as; what good can come from these differences; what business culture is like in other countries; how management styles can be adapted to accommodate someone who might be used to a more formal hierarchy; etc.

To help all new hires, including skilled immigrants, bridge any gaps in experience, the conservation authority provides orientation programs. These are used for most new planners since the profession is regionally specific – even planners from another province or region would need to be briefed.

TRIEC recognized this good work by awarding an Immigrant Success (IS) Award to TRCA in 2007.

Tips for Employers

  • Organizations that rely on volunteers need to understand cultural differences in how people from different backgrounds view the organization’s mandate and what motivates them to give their time.
  • Review HR policies to identify any unintentional barriers in the hiring process and then make changes to remove these barriers.
  • Diversity training helps employees understand cultural differences and the benefits of a diverse workforce.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is a public agency mandated under the Conservation Authorities Act to conserve and manage natural resources. Responsibilities include flood management and warnings, public education and tree planting. The land it manages extends from the Humber River west of Toronto to the Rouge River in the east, and south from the Oak Ridges Moraine, including parts of Lake Ontario. TRCA employs about 400 people in the GTA.


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