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Toronto Stakeholders Mobilize for Action: Connecting Refugees to Hiring Employers

Monday October 21, 2019 | by Devon Franklin

Since late 2015, a group of committed local stakeholders known as the Refugee Jobs Agenda Roundtable has been meeting with a goal to increase refugees’ access to employment opportunities that utilize the talent and skills they bring to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Under the leadership of Senator Ratna Omidvar, and her new co-chair, Darrell Pinto, vice president of research and innovation at the Canadian Venture Capital Private Equity Association, the roundtable has been exploring new initiatives to connect refugees to meaningful employment opportunities. Leveraging a successful model that was developed by roundtable members ACCES Employment and Starbucks Canada, the roundtable is launching one of its biggest endeavours yet: the Toronto Refugee Hiring Event.

Unlike a traditional career fair, the Toronto Refugee Hiring Event, scheduled for October 31, will offer  pre-screened candidates with a scheduled interview with an employer that is actively seeking to fill a given role; successful candidates are offered the position on the spot, or provided a conditional offer based on completing additional screening (for example, occupational testing). Participating employers include Starbucks Canada, Shopify, IKEA, and Martinrea International, with roles varying in experience-required and across different industries. Collectively, the goal is to offer 100 jobs to refugees at the event.

This initiative is inspired by Starbucks Canada who has been working with ACCES Employment for over a year on small hiring events, specifically to fill the in-demand role of barista. Refugee candidates complete preparation training with ACCES and suitable candidates are provided an interview with a hiring manager from Starbucks during their monthly “meet and greet” sessions hosted at one of ACCES’ locations. This model provides customized support and coaching for refugees and an opportunity to interview in a familiar space, with ACCES staff on-hand to provide additional support on the day of the session.

In addition to supporting the refugee candidates, ACCES provides training to Starbucks hiring managers on cultural sensitivity. Given that many hiring managers are new to recruiting refugees, many attend the preparation sessions to meet refugee candidates in an informal setting to help build rapport. While this model requires a greater effort and time commitment from everyone involved, it delivers very high impact: Starbucks hires between 50 and 80 percent of refugee candidates they interview at the monthly meet and greet sessions.

Importantly, the refugee candidates that are unsuccessful are provided with ample feedback on ways to improve and are immediately connected back to their employment counsellor at ACCES. Candidates are always encouraged to come back the following month to participate. The success of the initiative represented a great opportunity to engage other employers on the roundtable, as well as other service providers, to scale the model and deliver even greater impact.

Starbucks Canada immediately stepped forward as a champion of the initiative and brought on the Tent Partnership for Refugees as a co-sponsor of the hiring event. Based in New York, Tent mobilizes the business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of more than 25 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries. Tent works closely with businesses to help them identify and understand opportunities to help refugees. The hiring event presented a great opportunity to engage Canadian businesses within the Tent network to participate.

With the support of both sponsors, a committee of roundtable members began organizing Toronto’s first large scale refugee hiring event. This collaborative effort relies on the commitment of the following service providers to support the preparation and coaching of local refugees interested in interviewing at the hiring event: ACCES Employment, COSTI, YMCA-GTA, and Jumpstart-Refugee Talent. While collaborating across so many providers poses certain logistical challenges, the streamlined registration and ability for employers to easily connect with refugee talent from across different agencies, has resulted in immense interest and commitment.

Beyond its role as the coordinator of the roundtable, WES recognized that it could participate in the hiring event in a bigger way: WES is actively recruiting for several different positions in its Canadian office, and the Human Resources department was eager to promote the positions to this new talent pool.

“As our team grows, we are keenly aware of our role as an employer to ensure our team reflects our mission and the clients we serve. The international experiences and skills refugees bring to Canada will enrich the work we do at WES, and we’re excited to meet with these individuals at the upcoming event,” said Tanika Clouden, participating HR manager and business partner at WES.

For more information about the Toronto Refugee Hiring Event, please reach out to the roundtable coordinator, Devon Franklin at [email protected].

Devon Franklin is a training specialist for Global Talent Bridge in Canada. Beyond leading training with key stakeholders, she continues to coordinate the activities of the Refugee Jobs Agenda Roundtable.