Canadian Experience

by Mr. Cheap

One of the things that drives me nuts and seems to have been getting more common in recent years is “Canadian experience”.  For those who haven’t encountered this, an applicant might get rejected from a job with the explanation “lack of Canadian experience“.  This euphemism could refer to the applicant having a strong accent, making some cultural “faux pas”, an unusual smell or in some other way being “too foreign” for the interviewer.

I certainly accept that when you move to a new country there are cultural expectations that you must adapt to.  In Thailand it’s considered very offensive to point the sole of your foot at someone (so crossing your legs in public is a no-no).  I did this, was told that it was rude, then I stopped.  It’s inevitable that mistakes like this are going to happen to someone in a new setting.

Where I think it gets offensive is when it’s used to reject someone outright from a job that doesn’t rely on a mastery of local customs.  Perhaps in sales it’s important to have a good understanding of local standards of behaviours, but does an engineer desperately need “Canadian experience”?  Is there no way for co-worker to make allowance for someone new to the country as they learn those standards?

A government run school provides training for new Canadians by simulating an office experience and having them work for 40 hours a week for 3 months or more.  To me this just seems crazy.  A *MASSIVE* amount of labour is being wasted.  For people who are highly skilled coming into the country there are better ways to help them get up to speed with local customs than getting them to play work for hundreds of hours.

Slightly better than this but still sub-optimal is an expectation that new comers volunteer to get Canadian experience.  Giving back by volunteering is a wonderful thing, but is someone who is newly arrived in the country, hoping to make a better life for themselves, really the person society expect to work for free?  I once found a particularly obnoxious posting where a man wanted newcomers to come work at his business for free, and he “generously” offered to lie and act as a reference saying they had double the experience they actually did (so if they’d work for him for 3 months, he’d claim they’d been there for 6 months).

Welcome to Canada!

I’ve talked to newcomers to Canada and they seem to be quite accepting of this.  If I was being treated this way in a country I’d recently moved to I would be VERY, VERY annoyed.

I don’t think there should be a law against this sort of thinly veiled discrimination (in my experience the law is a very crude instrument).  Instead, I think there’s a real opportunity for companies that are willing to look at the bigger picture.

If, after an interview, someone seems highly skilled but lacking in culture-specific graces, make them a job offer that reflects that.  Obviously someone who could effortless interact with co-workers and customers is worth more to the company, but the newcomer isn’t worthless:  offer them a salary that takes this into account (less than market rate, more than $0).  Make it clear to their co-workers that they’re new to the country and not to take offence at slips.  I’ve had Chinese friends tell me I’m fat MANY times, and it’s been explained to me that in China this type of honesty reflects a close friendship and a concern for someone (it isn’t considered as mean as it is here).  Try to create a culture where the established employees help get the newcomer up-to-speed and where the newcomer is receptive to suggestions on ways to interact more appropriately in the new country.

If, after time, the person shows no interest in adopting cultural specific behaviours and is causing problems with people they interact with, fire them just like (hopefully) any other jerk would be let go.  If, instead, they get more polished in their social graces, raise their salary towards market rate.

The company should hopefully be able to tap an overlooked labour market, once the employee is up-to-speed they should hopefully be more loyal than normal (since the company hired them when everyone else was showing them the door), and the company should develop a more global outlook (which will be helpful if they’re doing business in other countries).  I work with people from all over the world at my university and it’s FUN!  It’s a MUCH better environment then it would be if it was 100% Canadians.

For the workers, they get to work and actually get paid.  Imagine that!

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