Speaking of the language issue

In this issue you’ll find letters responding to Peter de Jager’s recent column on finicky Canadian IT hiring practices in general, and the barrier faced by talented and hard-working folks who struggle with English in particular.

It’s a touchy issue. Dell Inc., for instance, recently had to close several support centres in India after U.S. customers complained that agents on the other end were difficult to understand. And many of us have experienced the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who simply doesn’t understand us – but should.

Combine that with the new emphasis on “communications” in IT hiring, which for many companies means finding that silver-tongued pro who speaks in such a way as to make managers permanently content, customers satisfied, projects come to effortless conclusions and whole mountains to move on command.

No one wants crucial customer support in the hands of someone still struggling with English. Nor should the phlegmatic analyst currently sitting in the corner ever be in a position to manage people. That’s just common sense.

But the IT industry has in recent years become a miniature reflection of what’s happening on a much grander scale in Canadian society. It’s easy to see why. The technical skills you possess are skills that easily cross borders – someone who knows Java inside out in Singapore, for example, knows it just as well in Canada. It’s also a skill found all around the world – especially among the young and ambitious who would like to come to Canada, one of the most immigrant-reliant nations in the world. As a result, the local industry is dealing with the fits-and-starts growing pains associated with melding those workers into the local economy.

Some of them, just like some native-born candidates, simply aren’t qualified. But also like their native born peers, some vastly talented immigrants are being nixed for the silliest of reasons – their school is unfamiliar, the accent a tad too thick, the experience a shade off the typical “Canadian” professional path (high school, university, a time-out in Europe/Asia, post-secondary training, job).

Many also don’t realize that in Canada you have to prove you’re slightly (but not too) overqualified for the job in question – that your hiring will least likely rock the boat in terms of training and fitting in. And talent rarely trumps these obstacles. I

n Canada’s biggest cities, the smartest managers recognize that immigration is changing the economy and culture into something new. Language is important. But for that particular job you’re looking to fill, as de Jager pointed out, is it really the most important aspect, an absolute deal-breaker?

Languages can be learned. Talent cannot.

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