8 Key Tips and Takeaways for Organizations Engaging with Employers to Support Immigrant Talent

Tuesday June 29, 2021

On June 15, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund hosted a panel of three experts to discuss how workforce development organizations can successfully partner with employers to create programs that meet employers’ evolving talent needs and provide opportunities for immigrant and refugee workers. Marina Nuri, the Fund’s senior program manager, moderated a conversation with Judy Doidge of Social Capital Partners, Surabhi Jain of Toronto Workforce Funders Collaborative, and AJ Tibando of Palette Inc. The full recording of the webinar is available here.

The panelists agreed that in recent years a shift has occurred in workforce development. Employers are increasingly involved and invested in co-designing employment and training programs. It’s important for workforce organizations to cultivate true partnerships with employers in order to improve economic mobility for people facing barriers to employment, and for employers to meet their talent needs.

Below are eight key tips and takeaways workforce organizations can use which emerged from the conversation:


Understand employers’ needs.

Knowing and understanding employers’ needs is vital to establishing and sustaining true partnerships with employers.

Judy encouraged workforce development practitioners to start exercising their labour market intelligence muscle. “It’s taking labour market information—basic data, statistics, surveys, reports—and adding in a whole other layer of intelligence by touring the workplaces, having interviews, and understanding best practices,” she said.

AJ recommended looking at product development approaches from the start-up world, such as the lean startup and minimal viable product development methodologies: “These approaches assume that you don’t know anything about your potential customer, and you start with customer discovery—what are the pain points that I might develop a product to solve?”

Good questions and an open mind can help expose real problems that employers face and the root causes, such as talent attraction, retention, training, capacity to hire, and more.


Help employers understand whom they’re truly trying to hire.

Employers often ask for the wrong skills or too many skills in job descriptions, making it harder for them to access new pools of talent that could meet their needs. With such job postings, employers risk hiring overqualified or mismatched candidates and creating a situation that might lead to retention issues.

Workforce development agencies can help employers re-examine their talent requirements and get a better view of their people and organization overall.


Show employers the value of hiring immigrants and refugees.

Rather than work with employers from a “you need to do this” perspective, it is essential to show them the value of hiring immigrant and refugee workers.

“[Hiring immigrants and refugees] is more than a paragraph in their CSR [corporate social responsibility] strategy. It strengthens diversity and the overall culture of the company and helps tap into new work experiences, ways of thinking, and ideas that immigrants can bring,” Judy noted.

Truly knowing employers’ needs can help workforce organizations better frame how hiring immigrants and refugees can create both business value and social impact. AJ advised, “If employers don’t see immigrant integration as an issue, do not pitch it as a solution. Address the actual problem they have, and if the solution is to tap into the talent of immigrants and refugees, you should highlight the value they bring from the business point of view, not from the CSR perspective.”


Involve employers in all parts of the process.

A true partnership means engaging various groups working for an employer partner in the design, implementation, and follow-up of a program.

AJ’s experience has shown her that co-delivering helps employers break down any final reluctance they may have to consider hiring from new talent pools: “When employers look at résumés, they are in an evaluation mindset, but when they meet candidates in a learning environment—they start seeing people’s potential, and participants start getting interviews lined up before the program is even done.”


Develop a partnership based on trust.

Power dynamics can make it challenging for workforce development agencies to engage with employers. Agencies often think they need to serve employers. As agencies build more trust with employers, they will be able to push for more equitable practices.

“When we start looking at employers as partners and stakeholders in our work, power dynamics shift, and we can start co-creating,” Surabhi noted.


Don’t be afraid to walk away from an employer.

Not all employers are the right ones to work with. “If you see red flags, maybe there’s a good reason. We never want to throw people into precarious jobs,” Judy said.

There are many different reasons why an employer could be struggling to attract talent, and they may have nothing to do with the labour market. That’s why listening is so important to understanding the root causes of employer challenges.

AJ pointed out, “If an employer’s retention problem is that they provide below market wages, why spend time helping this employer hire people?”


When working with small and medium-sized enterprises, form clusters.

Working with small employers individually can be inefficient in terms of process and impact. At the same time, small employers tend to have similar needs and are often eager to work together. Workforce development agencies should consider working with cohorts of small and medium-sized enterprises, looking at similar skills or positions across sectors.


Build on existing programs and partnerships.

Agencies don’t need to start from scratch. Rather than create completely new programs, organizations should look at how they are currently engaging employers in existing programs and consider ways to strengthen or expand those programs, Surabhi advised. The same goes for new partnerships. Before looking to find new partners, agencies should look at their existing employer partners and see how these relationships can be taken to another level.


The WES Mariam Assefa Fund is currently seeking funding ideas from organizations that are partnering with employers to drive more inclusive practices. The application deadline for 2021 funding closes June 30. The Fund will also accept proposals in this area for 2022 funding this fall. Learn more.

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