ALiGN: From Youth to Refugees, Replicating for Employment Success

Current hiring practices often exclude refugees, as they are not seen as a ‘good fit’ based on lack of Canadian education, training, or experience. However, a critical labour shortage can offer an opportunity for employers to re-evaluate hiring practices to realize the potential in a previously untapped labour pool.

Ontario’s tourism and hospitality employers have struggled for some time with a critical labour shortage. Recently, the industry began replicating an employment project with refugees that has had some success working with vulnerable youth. The ALiGN Network Model introduces an alternative approach to traditional recruitment, screening and hiring practices.

OTEC, a sector-specific training, consulting, and workforce development organization, teamed up with Magnet to launch ALiGN, to connect unemployed youth to job vacancies. Based at Ryerson University, Magnet is a non-profit social innovation that brings together cross-sector partners to address unemployment and under-employment of Canadians through a technology-driven platform. With a strong commitment to diversity and supporting groups facing significant barriers to employment, Magnet was a natural fit to partner with OTEC.

Many potential workers from vulnerable groups were not recognized as a suitable fit by employers simply because employers lacked the tools to fully evaluate their potential. Adam Morrison, OTEC V.P, Projects & Partnerships says that “businesses have been telling us for years that, if candidates are the right fit, they will hire them and train them for advancement.” As employers struggled to fill entry-level positions, it became clear that OTEC needed to create a system that matched vulnerable groups to opportunities based on their unique attributes, attitudes and goals.

OTEC and Magnet looked at models that were working for larger, well-resourced employers in the sector, but were out of reach for smaller companies. In one approach, “peak performers” were interviewed to assess not only skills, but also the behavioural and personality attributes that made candidates successful. OTEC worked with the sector to scale this approach and created employee benchmarks that they combined with Lumina Learning’s psychometric assessment tool to establish job fit characteristics such as introversion vs. extroversion and people- vs. outcome-focused.

With Magnet and sector partners, OTEC built the ALiGN Network Model, a “psychometric-based talent-to-role fit assessment and job-matching model.” Once the psychometric and job readiness model was tested and had employer buy-in, OTEC worked with Magnet to bring the model online.

Clients are assessed by community and education partners trained in the psychometric tool. Once they are determined to be a fit for a particular job, clients are moved directly into work or supported through training, certification and other steps necessary to obtain employment.

Community, training and education partners are key to making ALiGN successful. Given the vulnerable populations ALiGN supports, OTEC recognized they had to connect clients to in-person supports, to help candidates excel and be successful. OTEC works closely with existing community and educational support systems to refer, support and move clients to employment.

Replicating for refugees

The ALiGN approach has broad applicability. According to Magnet’s Executive Director, Mark Patterson, and echoed by Morrison, the model was always envisioned to work with other client groups and labour market segments. Refugees are a logical next group. Like unemployed youth, ALiGN creates pathways to employment for refugees who do not have traditional “good fit” credentials for success, or even participation, in the labour market, such as academic accreditation, language proficiency, and “Canadian experience.” ACCES Employment, already a Magnet community partner, will pilot the Lumina psychometric assessment tool with refugee clients, and provide the additional support system necessary for employment success.

Morrison says that the Lumina tool is particularly appropriate for refugees. It is available in 17 languages, and has been tested and used in other countries. Additional modifications have been made to ALiGN to be accessible for this new population of job-seekers, including a multilingual online interface, taking into account multilingual refugee clients.

Measuring impact

OTEC recently completed an evaluation of ALiGN for improving employment outcomes for vulnerable youth. They found that more youth are being assessed as a fit when they work with their employment counsellor to complete the assessment on ALiGN. Thirty percent more youth are on a realistic path to employment. That means more potential workers for employers facing labour shortages.

More employers also have access to greater hiring opportunities now. Most employers, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), lack the Human Resource resources large corporate entities have. Through ALiGN, employers now have access to a recruiting system and new talent pools if they are willing to commit to hiring from underemployed and vulnerable groups.

With a solution-focused tool, Morrison says that employers, large and small, have indicated that they are willing to adapt their recruitment practices to work with ALiGN, and access the new talent pool. With hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs projected in the sector, employers simply need new ways of finding and hiring potential workers.

Reducing employment friction for everyone

Refugees only have to complete the psychometric assessment tool once. It becomes part of their profile on ALiGN and part of their personal employment portfolio on the broader Magnet site. With the ALiGN profile integrated on Magnet, refugees will be able to also access opportunities across the whole Magnet platform, exposing them to more employment opportunities as they gain new skills and experiences.

Morrison says ALiGN offers employers a streamlined process to access talent they may not have previously been able to tap into. Their access to the platform, including posting jobs, is all free.

ALiGN’s refugee project is just getting started. With its initial success working with youth, it can continue to model the way tourism and hospitality employers can tap into previously ignored labour talent.

Tips for employers:

  • Build on what works. Employment support services for one vulnerable or precarious community provide models and lessons that can be adapted for others.
  • Have strong employer partners. Magnet is connected to the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda roundtable, made up of employers initiating or interested in starting employment projects to hire refugees. Working with these employer champions that already see the benefit of hiring refugees provides additional pathways for companies to hire top talent. It can also bring other employers on board.
  • Multi-sectoral stakeholder partnerships are key. ALiGN brings private, public, and non-profit partners together, all working towards common goals. It’s important that all partners see what is in it for them. Having broad sector employer organizations, such as chambers of commerce, sector councils, etc., are key to helping not only bring employers in, but also to create legitimacy for the approach and project.

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