It is tough to find quality workers these days. You probably have invested quite a bit in recruiting, hiring and setting up for foreign workers in your company. But how do you keep them? Many skilled workers from other countries will take any job and put up with incredible amounts of hardship to get their first job in Canada. But once they learn the ropes and become aware of better opportunities elsewhere, your company is likely to lose that investment. A simple cost/benefit analysis will show that ongoing efforts to hire and integrate international workers without retention efforts is a huge financial loss.

In other posts I have spoken about ways to integrate foreign workers and make the work environment a place people want to come to. But there is a key to recruitment that I have heard over and over in my coaching sessions with industry managers and front line workers.

Recently it was brought home to me in a big way when I spoke with a Mexican carpenter about his career trajectory in Canada. You may find his comments insightful for understanding retention. Here is a shortened version of our conversation:

Carpenter: The company I work for is fine. They hired me, pay the wage they promised and don’t take advantage by giving me all the worst jobs like some of my friends have experienced. But I am going to move on.

Me: Why?

Carpenter: Well another offer came up. They will pay more.

Me: You are a good carpenter; the company might want to keep you. Did you talk to your current company to say you have another offer and see if they will increase your salary?

Carpenter: No, I have already signed the contract with the new company. There is no point in talking to my boss here. He doesn’t see me.

Me: He doesn’t see you?

Carpenter: Can’t see who I am. Isn’t interested in who I am. Back home I finished lots of education and I have lots of experience. I have a Bachelor of Social Work, a Masters in Psychology and I am a ticketed carpenter and electrician. I worked as a manager in a large construction company and also as an HR manager – and I speak three languages. But my company here only sees me as cheap Mexican labour and they will just replace me if I leave.

Me: They don’t realize you have dreams and goals and that you are accomplished beyond the basic job you are doing now.

Carpenter: That’s right. The new company is paying me more, but that is not the real reason I’m leaving. In my new job I will be moving into a management position. They asked me what my career goals are and we are in agreement about that. I can move up, make my family happy, be proud of my accomplishments. They see that I am a person there.

And that, my friends is the key to retention: “they see that I am a person.” Not everyone has the amazing qualifications of the gentleman in this story, but your foreign workers are human beings, not commodities. Asking people who they are, where they would like to be in 5 years and what their actual qualifications and experience are makes people want to stay with your company. Why? Because they feel that they matter to you. You can see them.

If you can see your foreign workers, no – all your employees – as human beings with intelligence, dignity, hopes and dreams, a whole lot more will decide to stay.

Those who don’t might just come back when they find out that things are not as green with the competition.

And even if they don’t come back, if they felt valued as human beings during their employment with you they will say good things about your company, bringing you more quality workers through referral. Foreign workers are resources, not commodities. And that attitude is the key to retention.

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