Social support for immigrant professionals

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A strong diversity strategy is not just about selling a brand. If you ask KPMG’s Michael Bach, he will tell you that it’s also about performance, adaptability, and good business practice. The accounting firm’s Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion points out that “We don’t sell a product. The only thing we do is sell our brain power.” In a changing market, the success of this mandate depends on finding and retaining the best and the brightest.

KPMG has met this challenge by seeking out Canada’s skilled immigrant population. According to Bach, foreign-trained professionals are a “ready-made solution” for addressing staffing shortfalls and a shifting client base. KPMG has streamlined the integration of immigrant professionals into its organization by prioritizing transferable skills during the hiring process, developing customizable onboarding programs, and encouraging business development through social support networks.

Win-Win Ideas from KPMG

  • Specialize your language training services. Save time and money by identifying “categories” of language improvement, and finding the appropriate services to meet these needs.
  • Foster business development through social networking. Encourage immigrant professionals to expand market diversity and meet individual targets through informal cultural support organizations.

Accounting skills are fundamentally transferable, something reflected in KPMG’s hiring philosophy: “Two plus two equals four in every language on the planet,” says Bach. KPMG lobbied for years for changes in degree recognition, and now the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario has moved forward on accreditation guidelines for foreign-trained accountants. Canadian immigrants holding CAs from countries such as India and the Philippines are able to bypass university degree requirements, practical experience conditions, and core knowledge examinations. KPMG pays for all employee assessment processes, using organizations like the World Education Services, and gives employees the necessary time off for evaluation.

Flexibility is a cornerstone of the firm’s education and onboarding process. Avoiding a “one size fits all approach,” KPMG allows individual business units to make their own assessments of employee needs. Following recruitment, training managers are encouraged to work one on one with immigrant employees, and to assign a variety of services. These are paid for by the firm, and employees are given the time off to complete training. In the case of language training, for example, KPMG uses one of three options:

  • for essential support, a Berlitz program
  • for targeted accounting language training, courses through LEAP (Language Education for Accounting Professionals)
  • for pronunciation and general communication, select in-house services.

KPMG’s “long term vision” of social support for immigrant professionals is a success story that shows innovation and foresight. “One of the worst things a new Canadian faces is when their family is at home in their native country,” says Bach. “It’s important to give these employees a sense of the support network, and to help them become acclimatized to their environment.” Groups like the International Club help foreign workers to participate in the larger “conversation” of business etiquette and ancillary social activities like golf.

The company encourages the development of these associations for business development reasons, too. Members of the East Asia Network, for example, use their individual community experience to help expand business interests and to advance their careers. “Many of the employees within these groups are client-facing,” says Bach. “So an exposure to new clusters of people helps grow our market and thus helps them meet their individual targets.” This encouragement of social networks harnesses native language skills, cultural norms, and community relationships – it helps integrate new employees, and works to overall company advantage.

The success of this culture of diversity can be seen at many levels, even in the executive ranks. Bach tells the story of an Edmonton managing partner who was a “sceptic about diversity.” When staffing shortages were causing problems at his location, Bach lobbied successfully to hire immigrant professionals. “If they can do the job, they can be from the moon,” said the partner. The new hires flourished in their roles, and as a result of this success, the partner became an advocate for diversity. Determined to change the social culture of the workplace, the Edmonton office set up a diversity council, and installed prayer and reflection rooms. That managing partner now sits on the Board of Directors at the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council.