Tapping into overseas work pool key to growth

, Postmedia News · Nov. 30, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2011 3:11 AM ET
Like any business professional on the move, Jamie Rogers, a recruitment specialist at Calgary-based engineering firm Hatch, likes to network. But his sphere of influence is a little out of the ordinary.
Mr. Rogers is a firm believer that international experience is a terrific advantage in the Canadian workplace. That's why he spends a lot of time working with immigration agencies, colleges and other associations to meet, greet and mentor new Canadians.
His passion for helping immigrants find employment goes back to the time he spent working abroad after graduating from university. "That experience gave me real insight into how businesses work out there and the many similarities," he says.
Mr. Rogers considers it an important opportunity to find talent that might otherwise be overlooked. "There's been a belief that a person needs Canadian experience before they can be hired. But overseas experience is solid. The language and cultural differences are easy to overcome if you have the credentials."
Tapping into this work pool is quickly becoming a business imperative. Lynn Merrithew, corporation relation liaison for CCIS (Calgary Catholic Immigration Society), says 24,000 new Canadians from 120 countries arrive in Alberta alone each year. "That's a large number. And given the trends - older workers retiring, lower birthrates, etc. - we have to depend on immigration to sustain our corporate growth here."
This is far from being a local phenomenon. Teresa Gonzalez, director, gateway for international professionals at Ryerson University's G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education in Toronto, says "immigrants are expected to account for all of Canada's labour force growth this year. For that reason, access to this pool of talent has become a pressing issue for employers."
The challenge for many employers lies in knowing where to find the right qualifications and talent for the job. Mr. Rogers says he likes to work with organizations such as CCIS and Bow Valley College, who offer a range of networking, professional development and placement services designed to encourage business leaders to connect with new immigrants. "These programs are a great tool for anyone in HR staffing, because you are able to reach out and find new ways to bring in highly skilled talent."
CCIS is one of several likeminded agencies in the Calgary region that have built an extensive network for immigrants and business partners. Over time it has developed a full roster of opportunities to connect, ranging from bimonthly meetings at the Chamber of Commerce and information lunches to workshops and skills building.
"A lot of businesses are just becoming aware of the infinite talent pool that can be found through agencies like ours," Ms. Merrithew says. "Engineering, accounting, IT, HR, business management - we're able to link those types of skills with employers at these sessions."
The numbers show these efforts are having a significant positive effect on the labour picture: in a three-year period, CCIS alone placed 105 engineers in the oil and gas industry.
"Some of the people we placed when we started in 2003 are now in senior and executive positions just because we managed to convince employers to take these people on for their projects," Ms. Merrithew says.
New Canadians can also help themselves enormously by putting themselves in the networking picture and working on building "soft skills" to augment their credentials, Ms. Gonzales says.
"Aside from technical skills many of these professionals have, employers are looking for communication, critical thinking and analytical skills." To that end Ryerson is developing bridging programs in collaboration with industry stakeholders to ensure new Canadians develop the right skills to fasttrack into the workplace.
Whether it's bridging programs or meet and greets, networking is becoming a business necessity given that new Canadians will play a major role in helping employers address staffing shortfalls in future.
"Networking is always a huge focus point in my discussions," Mr. Rogers says. "It opens up opportunities for immigrants to reach out to professionals. At the same time it lets employers connect with a high percentage of internationally trained individuals and establish a common ground for conversations. It's definitely helping me see how I can help my company today."

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