According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, by 2031 some 80% of the countries’ population growth will come from immigration. Currently in Toronto, almost 20% of the workforce is comprised of migrants – finding a skilled worker in that talent pool can give companies a boost to accessing international markets or specific local groups.
Peter Paul, project leader of ALLIES (Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies), says the conversation around hiring immigrants needs to move discussions of demographics.
“It’s not just big companies like banks,” Paul said. “For small and medium companies hiring immigrants can give access to important groups in the community.”
From language skills to insight into community preferences, hiring immigrants can give companies an advantage within their industry.
HR are often concerned about how they can feel confident in a potential employee’s qualifications and experience, but since international communication has become easy and instantaneous, checking references for immigrant candidates can be just as easy as for locals. A quick internet search will usually reveal the details of an institution or course.
Another issue is connecting employers with the right skillsets, and migrants with the right recruiters.
“Immigrants often don’t have the networks and connections necessary to access the hidden job market, and on the other side companies say they are open to hiring immigrants but don’t know how to reach them,” Paul said. “I think that’s a key gap that needs to be overcome.”
Most major cities have organizations aimed at bridging that gap, and industry specific immigrant groups such as the The Association of Filipino Canadian Accountants can also help in connecting with talent. Programs providing mentoring and networking opportunities are key to the search, as are industry-specific language courses. Many immigrants have the skills required, but general ESL courses may not give them the vocabulary they need to work in engineering or HR.
Understanding these language difficulties can be a challenge, but 3M’s London, Ontario office uses a game to put English speakers in immigrants’ shoes. Two people have a conversation and one of the two has to think of a synonym for every verb.
Instead of saying “I wanted to walk to the store and buy a drink”, they might say “I desired to stroll to the store and purchase a drink.”
It gives staff an understanding of the challenge of communicating in a second language, Sarah Tattersall from 3M said.
“You lose your train of thought about what your message is supposed to be and you’re not 100 per cent listening to what the other person is saying,” Tattersall said, adding that this exercise can provide a lot of insight into how people can get lost in conversations even though they’re fluent in English.
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