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Tired of hearing about a business case for hiring immigrants?

Submitted by on June 19, 2019 – 11:49 amNo Comment | 1,790 views

HiringImmigrantsLet’s demystify a tale about a ‘cultural fit’, Canadian experience and foreign credentials.

Recently a friend of mine told me that they were tired of hearing about why it makes sense to hire immigrants and instead that they would like to know how to address some of the real challenges in hiring foreign trained professionals, i.e. will immigrant applicants fit into our organizational culture? how do I evaluate the value of their credentials? will they be able to ‘hit the ground running’, provided they have never worked in Canada?

My friend is a hiring manager at a medium-size company in Vancouver, BC. Can you relate to their concerns? How many times have you heard a business case for hiring immigrants? For decades, Canadian employers have been receiving cold calls from immigrant serving agencies making a case for hiring immigrants and refugees. Public institutions have been investing into public awareness campaigns promoting the value of immigration to the business community [think about this year’s ‘#ImmigrationMatters’ social media campaign funded by Immigration, Citizenship and Refugee Canada-IRCC]. Whether it is a poster, an online resource or training booklet, these materials will most likely reference the three main reasons for hiring immigrants:

  • #1 changing demographics & economy: In recent years, immigration has been responsible for up to 70% of Canada’s population growth and for 90% of labour force growth. As the Canadian policy debate is shifting from ‘WHY immigration’ to ‘HOW MUCH of it’, IRCC’s Minister, Ahmed Hussen puts it in perspectives for us quite eloquently: “Without immigration, our ability to grow our economy would become an impossibility”.
  • #2 looming skill shortages: In the last quarter of 2018, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s Help Wanted report estimated that a record-high 430,000 vacant jobs remained unfilled. At the same time, the 2018 BDC Investment Intentions survey of over 4,000 SMEs found that over a half of these companies (53%) said the labour shortage would cause them to limit business investment in 2019.
  • #3 immigration boosts innovation: A 2018 study, which evaluated contribution of high-skilled immigrants to innovation in the United States, concluded that “immigrants are more productive than natives, as measured by number of patents, patent citations, and the economic value of these patents.” Similarly, recent studies in Canada have found that immigrant entrepreneurs were more likely to innovate than their Canadian-born counterparts (46.5% vs. 40.2%), i.e. immigrants were more likely to “introduce a new product, process, marketing strategy or organizational method”.

While there are many other reasons for hiring international talent, this article is not about persuading those who are still looking for justifications to make their hiring processes more inclusive. I am hoping to reach those hiring managers who would like to stay ahead of the game and who are genuinely interested in recruiting the best candidates from a diverse talent pool.

hiring is about elimination

Hiring is a complex process and if you think about a key objective of each hiring step, it is really about reducing the number of applicants for the next recruitment phase with the ultimate goal of finding that one ideal candidate and, preferably doing it in the most cost/time efficient fashion. As hiring managers, we would like our candidates to have specific skills, abilities and qualifications; hence, we deliberately narrow down a talent pool when creating a specific job description with crystal-clear must-to-have skills.

Our advertising strategies (internally vs. externally, through a recruiter or simply on our website) are affecting the number and diversity of applicants. Finally, our approaches to resume screening, interviewing and final selection criteria are shaping a profile of those who we ‘allow’ to move through our hiring pipelines. Elimination is a natural and required step in hiring processes; however, the elimination performed on auto-pilot mode (i.e. “It worked for us before; therefore, it should work now”) might extend this processes to possibly eliminating the best candidate for the job. What can we do to avoid this very feasible possibility of screening out our best candidate?

I do not believe that being an internationally-trained professional automatically qualifies anybody as being the best candidate for the job. But I do believe that some of the established hiring practices by Canadian employers potentially eliminate immigrant candidates in the early stages of recruitment. Consider a BDC survey which polled over 1,200 small and medium-size businesses (SME) across Canada in the spring of 2018. The poll found that while 4 out of 10 SME employers faced labour shortages, businesses would rather hire less qualified candidates, train younger candidates or attract retirees than hire immigrants.

What are the reasons for employers to shying away from qualified immigrant job applicants? I have been pondering over this question for quite some time. This article is my attempt to discuss and challenge some of the most frequently cited hurdles in hiring immigrants and I am applying an ‘innovation’ lenses framework to illustrate my points.

are you still hiring “for-a-fit”?

Think about innovation. We know that diversity drives innovation [see above]. We also know that immigration boosts creativity. As process-driven jobs are going away, creativity is becoming more relevant than ever. In fact, this year, LinkedIn ranked ‘creativity’ as the most desirable soft skill in the world, i.e. employers are increasingly looking for people with ability to generate original ideas and apply novel ways to problem solving. Many employers still proudly practice ‘reward-for-referral’ internal programs and consider it a smart recruitment tool for attracting the candidates that would understand and fit into the culture of the organization. How do we boost innovation and creativity if we are still practicing ‘reward-for-referral” hiring programs that generate conformity and produce ‘culturally fit’ workforce?

Have you heard about “enculturability”? This term was recently introduced by Stanford and Berkley’s researchers who are challenging employers’ “screening for cultural fit” hiring practices. If you think about who gets promoted and noticed, in progressive companies it is not conformity that gets superstars noticed. The ‘enculturability’ study found that the most successful employees were those who scored high both on their ability to adapt and adjust based on cultural clues but also on their ability to build networks in organizations and connect inter-departmentally. The employees who scored highly only on ‘organizational fit’ were found to be not as successful. To practice “enculturability” in their screening processes, hiring managers are advised asking potential candidates these three questions:

  1. To what extent do candidates seek out diverse cultural environments?
  2. How rapidly do they adjust to these new environments?
  3. How do they balance adapting to the new culture while staying true to themselves?

Notice how these types of questions might level the field for immigrant and Canadian-born job applicants. Compare them with small-talk-topics that are frequently being discussed during interviews with the goal to ‘understand a cultural fit’. Often it is a small talk screening that puts immigrant applicants at disadvantage in interviews [think latest sports news, childhood cartoon jokes, etc.]

does a candidate with foreign credentials still represent an ‘unknown risk’?

Think about innovation again. Did you know that among the top 50 most innovative universities in the world, four are in South Korea and six are in Japan? It means that they represent 20% of the top 50 universities in the world. Here is more food for thoughts. If you think about the World Top 100 Universities, none of the Canadian universities made the top 25 on this list. Yet, six universities located in Asia did.

So, next time we are concerned about a candidate who received her/his education at a university in China, Hong Kong, or any other country, just remember, only three Canadian universities made the list of the World’s Top 100 Universities compared to six from China and five from Hong Kong.

Given “the global war for talent” it might not be a bad idea for recruiters and hiring managers to educate themselves about the value of credentials from other countries. Learning about international ranking might be a good first step. If you are interested in learning more, International Credential Services (ICES) in British Columbia offer comprehensive analysis of foreign credentials and work with major employers in the province to support their understanding of international qualifications of their job applicants.

do you still worry about a lack of “Canadian experience”?

Are you still thinking about innovation? Now think about Hafsa Imran, a 26-year old Pakistani software engineer who arrived to Canada in 2018. She started working in her profession almost immediately upon her arrival. How come her employer did NOT worry about Hafsa’s lack of “Canadian experience”? It is because her employer brought her to Canada under the federal Global Talent Stream immigration program. In less than two years since the program was launched in 2017, over 1,000 Canadian companies have taken advantage of it and brought more than 4,000 highly skilled foreign professionals. The program aims “at attracting top talent to Canada’s tech industry by fast tracking approvals”.

Speaking about a global race for talent and investment of innovative companies, Nancy Caron, and IRCC spokesperson, praised the program: “By facilitating the faster entry of top talent with unique skill sets and global experience, the goal [of the program] is to help innovative companies in Canada grow, flourish and create more jobs for Canadians.”

Now, let’s imagine Hafsa is arriving to Canada as one of thousands of skilled immigrants who have landed in 2018 through the Skilled Immigrant program. Often these immigrants do not have a job offer and are not sponsored by an employer. One of the first challenges Hafsa would have faced as a foreign skilled professional looking for a job in Canada is her lack of ‘Canadian experience’.

Think about how many candidates you have screened out because there was no relevant ‘Canadian experience’ on their resumes? Is lack of ‘Canadian experience’ still associated with a threat in your hiring process? Is it still a code word for your worry about “a cultural fit”, or “communication skills” or “immigrants’ ability to work in teams”? Or do you see an immigrant applicant as an opportunity to bring new ideas and new talents to your organization?

A company that has facilitated Hafsa’s recruitment process had to fill out over forty five documents for her immigration application. Her employer had to pay numerous fees. Think about all the time and money to bring this talented engineer from Pakistan – somebody who had never worked in Canada.

If we are willing to go extra mile in brining talented candidates from abroad, maybe we can save time and money by start reviewing our approaches to hiring locally?

Maybe we are now ready to move beyond the hurdles of a cultural fit, foreign credentials and a lack of Canadian experience? Maybe are now ready to truly embrace the completive advantages of immigration.

About the author: Do you know what the difference between super-diversity and diversity of thinking? Or what does “Rooney Rule” mean in the diversity hiring world? Ask Olga Scherbina. At DiversityCLUES Consulting, Olga works with businesses, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations supporting the development of innovative solutions to complex societal and workplace issues.