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RBC and United Way are breaking down employment barriers

3 MIN READ

When Mojtaba first arrived in Ottawa, he worked in retail while he completed the necessary certifications to continue the teaching career he had back in his home country.  

But Mojtaba quickly refocused his job search on banking after he connected with RBC at a networking event led by Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). The combination of RBC’s proactive approach to seeking out newcomer talent and Mojtaba’s valuable soft skills meant he quickly landed a job as a Client Advisor at a downtown bank branch. 

For more than 15 years, United Way East Ontario has brought together employers like RBC, community agencies, and other stakeholders to improve employment outcomes for thousands of people like Mojtaba. RBC leverages United Way-led community wide initiatives like Hire Immigrants Ottawa (HIO), the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), and the Indigenous Employment Leadership Advisory Table to recruit, retain, and empower people from diverse backgrounds and abilities within their workforce.  

Now, Mojtaba volunteers to help other newcomers integrate into Canadian culture – continuing a network of success for a group that is often overlooked in the labour market. 

There are major barriers to inclusion in the workforce

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A job is more than just a way to make an income—it’s about finding a sense of purpose, stability, and a place to belong. 

But many groups, like Indigenous peoples, newcomers, people with disabilities and others, face major barriers to inclusion in the workforce. Recent immigrants to Ottawa who hold a university degree had an unemployment rate more than three times higher than their Canadian-born counterparts. 

When people don’t have equitable access to opportunities and relevant support, they may find themselves stuck in precarious or lower-income jobs without professional and financial growth opportunities. Over the long term, their reliance on subsidy programs may increase to achieve financial security, continuing the cycle of poverty. 

Culture change starts with leadership

RBC’s leaders understand that inclusivity and a sense of belonging are good for employees, clients, business, and the community, too. A key component is having a workforce that reflects the diversity of the clients and communities they serve – in addition to ensuring that they attract and retain the very best people. 

Nadim Ladha, a Human Resources Business Partner at RBC, who participates at United Way’s Indigenous Employment Table, highlighted the diversity of their current workforce:   

“RBC’s workforce is diverse in itself: 54 per cent of the 86,000 people working for RBC are women, and 40 per cent come from Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities—one of the highest percentages among private employers in Canada.”

At United Way’s recent Building Community Wealth webinar focused on equitable workforce development, Louise Summers (Regional Vice President, Ottawa Central, RBC Royal Bank), who is a member of HIO’s Council of Champions, spoke about the business imperative for diversity, and some of the barriers that need to be removed to actively engage diverse talent, including newcomers: 

“The need to fully leverage our available talent pool has never been greater."

“In addition to these gaps in our labour force, Canada has ambitious goals to attract immigrants. In fact, our population growth comes mostly through immigration. International students, temporary workers, newcomers. This talent pool is essential to grow our economy and to the future of work in Canada,” Louise adds.

“I see this myself when I am looking at candidates from other countries who are highly educated and have significant work experience.”

“To have an inclusive and diverse workforce is essential for [people] to thrive. This brings opportunities for hidden voices. When you’re working in an organization and society that values your differences, and encourages you to speak up loudly and proudly about what you think, I think that’s invaluable.”

Kickstarting the next generation of workers

Active participation with United Way-led employment initiatives is critical to building RBC’s workforce, and they also use other levers to drive impact in this area.  

In 2017, RBC committed an investment of $500 million over 10 years to their Future Launch Program to prepare youth for the future of work. This investment empowered EARN to share the findings and recommendations in a report titled Improving Employment Outcomes for Post-Secondary Graduates with Disabilities 

They are also helping to pilot activities that will connect employers with young Indigenous job seekers through the Indigenous Employment Leadership Advisory Table. 

Through their business practices, community engagement, and partnership with United Way, RBC is building community wealth, and improving employment outcomes for marginalized people across East Ontario.  

As we look towards an equitable recovery from the pandemic and addressing labour market shortages, this leadership is essential.  

Paying it forward

Mojtaba embraces the value he brings to his team at RBC, and wants to ensure other newcomers to Canada feel the same way. 

“To all my fellow newcomers, welcome to Canada! Don’t be intimidated by the first waves of hardships! The first few months will pass by, and you will put them behind you, because you’re capable of doing the right things. Believe in yourself, discover your soft skills, and proudly showcase them. You will be appreciated for who you are.”

And, his message to employers: 

“Every immigrant, newcomer and refugee brings a unique lived experience to Canada. Be curious, be welcoming, and be open to understanding their uniqueness."

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