C-Suite View: Leadership in Action
Recruiter Kathryn Tremblay has created two unique programs for newcomers to Canada with one that caters specifically to Ukrainian refugees.
BY JENNIFER CAMPBELL
AS SHE PUTS it, Kathryn Tremblay is in “the job business,” so when she saw she could help Ukrainians who were fleeing for Canada after Russia invaded their country, she was all in. The CEO and co-founder of Altis Recruitment excelHR, excelITR and Altis Technology knew Canada would be accepting more refugees who would need to find work — and finding work for people is her business.
Within the first two weeks of the Russian invasion and the announcement that Canada would be a safe-haven, Tremblay started getting calls from Ukrainians asking “if we’re able to come, are there any jobs for us?”
Tremblay kicked into gear immediately and put together a team of her recruiters to help further. The team members reached out to clients, urging them to take newcomers on, and they organized information sessions for the refugees, after discovering that Ukrainians write their resumés differently than Canadians, and that their interview questions tend to differ, too.
“We organized virtual sessions because people were in different locations,” Tremblay says. “And we put this out to everyone we could think of who might know of a Ukrainian newcomer. We ended up with 70 names.”
Altis recruiter Maryna Skobal was born and raised in Ukraine and was able to translate any questions from Ukrainians involved in the sessions. Team members who are well versed in LinkedIn helped the participants beef up their profiles and explained the platform’s importance in Canada. They also briefed participants on all of the job sites in Canada — everything from Indeed to Monster. Further, they worked on interview skills.
In another session, the Altis team discussed what jobs are in demand at the moment in Canada and explained how agencies such as theirs work to help people find jobs.
“As an immigrant myself, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as an agency [when I arrived],” Skobal says. “And it is a free service as well. I wish I had known [when I came], because it can increase your chances in finding employment.”
The agency has continued to work with the refugees as a resource whenever they have questions.
“We have an open email address just for this Ukrainian group, where they can email us and ask, any questions they have,” Tremblay says. “It’s completely free. It’s not part of our business. It’s just to support them.”
Skobal confirms Altis receives questions every day from this group. The team has also put together a step-by-step guide to starting the job search, with best practices in terms of content and layout of a resumé, tips on what job sites to watch and how to boost your chances of getting a job. Altis also offers the recordings of its two earlier webinars to anyone interested. Finally, if has an “open invitation” to register for its newcomer program, which it started in 2017 to improve the lives of new Canadians in a direct way by providing paid internships within the company, giving newcomers “Canadian” experience, something many employers insist upon.
Company Spirit Win
The newcomer program — a fully paid apprenticeship for eight to 10 weeks that includes the use of a laptop and headset — is entirely sponsored by Altis, which doesn’t make any money from it. But Tremblay says there are other rewards for her and her team.
“The personal growth has been incredible, because some of our team members have themselves faced different challenges along the way,” she says. “It’s also created a really special community inside the company, because those that are really participating in it have this enormous job [of helping a newcomer find work.] When we see that someone [we’ve helped] has secured a permanent full-time position and they had been unemployed for years, that’s just something priceless.”
The program was Tremblay’s way of remembering her late husband, Tony Guimarães, who was himself born in Portugal.
Altis offers registrants hands-on experience, skills development, networking opportunities, professional training and active marketing of the newcomer’s skills to help them get full-time work. Those with human resources, administrative services or finance and marketing skills are all encouraged to apply.
“Our last person was from East India, and she was here for about a year and a half couldn’t find work,” Tremblay says. “She did this apprenticeship and she is now in an incredibly great full-time permanent position.”
The program was also one of Tremblay’s Canada 150 projects and she committed to helping 150 newcomers get on-the-job experience and then hopefully a good job. So far, the program has helped 84 people and almost all of them have found full-time employment.
One plus is that the newcomers leave with a Canadian reference. Again, sometimes only having references from their previous home country is a barrier to entry into the workforce.
“That’s one thing that’s made a big difference,” says Katherine Soler, who is the team lead on the newcomer program. “The other big takeaway is the confidence the program builds.”
Indira Rao is a graduate of the newcomer program and a big fan. She came to Canada from India in 2019 as a professional language translator, but she found the languages she knew weren’t in high demand here.
“The program had a significant impact and helped get me an interview with RBC,” says Rao, who now works as a pre-employment representative and HR officer for RBC in Toronto. “It was a great experience.”
Rao’s initial contract with Altis/Excel HR was for 12 weeks, but that was extended until she found another position, which happened after about 16 weeks.
“I think the experience definitely helped me stand out when I was looking for my next opportunity,” she says.
She was particularly impressed with Tremblay’s leadership. Tremblay makes a point of meeting with all newcomers finishing the program to find out whether it was worthwhile and what, if anything, should change.
“I would definitely recommend the program — 100 per cent,” Rao says. “I’ve told all my contacts and have recommended people to Altis.”
So rich was her apprenticeship, Rao says she would be keen to return to Altis if the opportunity arose.