Hiring Refugees: Doing good is good business

By Mohamad Fakih

When I arrived in Canada at the age of 26, I came with a strong drive and desire to succeed. Like many others, I immigrated for the opportunity at a better life. I was attracted to Canada’s diversity as I saw this country as a land full of opportunities. It was by chance that I got my start in the restaurant industry with the purchase of a small Lebanese eatery, and I am proud of the work that has been put in to make Paramount Fine Foods the success it is today. This journey is why I believe and know that refugees, as any other newcomers, are a largely untapped resource that can make Canada stronger.

Over the last year I have teamed up with the UN Refugee Agency and can testify first-hand that, like other newcomers, refugees have an entrepreneurial spirit and use their diverse skill sets and talents to start businesses and create jobs for themselves and other Canadians.

My involvement on refugee issues results from my experience at Paramount Fine Foods. We have hired more than 150 refugees and each one of them has been worth my trust. As business leaders, we want lower turnover rates with conscientious employees that contribute to a stable core workforce for our growing companies. Research by the Fiscal Policy Institute has found that amongst refugees, turnover rates are overwhelmingly lower in comparison to all other employees. Their sense to belonging and gratitude to the employer who gave them a chance first is something I have often noticed. This should definitely inform our business models.

Refugees are often singularly perceived as victims that depend on external support and strain Canada’s social safety net. Simply put, this is inaccurate — Canada’s investment in refugees pays off. Data shared from Stats Canada shows that the performance of refugees in the Canadian labour market improves significantly over time. After only six years, refugees earn as much as most Canadians who may recognise that refugees are positive members of our communities, but may not always be aware of what they can contribute. This is why I reach out to my fellow business leaders to promote a better understanding of these positive outcomes and recognize that while refugees may start off with fewer resources, they’re resilient and work tirelessly to build a better life.

I don’t tell my franchises to hire refugees irrespective of their experience in the position. I simply tell them to give these people a chance. It is not about their need or any sense of charity but it is about their qualifications — of which they possess in abundance. Half of the refugees in the workforce are employed in either management and professional or college and apprenticeship training jobs. On one side, business leaders are looking to hire dedicated, hard-working employees; on the other hand, human beings forced to leave their homes are looking for a job and a way to restore dignity to their life. We only need to put them together.

Mohamad Fakih is the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods and Chairman of the Fakih Foundation

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