Business Development Bank of Canada
Catherine Parsonage, Executive Director and CEO, Toronto Foundation for Student Success
City of Toronto
Trillium Health Centre
University of Toronto, Faculty of Law
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT BANK OF CANADA
The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) provides financing, consulting and venture capital services to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which are owned and operated by immigrants. SMEs have a significant impact on Canada’s economic prosperity and BDC plays an important role in promoting their success.
BDC serves 29,000 clients from more than 100 business centres across the country, including 12 in the GTA. Its workforce reflects the diversity of its clientele and is responsive to it.
In 2010, ACCES Employment Services approached BDC with a proposal to participate in its Financial Services Connections Program. Both organizations recognized that skilled immigrant candidates require targeted services to complement traditional hiring practices, such as standard screening activities, and decided to work together.
Together they established monthly, informal hiring sessions, or “speed recruiting” forums, where candidates meet different interviewers to learn more about BDC and the banking industry.
In the past year, BDC has hired 30 candidates it identified at one of these forums. Many of these recruits occupy front line positions and interact directly with clients.
“Our success is built on trust and the number of qualified job candidates is so high that we’ve actually hired several individuals without an open position,” says Ellen Austin, a BDC Human Resources Business Partner. “BDC hiring managers from across the GTA are now asking to be part of the program.”
BDC’s head office in Montreal has also taken notice and is planning to roll out a “speed recruiting” program for skilled immigrants in other cities and regions of the country.
CATHERINE PARSONAGE, TORONTO FOUNDATION FOR STUDENT SUCCESS
Catherine Parsonage’s vision would see medical services provided in schools for children in less affluent neighbourhoods. And she’s taken an important first step with the Gift of Sight and Sound Program. In the process, she’s also making a huge difference for the international medical graduates (IMGs).
Parsonage is Executive Director & CEO at Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS), an advocate for disadvantaged students and arm of the Toronto District School Board. The Gift of Sight and Sound Program provides free vision and hearing screening in designated neighbourhoods. When designing the program, Catherine deliberately decided to hire international medical graduates to administer it so that staff reflected the diversity of kids they would serve.
“Kids have cried when they put on glasses for the first time, because they are finally able to see the board and world around them,” says Parsonage. “For IMGs, it’s paid employment, valuable Canadian experience and optimism for the future.”
TFSS works with Skills for Change to identify potential hires who reflect student populations. Three years in, ten full-time and two part-time IMG staff screen 18,000 kids annually in 109 schools, with a plan to expand into high schools in 2011. Staff speak 18 languages among them, so are able to communicate with newcomer children and their parents.
Parsonage garnered support from the Canadian Hearing Society and Sprott Asset Management and, secured a major commitment from Walmart Vision Centres to provide free glasses and in-kind optometry services – amounting to half a million dollars annually.
Parsonage is actively promoting the work with other institutions and has met with the Ontario Medical Association, Nurses Secretariat and municipal and provincial Officers of Health in pursuit of funding partnerships and program expansion.
As one of Canada’s largest financial services companies, CIBC strives to attract a multicultural workforce representative of the communities it serves.
“CIBC is proud to be a leader in diversity,” says Sharon Wingfelder, Vice-president, Human Resources, Diversity and Planning. “CIBC was one of the first companies in Canada to dedicate an entire month to celebrate diversity 20 years ago. We continue to establish innovative sourcing strategies to ensure that we have access to skilled immigrant talent from pre-arrival, right through to completing their job search.”
To connect with immigrants before they arrive, CIBC has partnered with Canadian Immigration Integration Project (CIIP). CIBC provides educational workshops overseas, equipping immigrants with financial and recruitment advice before they land in Canada.
Upon arrival, immigrants can find a robust resource portal on the company website that they can tap into before applying to CIBC – ensuring they are better positioned for the recruitment process.
CIBC also created a new outreach role, so a dedicated staff person could promote employment opportunities through internet channels, job fairs and information sessions at community partner organizations. Since 2009, 18 newcomers have started their careers at CIBC through community partnerships, including ACCES Employment, JVS, Skills for Change, Micro Skills, Toronto District School Board, COSTI and Skills International.
The company has also been sourcing immigrant talent from Career Edge Organization’s Career Bridge program, designed to provide Canadian work experience through internships. Since 2004, CIBC has hired 29 interns and successfully converted 20 of those individuals into full time employees.
CIBC recognizes that with an influx of immigrant talent, the company has to adapt and support diverse staff as they bring different ways of doing business. CIBC employees participate in TRIEC’s Mentoring Partnership, mentoring newcomers while helping staff grow as people managers.
CITY OF TORONTO
When half of the population are immigrants, it is critical that city government reflects its community. The City of Toronto has been involved in many programs that give opportunities to skilled immigrants, but it is only recently that it has began to link initiatives together, developing action plans and embedding strategies – to ensure that best practices are organization-wide.
The City of Toronto has developed and publicized a long-term human resource strategy — the Public Service People Plan. Says the City’s Barbara Shulman, Director, Strategic Recruitment, Compensation & Employment Services: “The City is a leader in service delivery because of its positive and productive work environment that is inclusive and reflective of the diverse community it serves.”
Programs that fall under the strategy include working with a specialized engineering co-op program through the Toronto District School Board; making HR more accessible with a walk-in employment office at Metro Hall; improved onboarding systems; and long-time partnership involvement in mentoring and internship for skilled immigrants.
Since 2003, the City has provided more than 75 paid internships through Career Bridge, with more than one third of participants hired full-time. Originally in just two divisions, Career Bridge is now active in 14 divisions.
The City is also one of the original corporate partners of TRIEC’s Mentoring Partnership, with 238 City employees mentoring 554 skilled immigrants to date. Initially the program began with 29 mentors representing accounting, engineering and IT. Today the program has spread to include 16 professions across the organization.
GEORGE KELK CORPORATION
At George Kelk Corporation, a world map proudly displays the home countries of 150 staff. Another marks the countries where products are sold, and not surprisingly, the two are nearly identical. The company attributes its success to a policy of hiring skilled immigrants who have opened up international markets, which account for 99 per cent of sales.
George Kelk Corporation designs and manufactures electro-mechanical sensors for rolling mills. Two per cent is sold within Canada, 11 to the US, and 87 per cent internationally. More than 80 per cent of employees are immigrants, with sales staff often assigned to markets that mirror their former homelands.
“It’s important when selling high tech products to be able to communicate fluently,” notes regional sales manager George Oprea. “The after-sales component, often involving weeks on-site, also requires an intimate cultural knowledge.”
Working with agencies, such as ACCES Employment Services, George Kelk Corporation seeks out potential hires based on engineering skills and ability to work in international markets. A Professional Engineer (P.Eng) designation isn’t necessary, but the company will assist skilled immigrants to obtain Canadian recognition and licensure, even if that means helping them find other jobs. This willingness to develop employees, and provide a stable workplace, attracts top candidates and contributes to an impressive 98 per cent retention rate.
“I think that if we were to exist anywhere else, we might not enjoy the same success. The pool of skilled immigrant talent in Toronto is such an advantage for our business,” says Peter Kelk, president of George Kelk Corporation.
GRACEKENNEDY (ONTARIO) INC.
When Jamaica-based GraceKennedy decided to expand into Canada in 1985, staffing the team with immigrant talent from the Caribbean made sense, especially when the primary market at the time was new Canadians looking for tastes of home.
The company first approached Caribbean retailers to shelve their products, but was not content to stay sidelined. A pioneer in ethnic food markets, GraceKennedy (Ontario) pushed their products from ethnic retailers into the mainstream and in the year 2000, first displayed in major retailer Food Basics with a four-foot display. In just a decade GraceKennedy has expanded into major retailers including Loblaws, No Frills, Metro and Sobeys, bringing favourite home country brands to immigrants in Canada including, Matouks, Butterkist, Ovaltine, Ribena and the company’s own Grace brand.
As demand increased, the company developed its own product lines, notably coconut water, the brainchild of a Jamaican-born manager who thought Canadian consumers would embrace its health benefits — a natural Gatorade with all its electrolytes. The launch has exceeded all expectations.
The team in Toronto is also having an impact on the company’s global operations. Today, the Toronto office employs 48 people – nearly all immigrants. Employees are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table, such as one manager’s plan to expand into India. Another developed sodas to include island flavours such as pineapple, ginger beer and grapefruit – now one of the company’s top lines worldwide.
Other employees continue to offer ideas, identifying products they’d like to see from their homelands throughout the Caribbean, and further afield from places such as China, Ecuador and Lithuania.
“Our team includes people from all over the world, including our president, Lucky Lankage, who is from Sri Lanka says Stefan Atton, marketing manager at GraceKennedy.
With the appetite for ethnic foods crossing cultures and now filling whole aisles in major supermarkets, products like jerk seasoning have become mainstream. GraceKennedy sees itself as the pioneer of ethnic foods in Canada. It boasts an expanding workforce, close to 150 products and $30 million in annual revenues in Canada, thanks to the input and expertise of skilled immigrants who know their stuff, and see the possibilities for the future.
At a time when the world’s economies are rebounding, many Canadian exporters are re-evaluating their customer base, especially if their clients have traditionally been concentrated in the United States. Phoenix Geophysics, a Toronto based company that designs and builds geophysical exploration instruments, long ago realized the benefits of global markets. For over 30 years, and with the help of skilled immigrants, Phoenix has been selling around the world.
“We have 51 employees from 20 countries speaking 15 different first languages, and that’s our competitive advantage. Our people know the markets and the people we’re selling to,” says Leo Fox, president of Phoenix Geophysics, who is from England.
In a niche market with only two other competitors, neither Canadian, Phoenix knows that immigrants are key to the company’s success. “We hire ‘market makers,’ skilled immigrants who can help us open up new opportunities in their home countries.” It’s an approach that has been worth millions in a highly competitive field. Phoenix systems are used in more than 80 countries by mining and oil companies, geophysical contractors, universities and government agencies.
Sales staff are all internationally-trained engineers, because without the technical and scientific knowledge – and the ability to speak the local language – the company’s specialized products are a hard sell.
Many staff maintain business and cultural ties to their home country, and contribute to research and exploration around the world, whether it’s field exploration in Ecuador or the Philippines, research in Japan and Taiwan, or field training in Russia.
Being hired by Phoenix has often been the turning point in the lives of new Canadians. For many, it was their first job in Canada – or at least the first where they could apply their education and experience. “Toronto is such a diverse and welcoming city, and being able to apply their skills and background knowledge provides unique opportunities for fulfilling careers at Phoenix,” says Fox, noting that many immigrant employees are now part owners of the company.
“When you arrive here at Phoenix, you are not an outsider. Everyone is different. You feel at home,” says Tesfakiros Haile, a sales manager with a masters degree who worked in a parking lot when he first arrived from Eritrea.
Questrade has been ranked as Canada’s fastest growing online brokerage and when half of the employees are immigrants, one can only conclude that the company’s rapid success is tied to their skilled immigrant advantage. Questrade has developed a culture of open recruiting to ensure that they are always hiring for skill set and the language ability to serve a diverse, multicultural market.
The Toronto-based company leapt from 100 to 267 employees in 2010. Staff collectively speak more than 35 languages, and as Questrade continues to grow they are actively seeking skilled immigrant talent in technology, finance, marketing and customer service.
Because the company’s services are based online, the majority of Questrade’s work is in e-development and innovation. The majority of the technology team is comprised of visible minorities or immigrants – or both.
Working with, JVS Toronto, a community agency, the Toronto District School Board and others, Questrade conducts advance screening to prepare candidates for interviews. Then, other staff may be brought in to interviews to assist with translation as skill sets are vetted. For some positions, a language test is included – not for English, but for Cantonese or Mandarin if the role is client-facing.
Once hired, career development is a priority. Often skilled immigrants will undersell their experience in an interview for fear of being excluded based on over qualification. The company quickly adjusts a new hire’s responsibilities if this is the case.
“Questrade hires for potential,” observes JVS Toronto’s Joanna Samuels. “They are continually demonstrating leadership and commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
TRILLIUM HEALTH CENTRE
Serving the west GTA, Trillium Health Centre cares for one million people annually in advanced cardiac surgery, stroke, geriatric services, domestic violence and other highly specialized programs. With a projected shortfall of 78,000 registered nurses in Canada* this year, Trillium is taking action to ensure that it has sustainable recruitment strategies.
Trillium has worked with several agencies to recruit internationally trained nurses (ITNs) in the past, but as the need for nurses increases, creative strategies are required to meet the objectives of a three-year strategic workforce plan. As an academically affiliated health centre, working with a nursing school to recruit ITNs is a natural fit.
A new partnership with George Brown College, through the Enhanced Academic Pathways for Internationally Educated Nurses program, is serving as a recruitment and integration pilot. The program is an twelve-week internship that pairs Trillium nurses with ITNs who are candidates for full-time employment with particular emphasis on Canadian workplace mentoring.
Trillium coaches also receive training as part of the program. Many Trillium nurses themselves are immigrants, so this training creates opportunities to share insights to help newcomers to the Canadian workplace. For all coaches, with or without international credentials, it is an eye-opening exercise to mentor those who already have nursing experience, but who originate from other parts of the world.
Having seen the benefits of hiring ITNs, Trillium is now partnering with other secondary institutions by providing Canadian workplace experience opportunities for non clinical areas. “It’s very important that our staff reflect the diversity of our patients,” says Karen Dobbie, HR Manager. “We want to inspire out staff to deliver superior healthcare and better understanding the diversity of our community is key to the delivery of excellent patient care.”
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO ITLP
The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, with funding from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, has developed a first-of-its-kind program to smooth the accreditation process for internationally trained lawyers (ITLs), who must go through years of additional study, exams and articling to practice in Canada. The program couples intense academic study and a practical internship designed to support candidates through the completion ofNational Committee of Accreditation (NCA) exams.
“The Internationally Trained Lawyers’ Program (ITLP) convinced firms to give me a chance,” says Mehreen Alavi, a lawyer from Pakistan, who interned at Torys. “The reputation of the program helped me secure an internship when I couldn’t even land an interview prior to my enrolment.”
Fellow participants and others met through the program have become a vital network of contacts. Additional benefits include training in Canadian culture and legal code of conduct, and support through up to 12 NCA exams. In 2010, the program’s first year, ITLP candidates succeeded in passing 75 per cent of their challenge exams.
ITLP partners include government, legal clinics, corporations and law firms. “ITLs bring enthusiasm, commitment and diverse perspectives and experience, which enhances our team and what we offer to clients,” says Carla Swansburg, RBC Law Group senior counsel.
“We hope that this will lead to systematic change in the Canadian accreditation process and a new appreciation for what ITLs can offer to the profession,” says Gina Alexandris, director of ITLP.
Read about the first successful year for the Internationally Trained Lawyers Program.