Boost your bottom line by hiring a refugee


Mustafa Alio is a co-founder and Bayan Khatib is a communications consultant with the Refugee Career Jumpstart Project.

Hiring refugees is good for business. We have worked with refugees for two years at the Refugee Career Jumpstart Project (RCJP) and found they embody some of the most sought-after traits in an employee. A quick Google search for the qualities employers look for brings to the surface these four traits: adaptability, resiliency, loyalty and the willingness to work hard.

Refugees who reach Canada are highly likely to have these traits.

Refugees are adaptable and resilient, loyal and hard working – and deeply grateful when they find work. They have conquered the toughest of circumstances, losing everything, navigating danger and problem solving one roadblock after another. The ones who make it here are flexible and determined. They’ve made ends meet in countries where they’re not allowed to legally work, picked up new skills, gathered and synthesized large amounts of information, and adapted to environments in which their futures were unknown. We have met lawyers who worked in construction, teachers who started small businesses on street corners and engineers who worked as translators to feed their families.

When life gives refugees lemons, if they are to survive, their only choice is making lemonade. Those who make it to Canada are the best lemonade makers out there.

In addition, refugees also bring new perspectives and open avenues to new markets. One in five Canadians is an immigrant or refugee, representing a big chunk of a potential customer base. A refugee on the team can provide valuable insight into new cultural and linguistic markets. Recognizing refugees as natural ambassadors to diverse markets can greatly enhance Canadian business.

If there’s one thing refugees do well, it’s seizing opportunities. They’ve done that to find their way to Canada and they can do that for your business.

Some companies are already investing in refugee talent, and seeing the payoff. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) gave four Syrian newcomers paid internships, a chance to test the waters for both sides. Because of the exceptional early performance of their interns, the bank offered two of them full-time positions, and is exploring creating new positions to retain the others.

This success story travelled across cities and BDC is now seeking to replicate the trial at more branches across Canada. Ellen Austin, BDC human resources business partner, told us that several organizations have called her asking for tips on how to replicate this experience.

Part of successful refugee employment involves tweaking the hiring process. Remember one thing when hiring a refugee: Instead of evaluating interview skills and presentation, focus instead on capabilities. Refugees may not be able to dress for success and may not come from a culture where eye contact and a firm handshake are valued, but these Canadian norms are easily acquired. Refugees bring a fresh set of abilities and insights that are certainly more valuable than superficial considerations.

If hiring is not possible for your business, consider mentoring for similar benefits to your company and to newcomers. This month, our organization is partnering with LinkedIn to launch the Welcome Talent Canada Project, connecting refugees to economic opportunity in Canada. We will match every candidate with an experienced Canadian professional who will provide guidance and tips to help these refugees achieve their aspirations. RCJP has identified 50 highly skilled, English-proficient refugees and is now looking for professionals from diverse backgrounds to become mentors.

When you mentor or hire refugees, you become an integral part of their integration. You facilitate the support of a new family in Canada and often their family members who may still be in crisis abroad. If you do one day have the opportunity to hire a refugee, ask them about the challenges they’ve overcome, the perspectives they’ve gained and their goals in Canada. Be prepared to be inspired.

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