Hire Immigrants Ottawa has been championing the integration of newcomers into the local economy for a full decade, and at its annual summit this week, reflected on its progress and honoured its partners.
According to the organization, more than 2,000 newcomers to Canada have found work with HIO’s partner companies since its inception. Additionally, the group says it has helped hundreds of businesses adopt best practices for embracing a skilled immigrant workforce, including changing HR management strategies to remove many employers’ unconscious biases towards newcomers.
“I can’t say enough about the work HIO has done over the past decade,” said Ottawa deputy mayor Mark Taylor at the breakfast event. In his brief remarks, Mr. Taylor called on local businesses to hire Syrian refugees to assist in the ongoing settlement process.
Senator Ratna Omidvar, herself an accomplished immigrant to Canada, delivered a keynote address that included her own story of coming to Canada in the 1980s and struggling to find work. She says that a landed immigrant in Canada gave her the advice at the time to change her name – she considered Rosa or Rita – to avoid turning off potential employers based on her background.
While she understood the tough choices many immigrants have to make, Ms. Omidvar decided changing her name was not an option.
“I could no more change my name than change the colour of my skin,” she said.
Ms. Omidvar went on to discuss the many “wicked problems” that Canada and its businesses must confront when integrating immigrants into the economy. Licensing issues, for example, leave many internationally trained immigrants on the sidelines, unable to contribute to their full potential.
“Canada will succeed if our immigrants succeed within it.”
Our vocabulary is rife with problems, too. The simple shift from the word “foreign” to “international” in our discourse of newcomers’ skills changes the connotation of hiring immigrants to a more positive one, she says.
Ms. Omidvar provided the business case for establishing a more diverse workforce, including developing a better understanding of international markets and the people within them. As Canada’s population becomes increasingly diverse, a homogeneous team becomes a disadvantage in the market.
“Canada will succeed if our immigrants succeed within it,” she said.
HIO’s annual summit was also an opportunity to distribute its 2017 Employer Excellence awards, which honour businesses with practices and policies that encourage the integration of immigrant workers in their organizations.
The Ottawa Hospital received an award for its programs including an onboarding process for immigrant employees as well as staff training programs for integrating newcomers into the workforce. The organization says it undertakes these steps because of the importance of a diverse workforce in its efforts to care for patients across languages, faiths and cultures.
The other award went to the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (the French Public School Board of Eastern Ontario), which says it strives to match its teaching and administrative staff to the increasing diversity of its student population. To that end, three out of five of the organization’s high schools are led by principals that are newcomers to Canada.