Why aren't more businesses hiring immigrants?
This talent pool can bring unique benefits
BY RICK SPENCE, FINANCIAL POST AUGUST 10, 2010
Here's a paradox: Business owners constantly complain about scarcity of talent to work in trades or semi-skilled jobs, or the difficulty of finding motivated people willing to work in lower-wage service positions. Yet these same owners often overlook a motherlode of talent right under their noses.
A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business shows 78% of small business owners reported not hiring any recent immigrants between 2003 and 2006.
It's a shocking oversight. Canada was founded on the sweat and skills of immigrants, from the Scottish engineers and Chinese workers who built the Canadian Pacific Railway to masterful high-tech wizards such as Mitel founders Terry Matthews and Michael Cowpland, RIM's Mike Lazaridis and Kwok Yeun Ho of ATI Technologies.
Why aren't more entrepreneurs hiring immigrants? How can companies tap this waiting talent pool? For the answers, I talked to Indian-born Deepak Chopra, president of Pitney Bowes Canada, the venerable postal-meter company that has recently made an art of tapping immigrant labour pools to meet its own talent needs.
Pitney Bowes has been benefiting from diversity since the Second World War, when labour was scarce and it tapped ethnic communities to run its production facility in Stamford, Conn. Within a few years, Chopra says, there were 25 languages being spoken on the factory floor. Bilingual workers were used as translators to communicate with workers who couldn't speak English.
"That really got us into the position where we became comfortable with people who don't look like us or talk like us," Chopra says. The company started offering after-hours language lessons and encouraged opportunities for staff to share their customs and foods.
Pitney Bowes remains adamant about breaking down cultural barriers and creating a level playing field for all nationalities, Chopra says. It's the best way to tap all the talent you're paying for, especially at the highest levels. "In the boardroom," Chopra says, "diverse talent tends to hold back."
Chopra understands why employers might be wary of hiring newcomers. Training and integrating new people is hard enough without paying for language lessons, too. But he contends Canada's skilled workforce will be increasingly composed of immigrants, and entrepreneurs should aim to become employers of choice for new Canadians.
Leveraging immigrants' skills would also help companies tap fast-growing consumer markets, such as the Chinese populations in cities like Richmond Hill, Ont., and Burnaby, B.C., Chopra says. Family businesses, especially, would benefit from hiring skilled newcomers to complement the family's skill set and help them identify and serve new markets, he adds.
To leverage the skills and contacts of immigrants, Pitney Bowes uses a "Talent and Inclusion" plan that tracks its success in hiring, retaining and developing diverse talent. All managers, including Chopra, are in part compensated on success in this area.
Chopra offers another Pitney Bowes initiative as a model for small businesses wanting to woo immigrant talent: get involved with local organizations that work with recent arrivals. Forty members of his senior staff are mentoring new immigrants (in Canada for two years or less) through the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.
He says immigrants today
are better prepared than in past years, because of the online preparation. Still, they often need help understanding the subtleties of business communication, finding a job, and learning how to ace an interview. While mentoring helps connect with immigrant communities it is also a great way to develop executive talent.
To help more businesses benefit from Canada's cultural diversity, Chopra recommends three other tactics:
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