Building Inclusion into Orientation and Onboarding

Having a good orientation and onboarding process in place is essential to the successful integration and retention of new employees and is a sound investment in terms of both time and money. Orientation is the first stage of the onboarding process and primarily serves to familiarize new employees with their job responsibilities, organizational procedures and policies, pay and benefits package, facilities, and the relevant software and tools. Onboarding, on the other hand, continues well past the orientation phase and aims at acclimatizing new employees to the workplace culture. The focus is to help new employees integrate and meet the goals of the organization.

An effective orientation and onboarding process that includes the needs of ITIs requires careful planning because it may mean making adjustments to the processes and policies already in place. The starting point is to recognize and clearly articulate the challenges employers face with integrating ITIs. These challenges differ from one organization to another, but there are some common challenges that many small to medium-sized organizations face.

This section discusses these common challenges and offers some suggestions for making the orientation and onboarding process more inclusive by accommodating the specific needs of ITIs.

Common Challenges for Employers in Retaining and Integrating ITIs

1. Language

Many employers find that their new ITI hires have some challenges with language. Below is a list of the main concerns that employers have and some planning considerations to help address these concerns during the orientation and onboarding process.

Common concerns

Suggestions for addressing the concerns

  • organizational policies and procedures
  • important safety and emergency policies and procedures
  • payroll deductions and benefits
It is good practice to provide new hires with documents that outline organizational and safety policies and procedures and payroll deduction and benefits. These documents can be made more accessible to ITIs by using simpler and plainer English. For example, acronyms, jargon, and long sentences can be barriers to easy comprehension. Review and revise any existing documents to make them more accessible to ITIs.
  • Alberta Workplace Essential Skills (AWES) offers workshops on plain language principles and workplace integration:
  • Assign a language buddy/mentor so that the new ITI hire can easily access a colleague for clarifying information.
  • Schedule question and answer sessions in the first few weeks. Such sessions will provide valuable opportunities to clarify any information that has not been understood during the orientation.
  • If feasible, consider hiring an ESL instructor who can offer customized instruction that incorporates information about payroll deductions and benefits and the organization’s policies and procedures.
  • Have important safety signs and emergency procedures translated into the different languages that are understood by the ITIs in the organization.

Understanding instructions and directives from supervisors

  • Provide all supervisors with the following basic information to help facilitate comprehension of instructions:
    • Communicate the instructions in simple, direct sentences using plain English. Avoid acronyms, slang and jargon.
    • Talk at a slower pace and enunciate clearly.
    • Start and end with the most important action needed.
    • Clarify and confirm information frequently.
    • Ask open-ended questions to check comprehension.
    • Be self-aware of tone and body language while doing the above.
  • Have a system of regular feedback in place. Good onboarding practices allow for two-way communication.

Communicating effectively with:

  • coworkers and supervisors
  • customers and clients
  • Communication is influenced by one’s culture, and it can easily cause misunderstandings at work. Communication includes both verbal and non-verbal aspects. Refer to the section Cultural Differences for more information.
  • Provide intercultural competency training for all employees to help increase awareness of the potential pitfalls in intercultural communication. For example, jokes generally contain cultural references and nuances of language that ITIs may not be familiar with. Because of this, jokes have the potential to make a newcomer feel like an outsider. Jokes can also include some sensitive content that may be offensive to some cultures.
  • Written communication can also pose many of the same challenges as verbal communication. If regular reports and correspondence are an essential part of the position, allow time and resources for a basic introduction to the organization’s expectations around the different types of written communication. Provide completed examples, where possible.
  • Even ITIs with a fair command of the language might not feel confident about talking on the telephone. Have a manual with telephone etiquette and examples of how to answer and end calls.
  • Encourage an attitude of open-mindedness towards different pronunciation and vocabulary use within the organization.

2. Culture

Many employers are concerned that ITIs do not integrate easily into the new workplace. Creating an inclusive workplace environment can go a long way towards facilitating the integration of ITIs by reducing acculturative stress. Acculturative stress is the stress caused by acculturation, which is the process of learning and becoming familiar with a new culture. Employers can help reduce this acculturative stress in three main ways:

  • Have clearly articulated mission and value statements
  • Use the organization values to guide the onboarding process to help ITIs become familiar with the workplace culture more quickly and easily.
  • Provide diversity training for all employees.

Below are the two main concerns that employers have and some planning considerations that might help address these concerns during the orientation and onboarding process.

Common concerns

Suggestions for addressing the concerns

Slower to fit in because they are unfamiliar with:
  • workplace culture
  • social culture
  • Have a mission statement, value statements, and policies that clearly articulate your workplace culture.
  • Encourage each department to come up with their own value statements that reinforce the workplace culture.
  • Base the onboarding process on the value statements, so the norms are shared and the expectations are recognized.
  • Provide diversity training at all levels of the organization, so all employees recognize and value differences among cultures. This helps make the workplace more inclusive by developing a positive attitude towards other cultures. It also reduces workplace conflict as people start to see their culture as relative to other cultures and recognize culture’s impact on a person’s way of thinking and behaviour. (Refer to the sections on Cultural Differences and Intercultural Competence for more information.)
  • Make intercultural competence a core value and include it in the onboarding process. (Refer to the sections on Cultural Differences and Intercultural Competence for more information.)
  • Include the values on the organization’s website, so they are easily accessible to all employees.
  • Give clear guidelines on the performance review expectations, process, and techniques. Include self-awareness and intercultural competence goals as part of performance reviews. Examples may be:
    • Identifies strengths and challenges
    • Actively seeks out interactions with members of other cultures
  • Offer public acknowledgement and awards for the demonstration of intercultural competence.
Religious practices
Different cultures have different norms, beliefs, and practices. Some of the practices may be closely tied to religion. For example, employees may want to pray a certain number of times a day or attend congregational prayers on a certain day of the week. Others may want to leave early on Fridays because they observe Sabbath on Friday night. Wearing turbans and having beards may be very important to others. Some organizations have made accommodations for religious practices such as:
  • providing a dedicated interfaith meditation space.
  • being aware of dietary restrictions and providing alternative items at workplace events and social gatherings.
  • having a work calendar that includes the major cultural and religious holidays. This helps avoid scheduling major meetings, training, and other events on those days.
  • allowing for flexible scheduling; for example employees can exchange shifts or work extended hours in lieu of the time they need off.
During the orientation, it can be made clear that it is the employee’s responsibility to inform management if any accommodations are required. Employers can also take the initiative to investigate the kinds of accommodations other religions might require in a workplace. It is important to have anti-harassment policies in place, so employees are aware of what constitutes harassment.

3. Skills

New ITI hires might not demonstrate all the necessary skills that are required for the job. This concern can be addressed in the onboarding process by considering the following:

Technical skills

Research shows that many employers underutilize the technical skills of ITIs. This is often because ITIs demonstrate unfamiliarity with certain processes, systems, methods, instruments, or tools. When proper safety and other regulations are followed, job-shadowing and peer-to-peer practical training are very effective ways to help ITIs learn on the job.

In many cultures, technical knowledge and skills are valued much more than soft skills. ITIs from such cultures may expect that more weighting will be applied to technical skills in evaluations and performance appraisals.

The following handbook gives ideas and tools on how to improve employee development (technical and soft skills):

Soft skills

Soft skills are the interpersonal skills that are essential for the effective and competent execution of workplace interactions and duties in culturally and socially acceptable ways. Since they are culturally based, ITIs may need to be familiarized with the soft skills that are valued in the organization. To facilitate this,
  • have clearly articulated value statements.
  • identify clear competencies for each position.
  • identify the soft skills that are required for each position.
  • have a mentor or a buddy system in place to help the new hire navigate the new workplace culture.
  • require soft skills goals to be included in performance reviews.
  • include some training for the development of soft skills. This could include informal mentoring, formal in-house workshops, or in-house online courses. Local institutions may also provide soft-skills training. Some examples of such programs offered online by Bow Valley College are:
    Fit in Fast
    Language for Work
  • Provide opportunities for practising the soft skills; for example, team building exercises.
  • Provide tip sheets for soft skill development.


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