PINs: Professional Immigrant Networks
Professional networks help immigrants help themselves: Networking the networks builds connections and new opportunities for immigrant employment
What can organizations like the Latin American MBA Alumni Network, the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada or the Association of Filipino Canadian Accountants tell us about Toronto’s labour market? Lots.
Professional immigrant networks are not new, but the dozens of associations of immigrants helping immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) were largely operating under the radar until the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) started investigating.
As part of its larger mandate to work with employers to improve labour market outcomes for new immigrants, in 2009 TRIEC took a closer look at the role immigrant associations play in helping skilled immigrants find work in their field. They discovered that over 70 associations serving collectively over 30,000 members were hard at work in Ontario and a major influence in the local Toronto job market. Generally organized by profession or ethnicity, or both, professional immigrant networks, or PINs, have a unique capacity to connect immigrant talent to an increasingly specialized job market. TRIEC also learned that public and private sector employers were looking for ways to connect with immigrant associations in a coordinated way to raise their profile and recruit from within the immigrant talent pool.
The ‘click’ was audible. A coordinated effort to advance immigrant employment through PINs was soon in the works.
Capitalizing on resourcefulness
In 2010 TRIEC launched the Professional Immigrant Networks program (PINs), a vital new online hub and learning platform for association leaders and key stakeholders to connect, collaborate and help immigrants achieve success. PINs connects employers to professional immigrant networks and allows them to communicate directly and efficiently with target markets. In its first year alone, TRIEC disseminated 100 job postings out to the professional immigrant networks from 25 employers through PINs. The new website made these connections even easier, with a searchable directory of networks and a messaging function for employers to post jobs.
Sponsored by the Government of Canada and Scotiabank, with the shared goal of advancing immigrant employment, today PINs helps raise awareness of these immigrant-led professional associations, fosters collaboration between associations and key partners, and supports the development of association leaders. It’s what newcomers needed — and employers wanted.
“Lack of professional connections and understanding of Canadian corporate culture are the primary obstacles to meaningful employment for skilled immigrants,” says Gabriel Leiva von Bovet, President of HispanoTech and a TRIEC board member. “But thousands of newcomer professionals are using immigrant networks to help themselves and each other get ahead. Our new website capitalizes on this resourcefulness.”
PINs benefits employers as well as immigrants. With the diversifying population and the growth of the knowledge economy, recruiting internationally experienced and multi-lingual personnel is becoming a priority in most workplaces, both from the talent management and business perspectives. As a case in point, PINs is jointly sponsored by the human resources and business development arms of Scotiabank. According to Pankaj Mehra, Director, Multicultural Banking,Indiaand South Asia Markets, the bank’s investment in PINs meets the objectives of both aspects of the business:
“We recognize that professionals coming into our country are not just prospective employees and managers, but also customers,” says Mr. Mehra. “Immigrant employees can be important ambassadors for the bank by not only helping us grow our business, but also helping us strengthen our ties to their communities.”
Building connection and profile
Since 2010, PINs has helped accelerate movement from ideas to action. It has enabled organizations to amplify their efforts to do more, to have greater impact by leveraging existing assets and by connecting them with each other, and to have a stronger immigrant voice. By connecting with PINs associations, immigrants are able to build their professional networks, access information about labour market trends, job opportunities and licensing process for regulated professions, and participate in mentoring programs.
For the associations, the PINs program is a platform to build their profile among immigrants, employers and community agencies. The leaders have access to resources to help them run the groups more effectively and support their members, and have the opportunity to have their voice heard in immigrant employment consultations and the media.
“PINs has created greater awareness of the importance of our role and the relevance of the work we do.” – PINs Leader
“Through PINs, we have seen growth in memberships as well as in the number of potential sponsors and friend organizations that are able to support our work.” – PINs Leader
For PINs employer partners, the PINs network represents a new talent pool they can tap into and an opportunity to build communication pipelines to communities relevant to their business. As one PINs employer partner, a recruiting firm, reports: “[Working with PINs] set me on the path of assisting, representing, working with new Canadians, always with the ultimate goal of placing these professionals into roles that were suitable and well-matched to their skills, experience and abilities.”
The strength of the PINs networks comes from the partnerships and collaboration they foster. Here are a few examples of successful collaboration projects:
- A group mentoring train-the-trainer model developed by JVS Toronto for PINs associations has been piloted successfully with 10 associations.
- PINs supported the formation of Latin Networking Beyond Boundaries (LNBB), which brings together Latin American PINs associations and Employee Resource Groups to foster the integration and promotion among the members of the Latin professional associations.
- PINs collaborated with the provincial Office of the Fairness Commissioner (Ontario) to engage immigrant professionals in consultations on the access to regulated professions.
Keeping an eye on work-life balance is important, too. As TRIEC rolled out the PINS pilot they learned that the time PINs leaders could dedicate to the program was limited by career, family and volunteer commitments. Regular consultation with the leaders and community partners helps ensure that the program remains relevant and in line with their capacity to engage. PINs community partners have found a new audience to promote their programs and services, too.
In 2013, MOWAT Centre’s “Diaspora Nation” research study showcased PINs and the role of PINs associations in helping new immigrants. The report also highlighted the role of TRIEC as a coordinating mechanism that enables stakeholders to engage ideas and learn from each other.
This network of networks enables members to develop connections and gain professional development to help achieve success and reach employment goals. As of April 1, 2016, PINs network consist of 63 associations represented by 123 leaders and 75 partners. Groups cover a range of professions such as: engineering, architecture, accounting, IT, law, healthcare and business management.
Moving forward, TRIEC plans to expand its efforts to raise awareness of PINs and create tools for stakeholders to promote PINs to their networks and beyond. What do PINs leaders want? More accessible and topical learning resources for connecting to and building the potential of future leaders.
Making it Work for You:
- Start with an environmental scan to identify and catalogue existing professional immigrant associations. Learn what their priorities are.
- Identify the common set of goals and the value the network creates for its members (associations, partners, other stakeholders).
- Develop membership guidelines and benefits.
- Involve your target stakeholders and incorporate their feedback in the planning and decision making process.
- When planning, be mindful of the capacity of your network members to engage.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Partner with organizations that are already offering programs and services that benefit the network members or their constituents.