Why skills diversity is the backbone of Canada’s immigration system

Left, Chef Blaine Prince of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation trains aspiring cooks at the Keeyask Manitoba Hydro site. The program is supported by Sodexo, in partnership with provincial government, and provides Indigenous students on-site learning opportunities to obtain their Red Seal Chef certification. Right, Anna-Karina Tabuñar, Sodexo Canada’s director corporate affairs, was recently recognized with the Community Leader Award at the annual Celebration of People Gala in Ottawa.  SODEXO CANADA

Left, Chef Blaine Prince of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation trains aspiring cooks at the Keeyask Manitoba Hydro site. The program is supported by Sodexo, in partnership with provincial government, and provides Indigenous students on-site learning opportunities to obtain their Red Seal Chef certification. Right, Anna-Karina Tabuñar, Sodexo Canada’s director corporate affairs, was recently recognized with the Community Leader Award at the annual Celebration of People Gala in Ottawa. SODEXO CANADA

Anila Lee Yuen, president and CEO of Centre for Newcomers (CFN) in Calgary, Alberta, has a reminder for all Canadians: “Unless you are Indigenous, at some point in history your family arrived as immigrants; immigration and newcomers are extremely important to Canada.” 

Ms. Lee Yuen says skills diversity is the backbone of Canada’s current immigration system, where the Economic Classification favours those with diverse employment skills. 

CFN and other settlement agencies across the country offer employment services to newcomers, including training on Canadian workplace culture, advanced English language support and bridging programs for people who want to transition their careers, she says.

Ms. Lee Yuen also points to research that reveals a “pronounced diversity dividend.” Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk’s Diversity Dividend report for the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation found a one per cent increase in ethnocultural diversity was associated with an average 2.4 per cent increase in revenue across the 7,900 workplaces surveyed.

In addition to the economic benefits of newcomers succeeding in the workforce, finding meaningful employment makes newcomers feel included. 

“The business community can play an active role in being conveners of cross-cultural understanding, inclusion and diversity,” says Ms. Lee Yuen. “By actively hiring newcomers with the skill set for open positions, the business community does much to reduce conscious and unconscious bias in hiring, non-recognition of foreign credentials or international experience.”

The Conference Board of Canada’s (CBoC) 2018 report, Measuring Up: Benchmarking Diversity and Inclusion in Canadian Organizations, shows that while Canadian organizations indicated an intent to focus on inclusion efforts, the behaviours that go along with these intentions, such as providing development opportunities for members of diverse groups, were viewed as low priorities.

“Many Canadian organizations have woken up to the reality that a diverse and inclusive workforce is a competitive advantage. However, they are struggling with putting those intentions into practice in a systematic and disciplined way,” says Jane Cooper, CBoC senior research associate.

Based on survey results, the report reveals one-third of responding organizations had no special strategies to recruit a more diverse workforce, and one-third of respondents said they do not measure the results of their diversity and inclusion efforts.  

Food and facilities management company Sodexo Canada reports its diversity and inclusion policies result in a more engaged and stable workforce, and it has the data to prove it, says Anna-Karina Tabuñar, the company’s director corporate affairs.

“When the company does engagement surveys, the number one driver for employee engagement remains our actions in diversity and inclusion (D&I),” she says. “Our workforce feels more engaged in the work they do because of Sodexo’s D&I culture, the activities we encourage them to participate in, and our other community involvement.”

Ms. Tabuñar adds that Sodexo Canada is finding more and more that its actions in D&I are its market differentiator. 

“Our clients come to us, not only for the expertise on the over 100 services we can provide, but also to help them along their D&I journeys,” she says. “We see it, because we measure everything we do. Employee engagement goes up because of our D&I actions. In our global surveys that include sites around the world, they show stronger performance when we have gender-balanced teams.”

Sodexo considers its supply chains as an extension of those values.

“We feel very strongly that when we are able to hire and empower Indigenous businesses and communities, the rest of the country prospers,” says Ms. Tabuñar, adding that the company is a founding member of the Aboriginal Procurement Champions Group, a strategy of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

“We also know that when we do business with and give more business to small-medium enterprises and women-owned enterprises, they elevate their communities because they tend to invest back into the communities,” she adds.

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The business community can play an active role in being conveners of cross-cultural understanding, inclusion and diversity.
— Anila Lee Yuen, 
president and CEO of Centre for Newcomers

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Tanya Camp