Although it may be difficult for us to imagine right now, in the midst of recovering from the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, the post-pandemic period is likely to be a time of immense economic growth and renewal. With Baby Boomers heading toward retirement in large numbers, immigrants will be vital to rebuilding the economy.
The Canadian government has set ambitious immigration targets over the next few years and has introduced new pilot programs to allow temporary foreign workers and international students with a variety of skill levels to transition to permanent residence. In order for businesses to leverage the talents of these newcomers, it is crucial that they are hired, trained and retained in positions that are appropriate for their skills and qualifications. At a time when organizations are finally beginning to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business imperative, immigrants present a unique opportunity.
Immigrants bring multiple layers of diversity; not only do they embody surface-level aspects of diversity, such as race, ethnicity and language, they also bring deep-level diversity. Deep diversity involves unobservable aspects of difference such as attitudes, values and viewpoints. Immigrants have global experiences and nuanced cultural competencies that can lead to innovation and creativity. Work teams with deep-level diversity have been found to have better performance in tasks such as problem-solving and decision-making. It is not surprising that immigrants can offer unique perspectives given their varied transnational exposure.
In fact, economic immigrants are known to be favourably “self-selected” for labour market success. The complicated process of moving from one country to another tends to attract individuals who are highly motivated and willing to take risks. Immigrants can also provide access to diverse networks, both locally and globally. Immigrants’ networks and in-depth cultural knowledge present a fantastic opportunity for Canadian employers. The large numbers of newcomers arriving in Canada every year represent a growing customer/client base and immigrant employees can provide insights into the needs and preferences of these specific markets.
“The complicated process of moving from one country to another tends to attract individuals who are highly motivated and willing to take risks.”
Hiring managers often find it challenging to evaluate applications from immigrants because they are unsure of the quality or relevance of international education and experience. To mitigate these uncertainties, managers can learn about the extensive screening mechanisms within Canada’s skilled immigrant selection system. Numerous Canadian agencies work directly with employers to support their understanding of international qualifications; organizations need to use these and other available resources to ensure an inclusive hiring process.
While hiring immigrant workers into skills-appropriate jobs is the first step, this is not enough to ensure their long-term success. Managers play a vital role in fostering the engagement and retention of immigrant talent. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) recently published a report that found that middle managers are critical to building immigrant-inclusive teams. The central premise of inclusion is that reciprocal respect and accommodation are crucial to ensure that all group members feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. Managers should foster intercultural competence within their teams in order to allow everyone to fully contribute to the organization while still being themselves. Immigrant integration has to be seen as a two-way street: it is not only the immigrant who must adjust to conform with Canadian norms and expectations; the cultures within organizations must also be flexible in order to make room for talented newcomers.
Organizations that can rise to this challenge will benefit from the ripple effects of successful immigrant hiring and retention. These organizations will become employers of choice and gain access to the best and brightest talent from around the world. This will become particularly crucial during the post-pandemic economic renewal, when there are likely to be skills shortages in many sectors.