BDC Small Business WeekTM October 20-26, 2019

Attracting immigrant employees is key for this entrepreneur

When Ross McLeod handed out shares in his security company to about 200 employees—most of them immigrants—in 2016, he also gave them a loot bag.

Among other things, it contained a copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a popular personal finance book, and a set of business cards with the word shareholder under the employee’s name.

"I told them: 'When you hand this card to someone, you go from being a blue-collar security worker to being a white-collar owner, a shareholder in an established, known security company,'" says McLeod, CEO of Intelligarde Security in Toronto.

McLeod freely admits the jobs at his security guard firm are perceived as low status, not only by society, but also by the guards themselves. He’s working to change those perceptions and make his company more attractive to the immigrants who make up the vast majority of his staff.

As part of the effort, McLeod gives shares to employees with more than three years of seniority. He believes the employee share ownership plan is unique in the industry.

He also provides health benefits, training and advancement opportunities to his 500-strong workforce in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Winnipeg, which he estimates is composed of about 70% immigrants.

Employees can aspire to promotions

"When people look up our chain of command, they can see people with similar names, who speak similar languages as they do, who are successful in the company," says McLeod, who founded Intelligarde 34 years ago.

More Canadian entrepreneurs will have to rely on immigrant workers as the population ages, according to a new BDC study entitled Future-Proof Your Business: Adapting to Technology and Demographic Trends. By 2032, immigration will account for up to 80% of Canada’s population growth.

Several studies emphasize that companies with an ethnically diverse labour force perform better financially, the BDC report notes. Yet, immigrants have a much higher unemployment rate than Canadian-born workers.

Providing good employment—including the share ownership program—serves McLeod’s interests by helping him recruit top security guards and retain them in an industry that suffers from chronically high turnover rates, he says.

"We want to attract the best employees who, for one reason or another, have decided security is their career," he says. "I’m giving up shares in a growing pie. And that makes sense. That’s altruism plus self-interest and it’s a potent force."

Changed recruitment strategy

McLeod says for many years his recruitment strategy relied on the need to replace retiring police officers, prison guards and customs officers from the baby boom generation. Security guards trained by Intelligarde could aspire to move into those positions.

But as hiring by police forces and related professions slowed, he had to find another approach and that led him to beef up his benefits. As part of the strategy, Intelligarde became the first security firm to attain B Corporation certification. To be certified as a B Corp, a company must meet rigorous standards of economic, social and environmental performance.

Intelligarde also created the position of Chief Culture Officer. That person is Marjaan Hadi, who is responsible for human resources at the company including training and reaching out to immigrant communities where the firm draws its employees.

The company provides a one-week training program to new employees and ongoing optional training courses on a range of security challenges, Hadi says.

Training is key to retention

Training and the opportunity to move up in the company are important factors in retaining immigrant workers, says Hadi, who was born in Afghanistan and speaks five languages. She adds the company has a clear policy on religious accommodation.

"We promote to new immigrants that there is room for success here," she says. "Besides myself, there are other immigrants in the company who are doing extremely well, and those success stories are very important."

McLeod says more entrepreneurs need to be prepared to hire more immigrants because that’s where the workers are in an increasingly tight labour market.

"You have to lean into it and embrace that reality," he says. "You’ve got to work with it and make the very best you can out of it."