How do cities do it? Answering your questions on the Toronto – Auckland experience

How do cities do it? Answers on the Toronto – Auckland experience

Last month, Elizabeth McIsaac, Executive Director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and Justin Treagus, Program Director, OMEGA (Opportunities for Migrant Employment in Greater Auckland, NZ), joined us for the 60-minute webinar, Fulfilling the Promise: Integrating Immigrant Skills into the Urban Economy,  to discuss TRIEC’s multi-sector approach to labour market integration and how that approach was adapted in Auckland by OMEGA; the role of corporate leadership in the search for talent and the case for the competitive advantage of diversity to reach into new markets,  internationalize their customer base and benefit from skills and talent that fuel innovation and drive high performance.

Time ran out before the questions did so we’ve followed up with TRIEC and OMEGA staff to provide some answers here. For more context or background information, please have a look at the archived webinar.

Getting started… you asked

Q . How can we engage employers in our community so we can see some action?

TRIEC: Corporations are more likely to enter into strategic alliances where there is a good fit with their priorities and something to be gained.
– Make the business case effectively and in a well-thought out manner.
– Look into decision-making cycles for corporate community participation and financial support.
– Make it easy for them to be engaged.

Q. Are the OMEGA internships aimed at migrants with specific qualifications or industry sectors?

OMEGA: Yes, non regulated business professionals with a NZ degree equivalent and at least three years work experience.

Q. How do you deal with cultural diversity among immigrant employees? is that an issue?

OMEGA:The programmes go a long way to breaking down the barriers migrants face by linking them up with mentors who are able to share the culture of New Zealand. A bi-product is that the mentor learns about the mentee’s culture, and this cross-pollination breeds understanding and respect.

Q. How can we ensure that immigrants are protected from exploitation in the labour market?

OMEGA: This comes back to leadership. Leaders need to set the platform for recognizing talent, and not exploiting it. Lower salaries are often offered out of a fear of the unknown – will this person be able to perform to the level that their CV would suggest/promise – and so we need to get to a place where we can accurately assess the competence of individuals from abroad, such that we can make bolder hiring decisions.


Q. Does OMEGA try to match mentor/mentee occupations? or does OMEGA view mentoring as more of a generic skill?

OMEGA: Matching is really important and we believe that the strength of the match is a key determinant of success since strong skills alignment leads to better access in terms of professional networks as well as more industry relevant support regarding CV’s and industry knowledge. So far, we’ve matched over 150 mentors and mentees.

TRIEC: See our highly regraded program, The Mentoring Partnership.

Q. Is it difficult for OMEGA to find people interested in being mentors?

OMEGA: Yes and No! Yes, because unemployment and underemployment is real, and we receive many applications through our community agency partners and referral network. We are a young initiative, and there is still much to do. No, because we have some fantastic corporate partners and committed leadership and individuals. People like to help -and the results pay off. Good hires are good for business!

Q. What is the best way to appeal to and engage potential mentors in the community to take on an internationally-trained professional in a mentorship program?

OMEGA: Start at the top, and engage leadership. Our biggest contributor of mentors has been Auckland City Council where the CEO and exec team have been mentors and personally endorsed the relevance of our programmes.

Q. How long on average does it take to find mentors? particularly when first starting?

TRIEC: This is a very difficult question to answer. It depends of the level and extent of your engagement with the employers in your community. ALLIES has developed some good ideas that may help guide your mentor recruitment.

SMEs – small-to-medium sized entreprises

Q. What do you do to involve small business, those with 20 people or less? What’s been your experience with getting SMEs on board on board?

OMEGA: It’s true that a large number of businesses employ less than 20 people but, just under 50% of people work for companies that employ over 100 people, which makes large business stronger actors for change. So, at OMEGA, our first objective is to create a model of success with these larger companies using initiatives such as our internship programme.

TRIEC: In Canada, many communities are working on engaging SMEs in a way that meets the needs of both the employers and other stakeholders in the immigrant employment councils. ALLIES partner, Hire Immigrants Ottawa has developed a handbook to help small businesses recruit skilled immigrants.

Getting the word out

Q. What kind of outreach is being done in New Zealand to make immigrant groups aware of this new resource?

OMEGA: We work through our networks and business and government partners and would welcome any support and suggestions around how to help this group develop.

Q. I recently read a story in a Human Rights Commission bulletin about an OMEGA client that found skilled work. Where can I find others?

OMEGA: Tracking success is important-and rewarding. Approximately 80% of those that complete the program find skilled employment. You’re right, the individual stories are exciting and there are many others to tell – like the story of a cleaner becoming an IT professional or the engineer who recently found employment through her mentor’s family network. Or the applicant who was encouraged to get feedback after an unsuccessful interview and wound up be put up for and offered a job elsewhere in the same company! Some of these stories are being written up and will appear on the Omega website soon!

TRIEC: Recognizing success and telling these stories helps everyone. TRIEC hosts the Immigrant Success Awards and The Mentoring Partnership Awards annually, and makes sure the leadership seen here is shared with the larger community.

Q. The TRIEC model has been successfully adapted by Omega in Auckland. Are there any plans to expand TRIEC’s reach in Canada? beyond the GTA [Greater Toronto Area]?

TRIEC: Yes, the model has been very successful and there is strong interest in seeing it replicated in other cities -but led by those cities, with some guidance from us on the Toronto experience. ALLIES (Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies) is the vehicle that is being used to takes some of the ideas and programs generated by TRIEC and others to communities and organizations across Canada. Launched in 2008, ALLIES provides funding, technical support and other related supports to other immigrant employment councils and networks working in partnership with 11 cities across Canada. For more details see the ALLIES – Communities listing.

Labour market challenges

Q. How do you help skilled immigrants respond to changing labour market technologies? What is the approach for upgrading/updating skilled immigrants to meet changing industry standards?

TRIEC: Like any good HR manager, TRIEC understands that integrating skilled immigrants into the Canadian workforce means being responsive to changing labour market needs. TRIEC created to help businesses find the online tools and resources they need to recruit, retain and promote skilled immigrants. The content on the website is designed to improve the capacity of employers (large and small) to be able to utilize the skills and talents of immigrants best. 

Q. How does the program help qualified immigrants seeking employment in industries that are suffering a downturn, such as IT?

OMEGA: At OMEGA, we keep the same course. We look for mentors with the time, experience and commitment who can work with suitably qualified and experienced immigrants to help them understand the employment landscape in this City. The state of the industry will change in time, and the skills needs of businesses will grow once again, and we will likely return to a position where demand outweighs supply. At that point, companies and individuals need to be ready. The mentoring programme helps that readiness.

Q. How are you combating the current recession where there could be a preference to employ native born candidates rather than skilled migrants?

OMEGA:We believe that it is imperative through this recession that NZ does not undo the good work to date in attracting people to the country. Right now, talent is displaced all over the globe and the smarter countries will be strategizing on how they can best work with this talent over the next decade rather than continue to compete for it.

The urban agenda

“Cities that are able to harness the competitive advantage of diversity are able to reach into new markets,  So how do successful cities do it?”

Q.  Why should cities be open to the TRIEC-OMEGA ideas regarding immigrant integration?

TRIEC:  It makes business sense. It’s about economic integration –matching business needs to talent in a competitive, globalized market. Have alook at the Conference Board of Canada report on the economic benefits of utilizing the skills of immigrants…. They estimate the  economy loses $3.4 billion to $5 billion every year in lost opportunity costs. Cities have a direct interest in meeting the needs of employers and one of the key concerns of employers is finding talent. Factor in the modern realities of an aging population and declining birth rates. It’s a simple conclusion. Cities have an invested interest in local employers gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Skilled immigrants help give these companies that competitive edge and ennable them to do better business with the world.