Thales Canada, Transportation: 2010 IS Awards Winner: RBC Immigrant Advantage Award

When 90 per cent of your business is outside Canada, a multilingual workforce is an obvious asset. But for Thales Canada’s Transportation business, a country unit of a global leader in electronic systems, being able to converse in other languages is only the beginning. Thales produces “brains for trains,” sophisticated systems that allow urban metros to operate without drivers.

“The talent pool in Toronto is a major advantage,” says Michael Mackenzie, Chief Operating Officer. “It definitely facilitates our success. Multi-million dollar global projects require sensitive negotiations and strong working relationships. With overseas clients in areas such as Asia and the Middle East, it is a competitive advantage for us to have staff who understand the customers’ cultures and values, and who can communicate in the local language. Being confident about customer comprehension is critical. Having these capabilities allows us to break down barriers, and more effectively understand and provide solutions that address the unique needs of our customers.”

Global projects are at times comprised of a consortium of suppliers where Thales develops the train control system while other companies provide the trains and infrastructure. Understanding how to work across and within multicultural teams is just as important as comprehending client needs.

In the Toronto office, half the employees are immigrants, originating from over 29 countries and speaking over 30 languages among them. Seventy per cent are engineers, with training and experience from all over the world.

Thales hires for skill first, and will often conduct interviews in candidates’ native languages. The phrase “Canadian experience” is seldom uttered, while international experience is welcomed and discussed in detail. English language training isn’t about fitting in as much as expanding skill sets. The company also pays for professional memberships and offers tuition reimbursement, often as internationally experienced engineers work towards licensure.

With immigrants in senior management roles, new immigrant hires are inspired by what’s possible at Thales. And with a retention rate of over 95 per cent, it’s clear that immigrant employees are invested in a rewarding career with the company.

“Ultimately our business is selling and implementing safe solutions,” says Mackenzie. “Having a diverse staff that includes immigrants with international education and experience means that we’re able to develop and deliver those solutions more effectively and provide a higher level of customer satisfaction.”