IT jobs: English-speaking only need apply

Language and cultural problems are among the barriers blocking foreign-born or -educated workers from being hired by Canadian IT companies, according to a preliminary survey of the industry.

The study, which was commissioned by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC) and conducted by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), found that 59 per cent of respondents said they passed up potential employees because of issues such as poor English skills, despite their other qualifications.

Thirty per cent of the respondents identified that lack of communication skills frequently or very frequently contributed to them turning away potential employees because of cultural integration challenges or experience.

SHRC requested the study as part of preliminary research for one of its initiatives called Building an IT Framework for Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs), which is funded by the federal government’s Foreign Credential Recognition Program. CATA sent out a Web-based survey to 25,000 registered members in its membership database in April. While the study did not dive down into the specific reasons behind these barriers, Norman McDevitt, SHRC vice-president, said some of the barriers included mistrust of authority, lack of sense of teamwork and urgency.

“We wanted to get our heads around what is happening in the IEP area,” said McDevitt. “What we found is very similar to what happens for Canadians in that not only the technical skills but the communication and interpersonal skills are of critical importance.”

Recognizing foreign credentials
Similarly, Michel Doiron, manager of operations for the Foreign Credential Recognition Program, which falls under Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, said many Canadian employers identify understanding of the Canadian workplace as a key issue when it comes to foreign-born workers. This can include anything from different standards of work to different ways of working.

“The other big one is having their credentials recognized,” said Doiron. “In the regulated occupations (such as medicine) in a way it’s easier because they have to meet certain standards which are pre-established through an exam process.

“In some of the unregulated occupations, which make up about 85 per cent of the labour market, it’s left up to the employer as to whether he or she will recognize the credentials that a person presents.”

Doiron said there are provincial assessment agencies that can help employers by providing a comparative analysis of credentials.

McDevitt said the next study will drill down into the specifics behind the preliminary findings.

Kevin Wennekes, vice-president of research at CATA, said communication is everything in today’s job market, IT or otherwise.

“A lot of (respondents) decided they didn’t meet those criteria, and given that most respondents were from small-sized businesses there would be little opportunity for investment in that type of training,” said Wennekes. “The large organizations with more resources available certainly tended towards providing that type of training.”

Some of the larger companies in the Waterloo, Ont.-region, such as Research in Motion, provide English as a Second Language (ESL) training on site or use local educational institutions to provide international employees with language training on the job.

“There’s an increasing number of people coming to the Waterloo region,” said Iain Klugman, president of Communitech, which aims to promote the region’s technology sector. “The kind of talent we’re interested in is literally all over the world.”

As part of its recruitment strategy, Communitech has set up a task force called the Immigration Attraction Task Force to help newcomers find jobs here.

“When you’re looking at skills and technical professions there’s a good body there of commonality,” said Tom Ryan, who’s in charge of Communitech’s recruitment strategy. “What we also find is culture shock. We find culture shock and language as a two-part killer.”

Not always, according to Herbert Hess, president of Hess Associates, which provides a placement service for people looking for work in the IT sector. Hess said that while language and culture shock can be a problem for some immigrants looking for work, people from countries such as India are used to working 10 to 14 hours a day – the kind of work ethic employers are looking for.

“They’ve got language skills, communication skills and are very well educated. They don’t seem to have a problem in terms of fitting in.”

Hess said he’s seeing more Middle Eastern people looking for work nowadays compared to previous years, when Russian and Asian workers dominated the field.

“The situation there (in the Middle East) is unstable and people there want to better themselves,” said Hess. “There’s a reluctance not just (because of) the language skills but also if somebody comes from Pakistan, Iran, or Iraq, for example, there’s an additional reluctance for a company to hire them because of the political situation. Companies like to remain neutral from a political point of view.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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