When George Kelk Corp. is looking to recruit new employees, it sets its sights on Canada’s immigrant community first.
“Eighty per cent of our staff of 160 was born outside of Canada,” said Peter Kelk, president of the Toronto company, which makes instruments for mining and metal forming. “Since we export 98 per cent of our production, their understanding of how business is done in their home areas helps us enormously.”
The approach stands in stark contrast to the immigrant hiring practices of most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), according to a report released by Maytree on Tuesday.
Canada annually receives about 250,000 immigrants – many of whom have advanced degrees and skills that are in demand – but only a small fraction of them manage to land jobs at SMBs, which represent 64 per cent of new private-sector positions. The issue is two-fold, the report concludes: Smaller employers are often unaware of the skills immigrants bring to the table or how to reach out to them, while newcomers tend to focus their job hunts on well-known corporations.
“This represents a huge opportunity,” said Ratna Omidvar, president of study sponsor Maytree, a non-profit foundation that develops programs to integrate immigrants into the work force. The consultations for Global Talent for SMEs: Building Bridges and Making Connections, conducted by a division of Maytree, included 300 small-business owners in five focus groups across Canada, and individual interviews with entrepreneurs.
“They said they’re just as open to hiring foreign trained talent as anyone else. Their problem is they don’t have the connections to find immigrants with the skills they need,” Ms. Omidvar said. “They tend to hire just in time: it’s ‘who do you know and who’s in front of me?’”
The researchers also found that immigrant advocate groups have tended to focus only on big employers “because they are the ones who can come to the table during discussions and have the capacity in their HR departments to recruit and vet immigrant candidates,” Ms. Omidvar added.
A primary recommendation of the report is for a single point of SMB access to recruiting and hiring support for immigrants.
Small-scale programs of this nature already exist locally. Pat d'Entremont, partner with technology services company Nicom IT Solutions, said his 85-employee company has recently found immigrants for hard-to-fill positions through the Greater Halifax Partnership’s Connector Program, which helps immigrants expand their personal networks to connect with business people. The Nova Scotia government has also set up programs to encourage immigrant hiring, Mr. D’Entremont pointed out, including a job board for skilled immigrants and – in some cases – financial assistance.
The focus groups agreed SMBs would do better if there was an online data base of screened immigrant candidates. “They said they need something that is sector-wide and they would benefit from an HR advisory or consulting site that they could use when they’re looking for talent,” Ms. Omidvar said.
Lionel Carriere, president of mobile software company XEA Services in Edmonton, said he’d have immediate use for such a data base. “We’re a growing company facing challenges in finding people with the skills we need. But as a small enterprise, we don’t have access to tools and resources that would allow us to recruit foreign trained workers. Our only (hiring) option is for them to find us.”
In consultations with Maytree, Mr. Carriere recommended the agency that runs the data base also provide pre-screening of equivalency of international experience and reference checks, as well as assistance in supporting any new employee’s adaptation to Canadian culture.
Another recommendation in the report is for governments to provide wage and orientation subsidies as incentives for small employers, which can’t offer compensation at the same level as larger employers. These might include bonuses payable when an SMB hires an eligible skilled immigrant for at least 12 months, or a tax credit similar to the federal subsidy on Employment Insurance payments for small business hiring that was extended in the recent federal budget.
“Given the austere times, financial assistance programs, like first-job subsidies, are probably not going to be as likely to be available as an option, but we should keep it on the books for better times,” Ms. Omidvar conceded.
Most immediately, the report recommended targeting SMBs with information campaigns. “We want to use trusted intermediaries – services and institutions that SMEs use – to promote the programs and the advantages of tapping into the pool of skilled immigrants,” Ms. Omidvar said.
Most specifically, “the consultations found employers trust their accountants. We want to work with accounting organizations to provide information about services that are available and explain the advantages of hiring talented immigrants, particularly for a company that wants to develop a global market,” Ms. Omidvar said.
Maytree plans to do a pilot program with these ideas later this year, she said. They will look for partners in local communities, including governments, advocacy groups and colleges and universities, as well as leading employers.
“We don’t want to tell them what to do. Local employers know their particular sector and the needs of local employers. We want more SMEs to come out and tell us what will work.”