How a short stint at CIBC turned into a big breakthrough

April 8, 2010

It was the quest for a better life that caused Yosbel Lecha to leave Cuba at the age of 26 and make the trek to Toronto. But when he arrived in the fall of 2006 he experienced a rude awakening.

The job search was much harder than he expected. He had earned his industrial engineering degree in his native Spanish, and had only basic English skills. Jobs in Cuba are generally landed through friends of friends.

"In Cuba, we don't use résumés," he says. "It was harder than I ever imagined. At one point I almost lost all hope."

Mr. Lecha took a job delivering furniture and worked 10-hour days to pay his rent. He reached out to the Humber Centre for Internationally Trained Professionals, and was hooked up with the Career Edge Organization, a national non-profit group with an internship placement program called Career Bridge.

He received a call from a recruiter at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce who liked his résumé but didn't have an opening for him yet. Mr. Lecha's breakthrough finally came in May of 2008 when he landed a four-month internship with the bank that led to a contract position and, as of March 1 of this year, a full-time job at CIBC as a senior metrics and reporting analyst.

"Yosbel had work experience that crossed a number of human resource disciplines," says his manager, Leo Warner, who is senior manager of corporate training and development. He had skills that were essential for the role, such as employee data management, analysis and an ability to multitask. But he also exhibited what Mr. Warner calls a "can do attitude" and a willingness to help others.

In many ways, it's the little things that count. Mr. Lecha says that from the very first day his bosses helped him to feel at ease. His manager ensured that colleagues pronounced his name correctly and fellow employees introduced him to the sport of golf. But most importantly, Mr. Lecha says, the bank was interested enough in his analytical skills that it overlooked his struggles with English. Colleagues helped to bring his language skills up to par.

"I feel very, very motivated to come to work every day," he says.

CIBC is one of the Canadian financial institutions looking to attract and retain newcomers, who make up a growing and influential pot of talent. According to Statistics Canada, one in four Canadians will be foreign-born by 2031.

By ensuring that the bank's employee base reflects Canada's population, CIBC is better able to serve its customers, says Sharon Wingfelder, vice-president of human resources, diversity and resourcing. CIBC has found 18 full-time employees through the Career Bridge program, and that's just one of many initiatives it's using on this front.

The bank has also used "speed mentoring" programs, akin to speed dating, in which four bank employees sit in a line and newcomers spend 10 minutes with each of them gathering tips on their job search. Each time a bell rings, it's musical chairs.

In 2008 the bank formed an alliance with the YMCA and developed a program to help newcomers learn financial literacy skills and how banking is done in Canada. It also taught them about hiring practices here with a five-week "connection to employment" course that delved into how job-seekers can market themselves. The bank contributed both funding and volunteers to that effort.

"We were hoping that we would see great candidates for us coming out of this, and we actually hired 31 individuals," Ms. Wingfelder said.

While CIBC does not track the percentage of its employees who are newcomers to the country, it does know that its work force is 24.2 per cent visible minorities. Ms. Wingfelder employs an individual whose sole role is to find diverse candidates.

The bank is also setting up a "newcomer" section on its careers website, which it hopes to launch at the end of April.

It will help users find information about foreign credentials assessments, language training, support agencies and mentoring.

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