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Derek Sankey

For the Calgary Herald
Saturday, March 01, 2008

 

When Raj Narayanaswamy started his Calgary-based software company, Replicon Inc., in 1996, he didn’t set out to create a highly diverse workforce, but that’s exactly what he ended up with several years later.

“It wasn’t a deliberate strategy, but there is a deliberate strategy to hire the best,” says Narayanaswamy, president of the company where 18 languages are spoken in the firm’s 90-employee Calgary office. That doesn’t include employees in Austin, Texas, and overseas in the firm’s Indian office.

Diversity just made good business sense for the entrepreneur. Since the company generates 92 per cent of its revenue outside of Canada, having a broad range of skills and languages seemed to be a sound strategy for growth in a global business.

“Because we’re selling globally, we need to have knowledge of global thinking and a diverse workforce brings that automatically,” he says. For his efforts, Replicon was among three Alberta-based companies to make the list on this year’s list of Best Employers for New Canadians, as published in Mediacorp Canada Inc.’s annual rankings.

Jessica Lee, who moved to Canada in 1992 from Taiwan and joined Replicon five years ago, is a perfect example of the company’s recruitment strategy.

She started out as a graphics designer and moved up through the ranks to product manager and now manages the entire marketing team, despite the notable fact that she has absolutely no marketing background.

“We didn’t want to block some groups of people because of their particular location or different background or language,” says Vien Nguyen-Vu, head of operations in charge of recruitment at Replicon. “We want to make sure that we’ll get all of the talent available.”

Madan Murthy, a sales manager at the company, affirms the company’s strategy of relying less on Canadian experience or education and more on demonstrable skills.

“There are no rules here, that’s what I like,” says Murthy, who moved to Canada from India. “There are no rules preventing me from succeeding or failing. It’s up to you.”

The reality is that Canada’s population growth will come primarily from immigrants over the next decade, so smart employers already facing critical labour shortages are embracing diversity as a competitive recruitment advantage.

Associated Engineering Ltd, an Edmonton-based company that made the 2008 Mediacorp list, has been on recruitment drives to South Africa, Australia, Asia and is now embarking on another one to the U.K. in April, says Lianna Mah, manager of business development.

“We’re really seeing a shortage of engineering professionals and technologists,” she says, adding the company is consciously targeting immigrants overseas and at home as another valuable pool of labour while the company grows.

Associated Engineering’s Calgary office has nearly doubled its staff in the past four years alone to about 280, with a total of 650 workers across Canada. The company is partnering with 15 engineering companies and contractors — usually competitors — on the next overseas recruitment drive.

“We’re all facing similar issues, so we all agreed the best approach is to do something collectively and collaboratively,” says Mah.

Daniela Perciasepe, human resources business partner in Toronto for Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., is also leading the charge to embrace diversity in the workplace by encouraging new Canadians to join the organization.

She has partnered with a non-profit group called Career Edge through its Career Bridge program, which connects new immigrants with employers for internship contracts.

So far, Enbridge, the third company to make Mediacorp’s list of Best Employers for New Canadians in 2008, has brought in 17 immigrant “interns.” Eight were given permanent jobs, four were placed on temporary contracts and three remain in the internship program.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve,” says Perciasepe. “There’s this largely untapped labour pool that exists . . . that is highly skilled, highly educated, but have not been given the opportunity because it’s not Canadian experience.”

Debbie Wershler, vice-president of workforce management for Bowen Workforce Solutions Inc., says recruiters are deceiving themselves if they don’t act now to implement the systems, strategies and programs to develop a diverse workforce.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you need to be able to tap into the immigrant labour pool, it’s a matter of ‘when,’ ” says Wershler, whose company runs a placement program called ImmigrantWorks with funding from the Alberta government and in partnership with Bow Valley College.

Mike Hoyles, a marketing writer for Replicon, sums it up succinctly by stating what is becoming increasingly obvious to more employers: “From a team perspective, talent has no race or colour.”

Article Source: Calgary Herald, March 1, 2008

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