Never underestimate the value of the watercooler

Canadian office culture may not seem intimidating, but if you’re a new Canadian, your qualifications and global experience may not be enough to move ahead in your career. Understanding the value of small-talk in the office can be paramount to progressing into a management position. That’s where MaRS client KIOSK steps in.

KIOSK offer English as a Second Language (ESL) communications solutions and specialized language camps, helping new Canadians who have  skills to integrate into the workplace.

Statistics Canada reported in March that Toronto’s visible minority population  could more than double from 2.3 million in 2006 to nearly 5.6 million by 2031. This means the work of organizations like KIOSK will only become more important with each passing year — for immigrants and businesses alike.

Recently, KIOSK won an Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC) tender. This will allow it to expand its self-directed, online training programs and to develop a diagnostic assessment tool for professionals in the IT and Communications (ICT) field who want to immigrate to Canada. This tool will help KIOSK clients evaluate their language skill proficiencies within the context of five specific ICT professions.  Perhaps more importantly, the diagnostic will also assess their understanding of Canadian business culture.

“The water cooler talk example seems to come up quite a lot in discussions with our group,” Jorge Ulloa, Vice-President of KIOSK Language Centre, told me when we spoke. “Newcomers often don’t understand the concept or benefits of networking and socializing in the workplace. In some cases they come from work cultures that expect you to punch in and be productive, while all socializing takes place after work hours. In Canada,  networking often plays an important role in determining the projects that you’ll be chosen for and the people that you will be working with.  Our corporate clients often look to us for intervention in addressing communication breakdowns and challenges surrounding a diverse list of issues such as cross hierarchical informal discussions, receiving/giving feedback, negotiation tactics, leading meetings and presentations, small talk and slang, gender and cultural issues and much more.”

KIOSK’s clients also appreciate getting an early start on solving these challenges. “The process (of immigration) can take anywhere between one to three years before the individual arrives in Canada,” Jorge said. “That’s very valuable time that we can take advantage of and get people up to par in their English skills and cultural awareness.” Back in 2004, Statistics Canada revealed that almost 7% of ICT immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s re-emigrated. This percentage represented close to 50,000 ICT workers who came and left again.

Jorge says the main reason for this migration pattern is that new Canadians feel they don’t have the same opportunities as their Canadian-born colleagues. In evaluating everything from compensation packages to professional development, these highly-trained ICT professionals feel that there are more appealing opportunities in other markets.

“One of the attractive methods offered to us at MaRS, which KIOSK strongly supports, is the collaborative approach to creating innovative and effective solutions,” said Jorge. “From the private sector perspective, it hasn’t generally been the tradition to collaborate with the public sector, government and other individuals in the community. From our perspective, it’s been great to open up dialogue between ourselves and our community partners, to figure out ways of working together to improve the experience for our clients and the integration of new Canadians into the economy and society as a whole.”

KIOSK values their relationship with MaRS and, indeed, its presence in Canada, but knows the future can still provide challenges.  According to Jorge, Canada does an excellent job of offering bridging programs and an overall support system that helps newcomers integrate and understand the educational and professional job opportunities available. However, newcomers continue to face various barriers and obstacles that needs to be addressed in order for Canada to continue its role as a global leader and competitor.

“It’s no longer about just being functional in English or French,” he cautioned. “It’s about possessing leadership qualities — the communications skills and cultural component that are key to the long-term success of your professional career. That shouldn’t be overlooked. After investing so much time in your education, after being exposed to so much great international experience, why not complement that with the communication skills and business culture awareness that will help overcome future workplace barriers and obstacles?”

In the end, KIOSK clients feel the main benefit provided by their training is confidence. Jorge describes it as the moment the light turns on, giving somebody the inside-track view. “The impact that it has on our clients is life-changing, at least from a professional development perspective. And having the opportunity to play a role in such an important moment in our clients’ lives gives us a high level of satisfaction.”

KIOSK has a current project under review with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for the Online Communication Skills for Professionals training of new Canadians in Ontario.  If the bid is successful, this project will be the first of its kind — leveraging cutting-edge, online distance education technologies for the benefit of newcomers across the province.

To lean more about KIOSK, their current ICTC project, and more, please visit their website.