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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Immigrants are assets in the global economy

By Noreen Farooqui
Special to The Sun

Canada holds the world's nations within its borders and this is visibly clear in the country's most multicultural city, Toronto. With an increasingly global economy, the knowledge and skills immigrants bring are seen as a business advantage in various industries.
Canadian International Freight Forwarding Association

A 2005 Statistics Canada report estimates that more than half the population of Toronto would belong to a visible minority group by 2017, resulting in a visible minority population of between 2.8 million and nearly 3.9 million.

The report says, of these visible minorities in Toronto, more than 1.0 million would be South Asian and more than 735,000 would be Chinese. This means that more than half of Canada's South Asians and about 40% of Canada's Chinese would be living in Toronto in 2017.

In order to cater to the current and future demand of marketing to diverse communities, many industries have implemented diversity initiatives in their workplaces including hiring employees who speak the language of targeted populations.

Neelu Mehta works as an investment consultant at a Toronto Dominion Canada Trust branch in Brampton and says 90% of her clients are South Asian, and as such, she communicates with them in their mother tongue. Mehta says she was hired because of her ability to speak Punjabi and Hindi, the two dominant first languages in her region.

"Five years ago we started actively hiring [multilingual employees] because I was dealing with everybody. We were looking for Indians, but they had to speak Indian."

Mehta says the ability to speak another language is most valuable in ethnic and cultural enclaves.

"Nowadays everything is multicultural, the more languages you know the better. If you know Italian, it would be better for you to work in Woodbridge, because Woodbridge is predominantly Italian."

Banks have been at the forefront in recognizing the value of having multilingual employees, and as the changing face of Toronto continues to evolve, programs are set up within some banks to smooth the transition of catering to a diverse workplace and community.

Norma Tombari, senior manager of Workplace Diversity at the Royal Bank of Canada says the bank has been involved in diversity initiatives since the late 1980s and early 1990s and has implemented various tools to help employees deal with the transition of working in a diverse workplace. For employees who have a weaker command of English, "We offer some pilot programs in terms of business English as a second language," Tombari says.

Having a diverse workplace allows companies to tap into different markets and it increases productivity. Logistics and freight forwarding, the business of importing and exporting or trade, is another industry that actively seeks out employees who speak diverse languages.

George Kuhn, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarding Association says that immigrants and their knowledge of different languages is a valuable asset because international trade is the backbone of globalization. And, the ability to speak the language of the person with whom you are dealing with in another country is imperative for the logistics operation to run smoothly.

"Let's suppose you have an import that holds some machinery from Poland and you use government firms and something happens. If there are some bumps along the road, having a Polish-speaking person is helpful."

Mei Guo is a Chinese-speaking import/export co-ordinator who says that her small workplace in Toronto includes employees from South America and Africa who speak their native tongue, which makes it easier to communicate with the international business community.

"In transportation, freight-forwarding, knowing another language makes it easier to communicate for sure," Guo says.

Freight forwarding employers advertise positions in ethnic newspapers or trade publications in order to attract potential employees with desirable language skills, Guo says.

Mehta says candidates who are able to speak the dominant first-language of particular regions have their resumes shuffled to the front and have the best chance of getting a position.

With an increasingly global economy, the need to do business with other nations is creating an office place that is reflective of the world it serves.

"When you go to our member firms, you will find a virtual plethora of united nations in every office. You would find Chinese, Pakistani, Indians, Europeans, South Americans, simply because it is appreciated and also required," Kuhn says.

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