Panel: Celebrating 10 years and beyond

This year is Hire Immigrant Ottawa’s tenth anniversary. What have you seen change in the past decade?

“Being in the same room as employers at the highest level right now, talking about immigrant employment and engagement issues – that is a success by itself,” said Mengistab Tsegaye, executive director of World Skills Employment Centre. Tsegaye said ten years ago there were limited resources to help immigrants get into the Canadian workforce. There are more programs today, delivered by World Skills and other Immigrant Serving Organizations to thousands immigrants in the city, who are successfully finding employment in their fields.

Kenny Leon is one of them. He came to Canada from Sri Lanka in 2008 during the economic crisis seeking a job in marketing. After participating in OCISO and World Skills programs, it took him three years to get a job in his field at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. Leon and Tsegaye noted there is still work to be done as there are still many barriers to immigrants getting employed, including lack of professional networks, language skills and employer preferences for Canadian work experience, but the increase in program and accessibility of these programs in the past ten years has made a significant impact.

“We’ve seen this summit grow over the years, an indication of the importance of this issue to employers. We have more than 100 people here today,” said Henry Akanko, director of Hire Immigrants Ottawa (HIO). There’s been a shift to more engagement for integration and retention of immigrant employees. This trend will only continue, he said, with a focus on engaging all employees, not just the ones doing the hiring, to ensure a culture of inclusivity exists in the workplace.

What can people do to support immigrants in the workplace?

“Mentor someone new to Canada, because that’s the way forward,” said Leon, who had a mentor through his workplace that introduced him to key players in the industry, taught him about Canadian workplace culture and helped him with networking.

Rebecca Officer, Director of Organizational Effectiveness at The Ottawa Hospital agreed employers need to be more than managers, they must also serve as supportive leaders and coaches. She explained that at the Ottawa Hospital they reached out to World Skills and have invested in a formal onboarding process for immigrant employees to help them integrate into the workforce. Since January 2015, they have trained more than 2,900 new staff through this program.

What are the next steps forward in engagement for immigrant employment?

Tsegaye said employers are now hiring more immigrants but need to focus on retaining these employees and leveraging their talents. Tools on how to advertise, what kind of questions to ask in an interview, and what support system you have once the immigrant is hired are all important aspects.

Officer pointed out that the Ottawa Hospital sees newcomers as a source of talent as they will be impacted by the boomer retirements. There is a lot of work to be done to develop the cultural competency of employees as workplaces become more diverse.

Akanko said the focus moving forward with HIO will be reaching out to small and medium sized businesses to ensure they’re aware of the resources and support organizations like HIO offer.

For the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, Leon said the city needs reliable data about jobs in demand to better match immigrants with available jobs.


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