Is ‘fear of the unknown’ getting in the way of accessing top talent?

Employers discuss new survey findings and how Ottawa businesses can leverage local immigrant talent to grow their companies

On November 28th, 2017, Hire Immigrants Ottawa and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce co-hosted an Employer Learning Forum to a packed room of local employers and a cohort of skilled immigrants at Export Development Canada. A panel of experts and business leaders discussed new data from the 2017 Ottawa Business Growth Survey and the report on Talent and Immigrants, offering insights and strategies on how companies can address the growing need for a skilled workforce in Ottawa – and how to tap into overlooked local talent.

Ihor Korbabicz, the Senior Researcher and Head of Operations, Abacus Data, began the panel presentations by sharing an overview of the survey data and findings on immigration and talent. His overall message was one that resonated across the panel – “Ottawa businesses are concerned about access to talent and this concern appears to be worsening,” with 68% of local businesses reporting access to skilled labour as a top issue, up from 47% in 2016.

Ian Faris, the President and CEO of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, shared the context and history of the Ottawa Business Growth Survey, describing how the business community has used this data not only to track trends and business confidence, but to identify barriers and opportunities for the city. Adding questions related to immigration has offered new and important insights into how businesses understand and leverage local immigrant talent.

The recent findings showed that while 82% of businesses think that immigrants are an important source of skilled labour for Ottawa’s economy, only 43% of businesses felt immigrants are important to their own business. These findings reveal that many Ottawa employers are not necessarily recognizing immigrant talent as valuable for their own companies. This is particularly concerning for Ottawa, where there are more highly educated immigrants per capita than any other Canadian city.

In response to the disconnect between businesses demand for labour and the hiring of skilled immigrants in Ottawa, Kathryn Hancock, the HR Manager at Welch LLP, emphasized the need to be bold and take risks as individuals and organizations. She said that much of the time it is the “fear of the unknown” that stifles businesses from engaging diverse talent. Katheryn offered practical tips for companies to effectively onboard diverse talent, including revisiting recruitment strategies, offering mentoring and coaching for new employees; and ensuring an organizational champion keeps these issues front and center.

The final speaker, Kunle Tauhid, VP Finance and Consulting at Business Development Bank of Canada, shared his story from “both sides of the coin” – his experience as an immigrant and as an employer. He recounted the barriers he faced in finding a job when he moved to Canada 15 years ago, being denied opportunities because he lacked ‘Canadian experience.’ He offered advice to newcomers in the audience on how perseverance, keeping a positive attitude and being willing to reinvent yourself are critical ingredients to success. He also emphasized how his experience as an immigrant has shaped his perception as an employer and propelled him to hire diverse talent. As he notes, newcomers have exactly the kind of attitude, drive and resilience that companies so desperately need to grow, innovate and be successful in a changing economy. Kunle brought home the fact that cultural diversity is not simply a ‘nice-to-have’ for businesses. He shared a projection that the Canadian workforce will continue to change and be comprised of more than 80% immigrants by 2032 – making diversity a reality. Kunle emphasized that skills shortages are not unique to Ottawa and that the competition for talent is only likely to become more intense. Businesses that leverage diverse talent now will be the best positioned to win-out the competition and have the most success.

Employers in the audience noted Canada’s heightened attractiveness to international talent given current global events, and discussed the importance of effective workforce inclusion to maintaining that attractiveness. In order for Ottawa businesses to be successful, top talent is needed – and in order to find top talent, businesses need to be prepared to throw open the door to the “unknown.” It is clear that leveraging the skills of the diverse immigrant talent in the city is a critical ingredient to growing the success of businesses in Ottawa now and in the future.

Employers were reminded that there are many resources available to help them connect to immigrant talent in Ottawa, and to build their capacity to fully include and advance diverse talent in their workplaces.

Hire Immigrants Ottawa has tools and resources to help employers more effectively attract, hire and integrate skilled immigrants into skills-appropriate positions. HIO offers cross-cultural competency workshops, labour market information, and coaching and networking events to support the capacity of Ottawa businesses to leverage diverse talent effectively.


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