As foreign-trained technology professionals (FTPs) are increasingly recognized as an invaluable resource for Canadian companies, we talked with author Lionel Laroche, Ph.D., about the employer perspective and their strategies for integrating FTPs into their workforce.
My experience is that hiring FTPs is a double-edged sword: It brings both challenges and opportunities. In most cases, the challenges come first, because working with people who are different from us takes more time initially. In the worst-case scenarios, people experience misunderstandings and frustration - leading to rework, difficult working relationships, missed deadlines and dissatisfied customers. However, once people have learned to communicate effectively with one another and have found a way to build trust among them, then they can get to the opportunities - specifically creativity and innovation that having people with different perspectives on the same problem can bring to their organization.
In technical fields, one plus one is two. In human resources and management, one plus one can be one, two or three depending on how the two people involved work together. Simply put, two people can have the output of one person if they’re working against each other. If working in parallel and ignoring each other, you get the output of two people. But when you have two people build on each other’s ideas — managing cultural differences effectively — you get the productivity of three because they create solutions that neither of them could have created on their own.
Culturally different FTPs don’t just look different or speak a different language, they think, communicate and respond differently in the same professional situations. Day-to-day, it is this difference in the way of thinking that makes it challenging and also generates opportunities. The trick is for everyone to learn to manage differences constructively.
One challenge I hear when working with organizations is people speaking a language other than English in the workplace. Speaking a second language all day long is exhausting, so many FTPs end up gathering with other people who speak the same first language at lunch time or at break. This behaviour is interpreted as “They don’t want to integrate. They speak their first language because they don’t want me to understand, because they are talking about me”. In most cases, they are just shooting the breeze. Helping everyone deal positively with language differences in the workplace is one of the most commonlymentioned headaches of HR when it comes to integrating FTPs.
Another misconception is regarding a lack of initiative. Most FTPs come from countries that are significantly more hierarchical than Canada. As a result, they were brought up in an environment where initiative was not encouraged (and in many cases, was actively discouraged). When they work in Canada and report to the average Canadian manager, they end up being considered as lacking initiative - every time their manager delegates a task to them, they come back with a long list of questions, to which their managers answer “I don’t know, you figure it out”. Back home, it would be the responsibility of their managers to answer their questions; here, it is their responsibility to find the answer to these questions.
There are many best practices related to recruitment and retention that level the playing field and enable FTPs to have a better chance to find employment in Canada that is in line with their experience, education and expertise.
For example, organizations can post on their websites a description of their recruitment process and provide concrete examples of the kind of information they will look for during interviews. They can also train the people who are involved in the recruitment and selection process so that they learn to separate personality from culture during job interviews, and can therefore determine whether a FTP candidate has what it takes to do the job they are being interviewed for.
Employers can also hire FTPs with slightly more qualification than the position requires, with the idea that the additional technical skills will compensate for the lower soft skills that FTPs have on average. In regards to training, they can spread the New Employee Orientation Program (NEOP) over a period of time rather than do it all in one day (the NEOP of the average Canadian organization feels like drinking from a fire hydrant for recent immigrants - information is coming at you so quickly that you are completely overwhelmed and only absorb a small percentage).
Canadian organizations can take many steps in order to help FTPs integrate. The most important steps they can take are: