Friday, October 13, 2006

Immigrants Must Adapt to Find Jobs

Mark Berghan: Immigrants must adapt to find jobs
Wednesday September 27, 2006
I read with interest Lincoln Tan's article on the barriers to meaningful employment in New Zealand for new migrants. Obviously, Mr Tan has not had much experience as an employer or business owner in New Zealand.
It would seem he requires New Zealand employers to take on new immigrants on the employees' terms, irrespective of whether the employee has the skills and cultural adaptability to perform the role.
It is just so easy, if you only skim the surface of the issue, to cast around terms like discrimination, prejudice and racism, something Mr Tan seems quite comfortable doing.
I lived and worked in a non-English speaking country for more than 10 years. Like our new immigrants here, I was offered a work visa and an opportunity, which I took up.
I arrived in the country with virtually no language skills and no job, but I knew I would not be able to do things in the same way I had done them in New Zealand. I never expected that employers there had to change their way of doing things to suit me.
They were never under any obligation to employ me, let alone employ me on my terms. It was up to me to adapt, to learn the language and present myself and my skill set in a culturally appropriate manner.
Why does Mr Tan think New Zealand employers have the responsibility to change their requirements to suit a poorly adapted skill set?
So what is the reality from a Pakeha employer's perspective? I have been involved in New Zealand (as an employer, not a recruitment consultant) in hiring people in a variety of industries and for a range of positions, from front desk and administration staff through to educators and management roles.
Over this time I have reviewed literally hundreds of applications from new immigrants and kept data on the outcomes.
As far as new immigrants go, here are the issues that have led me to decline their applications before I looked at their actual skills and personality.
1. Spelling/grammar.
People who can't be bothered to spell and grammar check their resume. If I receive a resume that has bad spelling, typographical errors or incorrect grammar, it goes in the bin.
Forty-eight per cent of all applications from new immigrants that I have received end here.
2. The job advertisement.
People who can't be bothered to address the requirements in the original advertisement for the position. If the advertisement requests a one-page resume, or three verifiable referees, or specific qualifications, and they aren't included in the application, it goes in the bin.
Thirty-seven per cent of surviving applicants from stage one end here.
3. Fake documents.
People who provide fake documentation. I am not talking about people who may pad their previous job descriptions or exaggerate their skills, but fraud. I have seen forged certificates, university degrees, drivers' licenses and written references. I have also had people offer me large sums of money in return for a job offer at the interview stage.
Nine per cent of surviving applicants from stage two end here.
4. Neat and not smelly.
People who turn up for an interview in unsuitable attire or with poor personal hygiene. Thirteen per cent of surviving applicants from stage three end here.
5. Late arrivals.
People who turn up for an interview late. Now emergencies do happen, but if someone says I missed the bus or I couldn't find the office then sorry. This just tells me, the prospective employer, that the applicant is disorganised and unprepared.
Get a map, take the earlier bus and sort out where you have to go before the interview. Twelve per cent of surviving applicants from stage four end here.
6. Language.
People who do not have suitable English language ability. In New Zealand the vast majority of businesses have 10 or fewer employees. Almost all positions within these companies require some kind of communication with end-users/customers.
Our businesses do not have the scale to shield anyone from communicating directly with the customer. At a minimum this means face-to-face communication, but usually telephone skills as well.
If the applicant is not capable of communicating at a suitable level in English, then sorry, but I will not risk losing a client because an employee couldn't take the customer's message accurately.
Overall, 50 per cent of surviving applicants from stage five end here.
So, if I start with 50 applications from new immigrants, I can expect around five possibilities, before accounting for whether anyone actually has the skills and personality for the role.
Using the six steps above, if I had 50 applicants who were all New Zealand born and educated, I would end up with around 20 possibilities before looking at skills and personality.
That's not to say I have never hired a new immigrant. I have employed people who were originally from China, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. Most have been fantastic employees.
These were people who often used a native English speaker to proofread/edit their resume They read the job advertisement and addressed its requirements, dressed well with good personal hygiene and turned up on time.
They didn't present forged documents or offer bribes, were honest about their skills and abilities and spoke and understood English well (but not necessarily fluently).
In short, they showed they were prepared to adapt to the New Zealand cultural context. This doesn't mean they have to abandon their own culture.
They may find some processes and procedures New Zealanders take for granted confusing and frustrating (as I definitely encountered overseas). As they say, there is nothing common about common sense.
But they have shown that they are willing to try to work within the local framework. The steps mentioned above are part of how they demonstrate that to the potential employer.
I think Mr Tan is showing his own deep-seated prejudices when he criticises New Zealand employers. If he wants to look only at the surface of employment issues he should visit his local new immigrant-owned businesses.
In my neighbourhood there are several restaurants, a taxi company, a travel agency, a liquor store, a computer and printing shop and several grocery shops, all owned by new immigrants. How many Pakeha or Maori are working in these businesses? None.
But visit my local New Zealand-owned cafes, two supermarkets, multiple retail shops, any of the four banks, the local doctor's surgery and the Post Office.
How many new immigrants do you see working there, right the way from the shop floor to senior management? Lots, and they are doing it well.
Using the logic of Mr Tan's argument, it would seem to me that it is the new immigrants, as employers, who are discriminating against the New Zealanders, rather than the other way round.
* Mark Berghan is managing director of A2ZTranslate Ltd, which employs staff here and overseas from China, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Malaysia. He has worked in management roles in educational institutes and spent 10 years working in Japan.
Readers' Views
Your article did not really address what Mr Lincoln Tan has been writing about in regard to jobs for immigrants. Mr Tan has been writing about the fact that "lack of New Zealand experience" is often given as a reason for not giving a job to an immigrant. Your opinion piece did not allude to that at all and therefore was not really an appropriate rejoinder to what Mr Tan has been writing about. All that you wrote was no doubt true but it was like trying to compare chalk and cheese.
Even though I am a Caucassian New Zealander born in Auckland, circumstances were such that with a master's degree in mathematics and registration with the NZ Teachers Registration Board, I could not get work as a teacher in New Zealand because, at the age of 51, I lacked New Zealand experience (that is, I had never taught in a NZ school). This reality was explained to me through an intermediary by a high-up personage in the NZ education scene. Thirty one applications for positions with not one interview (so I could not be evaluated for personal hygiene, punctuality, ability to express myself in oral English, the comprehensibility of my accent, and so on); four applications to Australia and two positive responses. The offer that I finally accepted involved payment of fares for me and my family to my work location in Australia plus certain removal expenses.
There are many stories like mine. One of my favourites is that of a Bangaldeshi accountant who, even though she had a NZ accountancy degree, spent five years looking for work as an accountant in New Zealand, and only 19 days in Australia once she got there. Examples like this exemplify why Australia is creaming up on free human capital and just what New Zealand is losing.
As Mr Tan wrote, bit by bit New Zealand is destroying itself economically by this illogical rejection of applicants for work who do not have New Zealand experience. It's classical Catch 22: To get a job you need NZ experience but to get such experience you need a job. - - - posted 12.49am Sept 28, 2006 by Barrie Stephens (Darwin, Australia)

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