The Toronto Star
January 16, 2009

Mike Funston
Staff Reporter

Patricia O’Connor has dedicated most of her 30-year career in social work to helping the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Now she assists other foreign-trained social workers who face barriers finding that first job in Canada.

O’Connor is co-ordinator of a program at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education that offers training, mentorship, support and work placements for qualified social work professionals from other countries.

More than 100 graduates of the 10-month certificate program have found jobs with hospitals, governments, health centres, children’s aid societies and women’s shelters – a 92-per-cent success rate since the program began in 2005.

For her outstanding efforts, O’Connor receives the Toronto Star Immigrant Champion Award as chosen by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

“I have the privilege of getting to know people from all over the world who have done amazing things and been involved in all kinds of struggles, all kinds of variations of social work as practised in their countries,” O’Connor says. “I get to see them move into jobs where they make a fantastic contribution to their organizations and help them become more responsive to the diversity that exists in our society. It’s exciting to learn from them and know that, before long, they’re going to be the next champions and the leaders in their field.”

Her program also supplies counselling to immigrant social workers and courses that may help them beef up their qualifications to work in Canada. Employers need to be shown “what a talented pool” foreign-trained workers form, O’Connor says.

“There are some real, institutionalized barriers that make it hard for them in the workplace. We don’t deny there’s racism or that changes need to happen in organizations. We are not just supporting individuals, but are committed to social change and organizational change.”

O’Connor organizes workshops for agencies, helps educate employers about the immigrant talent base, finds placements for students and works with organizations to evaluate international credentials. She started an accreditation committee. And she co-ordinates a network of more than 550 internationally educated social workers so they know about jobs, volunteer opportunities and events.

She was nominated for the award by Christine Okech, a former student from Kenya who is now a child protection worker in Hamilton. “(O’Connor) possesses many qualities and skills that make her an outstanding champion for immigrant professionals,” Okech wrote in her nomination letter.

The Executive: Degree from Cambridge is no good here!?!

Fiona Macfarlane arrived in Canada just as countless immigrants before her did, with only the contents of her suitcase and no job.

But armed with a prestigious law degree from Cambridge University in England, the South African native was confident she’d find work in her field.

She applied to several firms and was stunned when only one even bothered to respond. That shook her confidence to the core and gave her serious doubts about choosing Canada. She had wanted to settle in England, her husband wanted the U.S.; Canada was the compromise.

Macfarlane persisted with her job search and, within two months, found a good position in Calgary with Ernst and Young.

That was in 1987. She rose through the ranks and eventually became the company’s chief operating officer for its Americas Tax Practice.

But she never forgot her humbling experience as an immigrant. She became a staunch promoter of breaking down employment barriers for immigrant talent.

Macfarlane was chosen for this year’s CBC Toronto Business Leadership Award from the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, which honours a CEO, owner or senior manager who demonstrates leadership, vision and integrity by bringing skilled immigrants into the workplace.

“For me, the feeling that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life is the best reward,” Macfarlane says. “Immigrants are, by nature, risk-takers and prepared for the challenges and hurdles that await them. They’re willing to step out of their comfort zones. They have drive.”

Charles Marful, a team leader at Ernst and Young and originally from Ghana, praised Macfarlane for being unconventional in her own right. “As an immigrant who has had an opportunity to observe Fiona in various roles, I’ve admired her passion and leadership in opening doors for other new immigrants.”

The Recruiter: Pro changes hiring system

Companies with culturally diverse workforces have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace, says Jane Lewis, human resources director for Procter & Gamble Inc. in Canada.

“We believe they will outperform homogeneous companies,” she adds. (The company has 3,000 employees in Canada.)

Lewis received the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award from the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council for going beyond her job to help skilled immigrants.

She’s worked at tapping into the talent base of immigrants, strengthening her managers’ ability to lead a diverse workforce, and at increasing awareness of differences in style and culture through employee training.

Equal Employer: Opening doors to innovation

“No Canadian experience required.”

It’s a rare message to hear.

For a thriving Mississauga firm, however, it’s a statement that’s become a mantra for success. Nytric Ltd. researches product ideas, designs prototypes and takes them to market.

If they like an idea, they’ll back it with their money.

Founded nine years ago, Nytric employs 25 immigrants and three of its five managers are newcomers to Canada. CEO Avanindra Utukuri is from India.

“We like to call ourselves the United Nations because of all the different countries we come from,” says Utukuri, who graduated from the University of Toronto in electrical engineering. He came to Canada with his family at age 6.

Utukuri is one of five founders of Nytric, winner of the RBC Best Immigrant Employer Award for companies with fewer than 500 employees that successfully recruit, retain and promote skilled immigrant employees.

The award is presented by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

“We always look for individuals who have the best capabilities for the job at hand,” regardless of nationality, Utukuri says.

Products the company develops range from flight simulators and medical devices to an underwater flashlight.

Riddhesh Raval, a senior software designer from India, has created things such as technologies for a parking system, a gaming console and a DVD duplicator.

Creating Opportunity: A company made of newcomers

Larisa Skorishchenko came to Canada in 1997 with a goal. She wanted to secure a career in computer network administration.

Her qualifications included a science degree and several years of teaching experience in Israel and her native country of Moldova.

Unlike many immigrants who labour for years in jobs that don’t match their skills, Skorishchenko was able to land one that did with CH2M HILL Canada Limited, an environmental engineering consulting company noted for hiring employees who are newcomers to Canada.

She participated in an IT training program at Community MicroSkills Development Centre, a Toronto non-profit organization that offers programs for the unemployed.

A program placement at CH2M HILL led to a full-time position in 2000 and Skorishchenko remains with the company.

While her journey t stable employment may be hers alone, it’s not unusual for CH2M HILL.

According to company estimates, about 60 per cent of its Canadian workers are immigrants.

That’s one of the many reasons why CH2M HILL is winner of an RBC Best Immigrant Employer award for small- to medium-sized companies that recruit, retain and promote skilled immigrants, as chosen by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council for the Immigrant Success Awards.

Reference: Toronto Star