Zabeen Hirji
Zabeen Hirji

Foreign-born Canadians honoured at Immigrant Success Awards

By Admin Wednesday April 10 2013 in News
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Hiring qualified and skilled immigrants is absolutely the right thing to do because it makes good business sense by increasing net earnings, says immigrant workplace integration advocate, Ratna Omidvar.


“It’s not social justice and it’s not social equity,” Omidvar said at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) seventh annual Immigrant Success Awards last week at the Royal Bank of Canada. “Those things are very important, but the bottom line is one of our biggest motivators.”


As an example, Omidvar pointed to the huge financial success enjoyed by one of the winners – global electronics manufacturing services provider SMTC – which is a publicly traded American company whose corporate head office and manufacturing facility is in Markham.


Almost 95 per cent of the production floor employees and 50 per cent of the head office staff are immigrants, who bring a wide variety of skill sets and diverse experience that helps the organization fill its gaps and provide skills and expertise to expand and meet client needs.


Last year, the mid-size company with a global workforce of about 2,300 raked in approximately $296 million in revenues, which was a 35 per cent increase from the previous year.


“They made a deliberate choice to come to Canada and locate in Markham because that’s where they find their applied engineers and global talent,” said Omidvar, the chair of TRIEC board of directors. “It’s a bottom line business decision.”


Since 2007, TRIEC has recognized nearly 25 individuals and employers for their leadership in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.


“The awards are important for so many wonderful reasons,” said Omidvar, who migrated to Canada from India in 1981. “We celebrate success, we pat people on the back, but we don’t really do this so we can fill this room with the Royal Bank’s gracious hospitality. We do this so that other employers could sit up and take note. Our premise is that that if one employer can do it, so can the other. Hopefully, that narrative continues to grow.”


RBC’s chief human resources officer and TRIEC co-chair, Zabeen Hirji, said the award recipients are an inspiration because their organizations represent innovative success stories and leadership in action.


“I feel very strongly that effectively integrating skilled immigrants into the workforce is a need to do,” said the banking executive in the keynote address. “It’s nice to do and we need all employers to embrace this imperative. For us at RBC, hiring new immigrants is part of our business strategy. Simply put, we believe that to serve the market, we need to hire the market. And what we have seen is that newcomers enrich our workplace and our country with their international experience cultural competencies, language skills, understanding of global markets and their desire to succeed. They make us more competitive.”


Hirji said she’s using her influence within the organization to advance change and ensure the bank reflects the communities it serves.


“In my role at RBC, I do have the opportunity to lead the development of policies and practices as well as a culture that provides all employees the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” said Hirji, who came to Canada as a teenager with her mother from Tanzania via England in 1974. “We have made progress as have many employers, yet all of us can and need to do more. Our labour challenges are real and to achieve our full potential as a nation, we must continue to work together and leverage the skills and talents of immigrants who come here with their dreams and hopes for a better life.”


Noting that making progress requires leadership, Hirji is urging Canadian companies to accelerate change and ensure they attract more skilled immigrants to the Toronto region.


“In our increasingly diverse city and in a global economy, let’s view international experience and education as an asset and not a liability,” she said. “As employers, let’s establish appropriate goals for hiring and developing new immigrants and let’s hold our leaders accountable. Let’s ensure our processes are fair and transparent and they reduce the unconscious or unintentional biases that naturally exist.


“We wouldn’t eliminate all the unconscious biases, but we can get better at spotting them and have the courage to have some of those difficult discussions to identify what some of those unconscious biases are so that we can make change. And while there is much work to do, tonight is about pausing and recognizing progress and success.”


Trinity Tech Inc., founded by Sri Lankan immigrant Dunstan Peter, who had a Grade Five education when he arrived here as a 17-year-old in 1993, was the recipient of the RBC Immigrant Advantage Award for small and medium enterprises; while the Region of York won the Toronto Star Award for Excellence in Workplace Integration.


The municipality developed a foreign credential process guide consisting of a flow chart for when and how to assess foreign credentials, scenarios, templates for assessment requests and other resources. The easy-to-use guide is designed to promote an effective hiring process that leads to hiring decisions based on merit and does not exclude candidates from diverse backgrounds.


“Many new immigrants are choosing to live in York Region,” said human resources acting director, Beverley Cassidy-Moffatt. “As the regional government, we need to take the lead and develop a workforce that reflects the community we serve.”


Toronto Police Service diversity management unit manager, Andre Goh, was presented with the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award for his significant role in ensuring the Service reflects the city’s growing diversity.


A decade ago, 90 per cent of the recruiting class was White. In the last incoming batch four months ago, nearly 40 per cent was visible minorities speaking 22 languages.


“We are all different and we are all unique,” said Goh, who migrated from Malaysia 34 years ago. “In a city like Toronto, it’s important we reflect the community we serve. At Toronto Police Service, my team and I are trying to proactively identify and remove barriers that might limit skilled immigrants from fully integrating into the Service.


“This award is a wonderful acknowledgment, but I could not have done it without the help of my colleagues and Chief Bill Blair who said, ‘I want change.’ His vision of what the organization should look like has never wavered and he has afforded me the opportunity to do what I do.”


Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031, one in three workers will be born outside Canada.



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