Refugee Talent Pipeline Fills Positions at Nomz

Read our full interview with Jana Al Zaibak.

Entrepreneur Jana Al Zaibak credits her employees with her business success. They’re driven, contribute their expertise and ideas, and are passionate about their work. Another thing they have in common? They’re all refugees.

Al Zaibak is the founder and CEO of Toronto-based Nomz, a healthy snack company that manufactures and wholesales gluten free, paleo, and delicious snacks to retailers and consumers across Canada. Nomz 2

Nomz shares a recruitment strategy playing out in communities around the world. Hiring refugees has become synonymous with hiring staff who are loyal, motivated, and – just like other newcomers – talented. Whether it’s in Germany or parts of Canada, employers are recognizing firsthand the benefits of their local refugee talent pool.

Al Zaibak’s business is just a few years old but is set to rapidly expand. Nomz’ mission includes a commitment to give back to the community. For Al Zaibak, that includes hiring newcomers.

Paying it forward an easy decision, with help from a community partner

The Nomz employee base is made up of newcomers from Afghanistan. Al Zaibak considers them the heart of her company.

“Many other food manufacturing businesses have trouble retaining their employees,” Al Zaibak said. But it’s not a problem for Nomz, which has a 100% retention rate over two years in business. “We feel very grateful and blessed that they have all stayed with us, and we hope they will continue to stay with us throughout our journey. At this point, our team feels more like a family.”

More than hope goes into the strong retention record at Nomz. Al Zaibak has purposely created a positive space for employees, with policies that support the work-life balance needs of her employees. Those include flexible working hours, and next, Al Zaibak plans to financially support her employees’ continuing English language education.

The decision to hire newcomers makes good business sense, but it also “speaks to our Canadian values to open our doors and our hearts. Compassion is what makes us human.”

Al Zaibak’s family experienced that compassion when they emigrated from Syria in the 1980s. “We were all welcomed to Canada when we arrived, so it is only natural to pass that kindness forward and welcome today’s newcomers.”

A business that supports newcomer employment was an early vision for Al Zaibak. To realize it, she connected with a local community agency that serves newcomers to some of Toronto’s most diverse arrival neighbourhoods, Thorncliffe Park, Victoria Village and Flemingdon Park. Reh’ma Community Services helps immigrant women develop kitchen skills and find jobs primarily in the hospitality sector. Working with the agency allows Al Zaibak to connect with a pipeline of candidates who have developed the skills her business needs.

As her business grows this year, Al Zaibak sees an opportunity to expand her workforce, and extend job opportunities to the latest large group of newcomers to Canada. Over 26,000 Syrian newcomers arrived in Canada in a period of six months beginning in November 2015. To source talent within this group, Al Zaibak has found another community partner, the Refugee Career Jumpstart Project, a Toronto-based organization facilitating the entry of Syrian newcomers into the job market.

Employers play an important part of newcomer integration

Jim Estill, the CEO of Danby, located in the Canadian city of Guelph, is another champion of newcomer talent not only for moral reasons, but economic ones. In an interview with Hire Immigrants, he said employers are looking for loyal, motivated and long-term workers. In his own community, he advocates among peers in the private sector to source refugee talent for these winning qualities.

Al Zaibak recognizes the necessary role of employers in providing opportunities to qualified newcomers who might otherwise experience slower entry into the job market because of low language proficiency, unfamiliarity with Canadian workplace culture, or other reasons. “Employment is the best way to set up newcomers for success. A job isn’t just about making money, it’s also about feeling a sense of purpose, making new social connections at work, learning a new skill set, and just integrating better in society and day-to-day life.”

Al Zaibak’s approach to hiring has helped anchor and grow her business.

“Everyone on the team brings love and passion to the production facility every day. Our team members are down-to-earth women who I enjoy talking to every day and they have become some of my closest friends. I truly believe our work culture has contributed to our success,” Al Zaibak explained. “Our team brought with them rich experiences, unique knowledge, interesting stories and different perspectives. Our business is more diverse now and it has only made a positive impact. We’re excited to grow, and have them grow with us.”

Al Zaibak’s message for peers is clear: “All businesses should be open to hiring newcomers.”

Making it work for you

  • Partner with a local settlement agency to support your talent pipeline needs. It may be possible to find an agency in your community that specializes in employment and training in your industry.
  • Communicate with employees about any needs you might be able to meet to create a positive working environment, such as flexible working hours.

Magnet, Ryerson University in partnership with Hire Immigrants produced this article. The article is made possible with the funding from the Government of Ontario.

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