Scotiabank IT exec discusses global workforce strategy

TORONTO – As a young girl born in Uganda, Shebina Kanani probably never imagined herself spending 25 years at one of Canada’s largest financial institutions – a place where she would eventually help lead IT strategies, manage dozens of people and, along the way, meet the husband and father of her two teenaged children.

Today, as vice-president of IT outsourcing and supplier management at Scotiabank, Kanani knows that people who come to this country from other places are capable of making extraordinary contributions to large enterprises. And when she’s not working on negotiating better contracts and finding technology that provides her firm a competitive advantage, she is spending more of her time focusing on talent management and ensuring best practices are shared across Scotiabank’s global workforce.

“Head office does not have all the answers,” said Kanani, speaking at the inaugural Tech Talent Summit in Toronto on Wednesday hosted by the Information Communciations Technology Council (ICTC. “You can learn from the Caribbean, from Mexico, from all kinds of people elsewhere. That’s why we train our leaders everywhere they are to guide, to listen, to teach.”

An inclusive approach that embraces diversity is important at Scotiabank, Kanani said, and particularly in her team of 45 people who develop agreements, operate a global centre of excellence for IT sourcing and accessibility, and manage technology acquisition, reuse and disposal across a company that employs more than 70,000 people across nearly 3,000 branches around the world.  

Kanani, who started at Scotiabank as a programming trainee, said the company has backed up its stance on diversity with training in cross-cultural competency, drawing upon experts like Dr. Lionel Laroche. Employees have developed sophisticated skill sets around recognizing the nuances of language in different geographies, Kanani said.

“When you go to Mexico and you explain a situation and they say yes, they may just be saying that they understood what you are asking,” she said by way of example. “It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily going to do what you’re asking them to do.”

Besides looking at immigrant talent in its hiring practices, Kanani said the bank also encourages staff to move around, learning from other branches and locations and sharing knowledge globally. Scotiabank looks for similar policies in the vendors it works with, she added.

“We set the rules of engagement with vendors on mandate and culture. We want to partner with vendors who are global in nature,” she said. “We want to leverage the global spend, and it’s important that we leverage local fulfillment. We don’t to do command and control. We want to leverage local resources.”

Vendors are already building highly multicultural workforces, but they come with challenges, said Angelique Mohring, a senior director at Waterloo, Ont.-based content management firm OpenText Corp. The company had acquired a firm with a team based in Sweden, she recalled, and it took some months before she was able to go out and meet them, despite what may have been their expectations otherwise.

“OpenText acquires a company a month, almost,” she said. “So every 30 days you might be bringing on 30 people, or 400 people. And there’s a lot of adjustment and process that goes into that.”

While Scotiabank and OpenText are big companies with foreign employees spread across continents, ICTC put on its Tech Talent Summit in part to address a growing concern that Canada as a whole is not working fast enough to take advantage of what it calls internationally educated professionals (IEPs): skilled immigrants who could help fill a talent gap the organization estimates could translate into thousands of open IT positions in a few years.

Last year ICTC launched the Integrated Work Experience Strategy (IWES), a bridge-to-work pilot program that involves six months of in-class training followed by three months of on-the-job placements and coaching for IEPs.

Tahir Ramzi, general manager of operations at Toronto’s Sigma Software, said his firm has worked with three IEPs in the IWES program so far and is considering a fourth. The program has led at one hire at Sigma so far and Ramzi was able to help another find a job through his own business network.

“The same candidate applied to the job three months ago. I had to do no changes to that CV,” he said, adding that it was simply being able to personally vouch for someone that made the difference. “That’s the value of talent that we lack as employers. We don’t pick the resume because we don’t feel comfortable (with foreign training and accreditation).”

ICTC, which is funded by the federal government, plans to take the ideas and suggestions put forward during Wednesday’s Tech Talent Summit and develop an action plan for improved recruitment, integration and retention of immigrants, women and aboriginals that will be launched next year.

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