Firms that don’t automatically reject foreign education or experience can gain an edge in the race for talent

April8, 2010
Globe and Mail

Rasha Mourtada

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“We do business all over the world. It’s important for us to reflect that,’ says Allison Mitchell, right, corporate recruitment specialist for DALSA Corp., based in Waterloo, Ont.
With her are three recent hires, all new Canadians: Sukhbir Singh Kullar, left,
Feng Hua Feng and Yun Lin.

Imagine walking into a grocery store and allowing yourself only to buy items made in Canada.

“You’d miss out on endless products,” says Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a private foundation dedicated to accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees. “And not just the product, but also the taste, the price. You’re blocking out half the market.”

Employers who screen out candidates because of a lack of Canadian experience or education are limiting their options in the same way, she says.

Such limitations can hurt business, says talent management expert Iren Koltermann.

“By 2030, 60 per cent of our population will be a visible minority,” says Ms. Koltermann, who is a senior associate at Graybridge Malkam, a workplace-diversity consulting company.

“If we want to provide goods and services to communities that are diverse, businesses don’t need to just look like them, but they need to think like them, too.”

The good news, both experts agree, is that companies are taking note. Some have put measures in place to keep unintentional biases from creeping into the hiring process.

One such company is DALSA Corp., based in Waterloo, Ont., which designs and manufactures digital imaging products.

At DALSA, it’s simply a matter of keeping jobs filled. “Some of the skills we look for are unique and difficult to find,” corporate recruitment specialist Allison Mitchell says. “We can’t afford to be picky, so to speak.”

Inclusive hiring is ingrained in the company’s culture, Ms. Mitchell says, and it goes back a lot further than her 10 years with the company. “We do business all over the world. It’s important for us to reflect that,” she adds.

Hiring managers make a conscious effort not to consider a candidate’s origin of education or experience because “it broadens the talent pool for us,” Ms. Mitchell says.

In some workplaces, hiring managers will dismiss a person with foreign experience or education simply because figuring out how their credentials stack up against those of their Canadian counterparts is too confusing.

“People think, ‘I don’t know this educational program, so I’m going to default to the familiar,'” Ms. Omidvar says.

One way to get around this is to conduct an education verification through a third party, a practice DALSA uses. It makes an apples-to-apples comparison possible, Ms. Mitchell says.

Regina-based SaskEnergy uses the same tactic to help ensure its hiring is bias free.

Weeding out candidates with foreign credentials is not something the natural gas distributor can afford to do, says Robert Haynes, vice-president of human resources. He strives for a diverse workplace because he’s interested in the “diversity of thought” a staff with international experience can bring.

“We [are inclusive] from a competitive point of view,” he says. “If we can be perceived as being inviting to all kinds of diversity, that positions us to be more successful in recruiting and also retaining the employees we have.”

Eliminating candidates based on foreign backgrounds doesn’t make sense because Canada isn’t the only country with reputable educational institutions, Ms. Omidvar adds.

“We choose not to fixate on education because we recognize there are lots of great educational institutions all over the world,” Mr. Haynes agrees.

Inclusive hiring doesn’t come without challenges, however. Mr. Haynes gives the example of an employee who had trouble making outbound phone calls because of her English proficiency.

“There’s other work she can do in place of that,” Mr. Haynes says. “Her team will give her the support she needs, and as she gets more proficient in English, she’ll do more and more.”

Ms. Koltermann stresses the importance of appropriate training. “You can train someone to do business the Canadian way, however you define that,” she says. That could mean explaining things specific to that company’s culture, such as communication style.

An effective way to address this would be a mentorship program. “Organizations that have good retention rates provide mentors, and mentors aren’t there to teach you how to do your work but rather how to do your work effectively within that organization,” she says. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t do something similar when bringing in people of different backgrounds.”

Also important is the language used in job postings, Ms. Omidvar says. Simply spelling out that new Canadians are welcome to apply is a good start.

For DALSA, that means labelling positions that involve engineering work “design specialists.”

“To be called an ‘engineer’ you need to have a P.Eng.,” she says, referring to the industry accreditation. But the work at DALSA doesn’t actually require such accreditation. By tweaking the language, the company is able to accept more candidates with foreign experience.

Looming competition for talent remains the biggest driver for inclusive hiring, Ms. Omidvar says.

That’s certainly the case at SaskEnergy. “As the shortage of labour gets bigger, we just won’t be able to fill jobs,” Mr. Haynes says. “If we don’t lay the foundation now for when that critical time comes, we’ll be struggling to catch up with other employers who already have.”

By the numbers

46%: Proportion of Canadians who say the greatest difficulty after immigrating to Canada is finding an adequate job

50%: Share of immigrants who cited lack of Canadian experience as the biggest obstacle to finding work

200: Number of distinct ethnic groups living in Canada

6.1 million: Number of immigrants in Canada in 2006


Reference: Globe and Mail