Why hiring immigrants is good for business

Your Workplace Magazine
May/June 2009

Bonita Summers

There is a fundamental shift that needs to take place in our thinking about the role of immigrants in our workforce. It’s a shift upon which our prosperity depends, not just for private enterprise but for the Canadian economy as a whole. By 2011, immigration will likely account for 100% of our net labour force growth, according to Catalyst Inc. report, Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities. Already, visible minorities make up more than 15% of the Canadian workforce.

It’s time for us to stop looking at how we can benefit immigrants by hiring them, and shift into a deeper understanding of the boon to business of having a diverse team. Nytric Limited, celebrated internationally for its reputation for technological innovation, credits its success to its inclusive hiring policies. Nytric was recently awarded the RBC Best Immigrant Employer Award by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. Asked why Nytric has a high ratio of immigrants to Canadian-born workers on staff, Director of Business Development, Anthony Gussin, says, “People from different cultures tend to think in slightly different ways. Instead of always viewing a problem from one particular perspective, we get several points of view on it. And that has made us very competitive in the sense that we are able to come up with smart ideas, new ideas, and different ideas that have helped us get products in the market more effectively.”

According to Gussin, Nytric doesn’t target immigrants for hire, but determines what skills are needed for a position and advertises widely. In a field where specific requirements for technological skills can narrow down the list of potential candidates, immigrants tend to get hired by Nytric more than recruits from Canadian soil. This is because, as Gussin says, “I think quite often it an immigrant is coming into Canada, he or she would tend to be a little more aggressive in approaching the job market. If you’re new in a country, and you’ve been trying very hard to establish yourself and get a job within your chosen profession, I think you’re more driven to succeed than if you have been born and raised in the country and educated here. Canadian-born folks tend to be more relaxed about [the interview] and seem to be less prepared going into the interview for the question that we might ask them.”

Indeed, the Catalyst study found that “visible minority employees were highly committed to their organizations” despite facing “a number of barriers to career advancement.” These include unfair career advancement processes, lack of access to informal networks, and stereotyping in the workplace.

Another challenge that immigrants face according to the study is the “less-than-inclusive workplaces that made them feel they had to acculturate or ‘Canadianize’ themselves….” The survey and focus groups also revealed that the surface politeness which exists within Canadian business organizations (i.e. norms for avoiding sensitive topics) made it hard for organizations to explicitly address stereotyping and other challenging issues. Gussin experienced this himself when he first arrived in Canada from the U.K.

“People often talk about Canadian experience and credentials, and my first question is always, ‘Can you define what Canadian experience is precisely?’ How does Canadian experience differ from any other place else in the world?” When immigrants get frustrated with these issues, they often leave companies, taking their creativity and unique perspectives with them. Organizations that lose these valuable players incur the costs of recruitment and training and suffer the absence of their talent. It’s a compounded loss than can be very costly in an economic climate that requires companies to be come more innovative and creative to survive.

The Martin Prosperity Institute, in its 2009 report, Ontario in the Creative Age, raises concern about Ontario falling behind if its businesses remain myopic about harnessing the talent for hire in the available workforce: “…our economy does not place the same kind of premium on the core creative skills that drive economic growth as do our peers. As a result, our citizens’ creative skills are less developed than those of the world’s leading jurisdictions.”

The study, commissioned by the provincial government under Premier Dalton McGuinty, recommends a shift from routine-oriented jobs to creativity-oriented ones and warns against a narrow hiring focus. As reported in the study, “We have no way of knowing who the next creative geniuses will be or where they will come from. Yet our society continues to encourage the creative talents of a minority; it neglects the creative capacities of many more.”

In addition, the study points out, “Openness to outsiders, newcomers, immigrants, minorities, and gays and lesbians signals a community that is open to all types of people – and has low barriers to entry for talent – enabling that place to attract the best and brightest from around the world.”

Nytric Limited serves as an example of a company that has benefited greatly from inviting talent from wherever it hails. “From our point of view,” says Gussin, “We have a ratio of 2:1 immigrants to Canadian-born here – and that’s made us very successful. The fact that we have Chinese speakers, has enabled us to do business with those countries in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to do because we don’t understand the culture of the country, let alone understand the language.”

He hastens to add, “It’s not just the communication. Given time, anybody can learn the language skills, but the thing you can’t learn is the culture of a country. We’re shipping Canadian product into the Indian market. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we didn’t have the Indian culture on staff. How do you sell into the Indian retail marketplace? How do people in India react to a product that’s on the shelves in India? It’s very different here.”

Gussin says that the company fosters input from staff in an inclusive environment. “Nytric has taken advantage of the fact that we have these skills in house, and we don’t do anything without consulting with our staff, be it a new project coming on board, or a new company opening oversees, or even dealing with a supplier overseas. That’s been a tremendous help to growing our business, to have all these different backgrounds that we can turn to.”

Catalyst’s report suggests that organizations wishing to harness the wide range of talent in the marketplace can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace by doing the following:

Recruit employees with the intention of building an inclusive pipeline of talent
Make an ongoing commitment to the equitable distribution of development opportunities within your company
Rigorously consider inclusive talent in succession-planning activities

Canadian financial services and banking company, RBC, makes inclusion a priority using strategies that include targeting and giving additional support to diverse recruits.

RBC supports Career Bridge, a program that places qualified professionals new to Canada in internships for three months within an organization. Of interns at RBC, the Catalyst report states, “Forty-tow interns have participated in this program, and approximately, 80% of them joined RBC as full-time employees following their placements.”

Apart from the economic advantages to hiring immigrants, diversity and inclusion in the workplace make for a lively and interesting work culture. Says Gussin of the environment at Nytric, “What we’re trying to create here is an atmosphere of inclusion and not an atmosphere of assimilation. We have nine different cultural backgrounds and more than that in terms of languages with the various dialects, and we’re proud of that. I make the point of sale in my presentations when I go out and I tell people, ‘We can serve you in many different languages, including Australian.’ People laugh, but you know the Australian culture is very different.”

Nytric’s success has motivated the company to encourage other organizations to hire immigrants. Says Gussin, “A lot of the success of Nytric is bound to the success of the people who we have here, and the people who we have here are predominantly immigrants. That success is not only Nytric’s success, it’s Canada’s success. If you look at our web site, 90% of the product that we produce is produced for clients outside of Canada. These immigrants who have brought their skills to Nytric have helped us to produce successful products that we sell outside the country, which in turn has got to be good for Canada.”


Reference: Your Workplace Magazine