Refugees and Newcomers Key to Canadian Industriousness

Monday, Jun 25, 2018

Last week, we celebrated World Refugee Day at Fiera Foods. On this important occasion, politicians and pundits of all stripes are rightly quick to speak to Canada’s credentials as a welcoming nation. While many focus on Canada’s immigration policy and the complex challenges faced at our borders, it is also important that manufacturers play a role profiling the often-unseen contribution that refugees make to the Canadian economy.

We are all proud that Canada espouses welcoming values. But we more fully live up to those values when we help those we welcome find meaningful work. As a former refugee myself and CEO of Fiera Foods, one of North America’s largest suppliers of baked goods, I frequently tell industry colleagues that there is not only a moral imperative to do so, but a strong business case.

I joined both this company and country as a former refugee from the former Soviet Union and learned quickly, with my business partner Alex Garber, that Canada’s welcoming climate would be an environment for us to not just live, but expand and grow. Private sector leaders who provide opportunities to new Canadians are not only doing the right thing, but better positioning their businesses for success.

Refugees may face astounding obstacles on their path to Canada. But after they arrive safely, it is paradoxically difficult for them to start over again. At Fiera Foods, we are proud that our employees hail from a diverse range of communities and speak over 30 languages.

We have done our part to hire refugees. Those we have employed are determined, innovative, and bring international knowledge.

Just as there is a growing acceptance amongst business leaders that removing barriers for women is essential to a fully-functioning workplace, the same emphasis needs to be placed on removing barriers for newcomers.

The regular stream of refugees working at Fiera Foods creates the need for adapting safety standards to maintain a safe working environment. We have dedicated trainers to make sure employees understand the safety training provided and take time to ensure everybody understands safety protocols and expectations. This is a responsibility we take seriously and are constantly working to improve on.

For many Fiera Foods employees, this is their first job in Canada. Some start out in temporary roles and go on to work full-time — with some climbing the ranks to management positions. When they do so, they bring with them their lived experiences, enriching the entire company.

Industrial work requires strong focus and attention in rapidly-changing circumstances. The resolve and determination of these employees has helped us meet daunting targets on-time and on-budget. I know my own immigration story has been a driving motivator for me, and I see the same commitment from our new Canadian employees.

Nobody is better prepared for new challenges than refugees who have uprooted their families, left their friends and bravely started a new life here. Our success and their success are both based on a shared willingness to explore new ideas and perpetually innovate.

With a global customer base, it’s essential that we have diverse backgrounds and ideas as part of our team. Our diverse chain of partners is not a coincidence, but a direct result of our international corporate and employee culture.

Good companies know how to take their strengths and leverage them for improved positioning in a globally-competitive marketplace. Great companies look to leverage diversity as an asset, and it’s time for Canadian businesses to recognize, and act on this.