Hiring refugees is an opportunity for Canadian businesses

By David Dyssegaard Kallick and Gideon Maltz
as published in The Star on June 25, 2019

While many countries have closed their borders, Canada has shown bold leadership — doubling down on its commitment to help refugees and welcoming almost 100,000 since 2015. In doing so, Canada has not only upheld its values; it has expanded its labour force with newcomers eager to contribute to the economy.Businesses are seeing the value of bringing refugees into their workforce. Paramount Fine Foods has hired more than 150 refugees and IKEA Canada just announced its commitment to hire 250 refugees in the next three years. These companies are doing this because they and their customers care about refugees — and because it’s good for business.The experience of companies that have already hired refugees should encourage those that are still hesitant because they are uncertain about how to manage language barriers, cultural differences and training needs. Hiring newcomers does present challenges, and companies must often make modest investments to address them.

However, new research by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Tent Partnership for Refugees on the experience of businesses that have hired refugees in the United States shows a return on investment for those willing to do so — and should provide reassurance to Canadian companies. U.S. companies have a very positive story to tell about the success of refugee integration, despite the current U.S. government’s reduction of refugee resettlement to historic lows.

Employers we interviewed overwhelmingly saw lower turnover rates among refugee employees. Indeed, refugee turnover rates were lower at three-quarters of the companies interviewed. In the manufacturing sector, which employs one out of six refugees in the U.S., refugees had an average annual turnover of 4 per cent among firms surveyed, compared to 11 per cent for all employees.

Recruitment also improved for employers who widened their potential labour pool to include refugee employees. Once employers work through the initial logistics of hiring refugees from one country of origin, they’re more likely to see other refugees from that same community applying for jobs at their company. Hiring from other refugee communities also becomes easier.

The adjustments employers made to enable successful refugee hiring also led to overall improvements in the workplace. Managers become better at their jobs after learning to work through issues like having employees with limited language ability. Recruiters become better at assessing a candidate’s potential, rather than hiring strictly based on whether they already have the skills needed for the job.Working through the modest initial challenges that arise with hiring refugees can make for better managers and improve the overall work environment. Canadian companies should be encouraged by the positive experiences that many American employers are having and keep up their refugee hiring efforts to reap the same rewards.

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