Mississauga-based Pitney Bowes has been awarded one of four prestigious Immigrant Success awards that recognize its innovative work at integrating skilled immigrants into its labour force.

To Deepak Chopra, CEO of Pitney Bowes Canada, “the program we initiated, lately in a partnership with TRIEC [the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council], has become a flagship for assimilation of new Canadians.”

The award, from TRIEC and its partner, RBC Financial, is backed by Zabeen Hirji, RBC’s chief human resources officer: “If Canada is to realize the global advantage of its diversity and become a destination of choice for professionals, skilled people and entrepreneurs, we must do a better job of helping new immigrants integrate.

“We must welcome them into our society and recognize their achievements, their contributions to the prosperity of our country.”

Fully fifteen per cent of Pitney Bowes’ senior leaders are skilled immigrants, according to Chopra. At TRIEC, executive director Elizabeth McIsaac states that employers who find successful ways of assimilating immigrant skills in the years to come will be the leaders of tomorrow.

It was a voyage of discovery for Chopra and his management staff from various departments. He believes that PB’s trailblazing with mentorship programs, for example, has shown what can be done to delete skilled-labour shortages that plague south-western Ontario.

“Define the needed skills, and the targets, and give those skills higher points in immigration policies, for example.”

But he hesitates bringing politics into the picture: “We corporations, the colleges and universities, existing government agencies, and independent organizations are all responsible, or trying to be responsible, for making it happen.”

Pitney Bowes is the only coast-to-coast partner for [ALLIES, a project of Maytree and The JW McConnell Family Foundation], and this means that employment integration programs can be rolled out at many of PB’s locations in Canada on short notice. [ALLIES] is soon to roll out its mentorship program in Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton.

“So far as our voyage of discovery is concerned,” says Chopra. “We quickly found, in every branch we tried pilots, that our employees instantly saw the value in them. We now have 40 of our leadership staff who have volunteered to act as mentors.”

PB’s inclusion of immigrants in its workforce really started 40 years ago, long before the company’s talent director proposed TRIEC’s mentorship program. “They offered the job-hunter subjects, we supplied the volunteer mentors from our leader-staff — and I mean volunteer,” said Chopra. “The pilot worked wonders for the participants and their job search.”

A lot has been written about overqualified immigrants in Canada. For Chopra that’s a funny way of putting it. It’s really “underemployed immigrants,” with the employers having a much more diverse plate of opportunities than many of them can imagine.

“It’s a matter of opening the doors to people, and then being surprised at what kind of skills they bring, and then seeing how eager they are to succeed,” says Chopra. “One individual brought a set of IT and outsourcing skills to us – he’s now the IT director – which would have taken us a lot longer to realize we needed.”

PB has had significant success attracting immigrant sales people who have good English skills and university degrees that compared well with those in Canada.

Aside from its reputation in assimilation techniques, Pitney Bowes as a major employer in Mississauga traditionally invests heavily in in-house training, but still suffers chronic shortages in its sales divisions – not just in southern Ontario but in Alberta, Quebec and B.C.

“The lack of awareness of immigrant talent is not universal in Ontario,” says Chopra. “In the past 25 years their quality, experience and credentials have become much more accepted. So have their English skills and their tendency to speak their minds and try innovating along with the rest of the crowd. Given the inclusive environment we have created at Pitney Bowes, they’ve thus become fuller with energy and confidence, and more global-minded than most Canadians – if only because of the time they’ve spent researching where to re-establish themselves.”

He believes that recognizing an immigrant co-worker’s tendency to hold back in a conversation is “no rocket science”. “And you can’t force this with company policies, either.”

In its mentorship functions, PB picks culturally and technically diverse teams to carry out workshops. “Schulich School of Business actually built the structure of them for us, and we practice it on an imagined business challenge. So the diversity of angles and proposals always results in far more options for action than the prescribed ones you’re used to hearing.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of room for humour in these interactions, which I define as ice-breaking, or inclusiveness. But there is intensity, too. And the diverse think-tanks have proved themselves beyond what you would call financial logic.”

Chopra’s favourite method of collecting immigrant skills and integrating them sidesteps the policy-setting route completely.

“I think the best and simplest route is persuading the corporations with highly successful integration programs to come forward and share their best practices with each other in as many venues as they can, creating and celebrating the role models. Our award from TRIEC is an example of that, because we’re honoured and even motivated, just through being recognized and awarded.”

So let the corporations and the TRIECs come along to serve the integration need, let Ontario’s excellent colleges and universities take leadership roles in accreditation, retraining and fast-tracking, and let the governments assist incoming new Canadians into their future jobs.

Chopra reiterates what it really is that builds exiting economies, innovative industries and profitable companies. “It’s enthusiasm, not forced policy.”


Reference: Mississauga Business Times