Big dreams: i3DVR's new Canadians find a home

In order to develop and bring their new digital video management system to market, the founders of Toronto-based electronics manufacturing company i3DVR International knew they had to expand their R&D department by hiring the most skilled people they could find — period. Education and relevant industry experience has always been the company's main hiring criteria, regardless of an applicant's country of origin, or if they were educated outside Canada.

As a result, skilled immigrants comprise 50% of i3DVR's 85 employees, including the entire R&D department of 17 software engineers. For some positions, the ability to speak English isn't a requirement, says Grace Baba, i3DVR's human resources manager. “We don't discriminate against people [who] can't communicate effectively in English.” If they're working in R&D developing code, for example, “They're all coding in the same language.”

Baba says i3DVR's diverse immigrant workforce has been the key to the company's growth. It's what has enabled the company to make the switch from its origins as a distributor of surveillance and security systems to creating and manufacturing its own digital video management system called SRX-Pro. The company, which opened in 1990 with a handful of employees and $500,000 in revenue, saw sales soar to $20 million in 2005. (In addition to its Toronto head office, i3DVR has eight employees in the U.S., 37 in Vietnam and two in Korea.)

The universal language of coding aside, i3DVR began offering weekly ESL classes to employees two years ago. The improved language skills boost employees' confidence and self-esteem; it also enables them to share their ideas at meetings on ways to improve the business, says Sherri Sanjurjo, marketing coordinator. Annual vacations and retreats, as well as monthly company luncheons, provide social opportunities where employees can practice their English and get to know each other better.

The family-like atmosphere, a policy of hiring and promoting from within (some customer care workers have advanced as far as national business developers), and competitive wages, has helped foster a 100% retention rate in the R&D department; most of these workers have been with the company for more than five years. In a competitive market such as Toronto, that's no small feat, says Baba, adding that retention rates for the industry typically hover around 20%.

I3DVR has amassed awards and industry recognition for its efforts, which include being ranked among Profit magazine's 100 most profitable companies for four consecutive years. For its practice of hiring and promoting skilled immigrants the company was in May 2006 recognized with an award by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Offering opportunity has been a way for founders Jack Hoang and his brothers Vy and Bob, themselves immigrants from Vietnam, to give back. “They came to Canada with dreams that everyone comes here with,” says Sanjurjo. “When you've lived through it and actualized your dreams, it means a little bit more to be able to say to someone else coming to this country that they can do the same thing.”