Steam Whistle's commitment to hiring new immigrants
In the fall of 2002, Toronto's Steam Whistle Brewing
needed a new financial controller. Only two years into their operation, the company would soon be returning to their original investors for a third round of financing. Whoever they hired would be critical to their future.
The answer came in the form of Adrian Joseph, a Sri Lankan immigrant who had arrived in Canada only three weeks earlier. Like many skilled newcomers, he was merely inquiring about a possible clerical position when he reached out to a former colleague from back home who now worked at Steam Whistle.
Although Joseph had a strong financial and accounting background with jobs at KPMG in Colombo and with Sri Lanka's largest brewery, he still was in search of the most elusive of job requirements: Canadian experience. It was something that only became clear after visiting various recruitment agencies during his second week in his newly adopted home.
"Nobody got back to me because pretty much I had no Canadian experience," remembers Joseph. "So why do you bother to bring us here."
But at Steam Whistle, the reception toward the immigrant two-step
(you can't get a job without Canadian experience but you can't get Canadian experience without a job) turned out to be different.
For one thing, the fledgling brewery had already benefited from hiring immigrants. They had recruited a brewmaster from the Czech Republic to create their signature pilsner lager and had hired a director of marketing (and Joseph's contact) by simply reading his resume and ignoring his application to be a driver and sales representative.
It's an approach that's a point of pride throughout the company.
"I think the main difference between us and some other Canadian companies is that when we look at a resume, first of all we don't put Canadian experience as a criteria," says Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle co-founder.
"We don't discredit or put a lower value on a New Canadian's resume because their experience might have been outside of the country. Actually, we might put a bit of a premium on it because if anything it brings a fresh perspective. You're tapping into a whole other strategy experience when you bring people in from different regions."
In fact, what Joseph brought was experience working with Lion Brewery Ceylon
that had 85% market share in Sri Lanka and was part of the famous Carlsberg network. His responsibilities included overseeing the finances of 22 distributors, many of whom were cash-strapped.
"At the time I joined, Lion Brewery was 40 times bigger than Steam Whistle," says Joseph who is now the company's CFO. "The smallest distributor was having the same sales volume as Steam Whistle was."
It's no wonder that Heaps has nothing but good things to say about looking beyond the Canadian experience trap.
"These were things that were far ahead of where we were at the time," says Heaps. "So why not [hire him]? Let's bring some of that knowledge in."
In 2007, Steam Whistle was recognized for its hiring practices when it received the Immigrant Success Award
(small employer category) from the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
(TRIEC). The reason? Half of its management team was made up of immigrants. Joseph himself got his CGA accreditation after being hired, his studies paid for by the company.
Lorna Willner, Steam Whistle's human resources director, understands the issue far too well. As a recent immigrant from the UK, she too found herself caught up in the Canadian experience quandary.
"It was difficult for me," says Willner. "It's not as if there is a language barrier and culturally not necessarily that much [different either]. But people still want that Canadian experience."
One reason that Steam Whistle has overcome this bias is a belief that for many jobs, particularly in the back office, a skill-set gained in one country is transferable.
"Across the world, accounting is accounting," says Joseph. "Of course you have standards that differ marginally. But at the end of the day, you know accounting there, you will figure out accounting here."
In fact, Willner believes that often the difference in work styles can easily be compared to a new hire coming from another company in Canada. If Canadian companies don't share the exact same practices, why hold it against immigrant work experience?
So when the company was looking for a new account co-ordinator earlier this year, the position was advertised the position at both Workopolis and Skills for Change
, an agency that provides training to immigrants and refugees.
The candidate that stood out and eventually hired was Valentina Nekozachenk, an immigrant who had arrived only three years earlier with a limited ability to speak English. Although she had worked previously in inventory and finance in Russia, Skills for Change helped the accounting graduate find her first full-time job in Canada.
Why is this an important issue for Steam Whistle? "It's not like we said, we want to have x percentage of new Canadians," says Heaps with a laugh.
"We do this largely because those New Canadians that have made it here have impressed us so much that we feel we should support programs that foster support of immigrants.
I mean it's amazing that this whole issue even exists."Piali Roy is a Toronto-based freelance writer.