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Marlene Lee-Gordon

Marlene Lee-Gordon

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Marlene Lee-Gordon

IEP alumna Marlene Lee Gordon

Business - Human Resources Stream

When Tina Gareh, Director, Human Resources, of Vertex Precision Manufacturing in York Region, was looking to add staff to her HR department, she knew she needed to make the business case for a new hire to her superiors. Finding the right fit for the role was essential. She needed someone seasoned, experienced, with the kind of talent and attitude to hit the ground running in a busy, four-plant manufacturing environment.

Hiring an internationally educated professional (IEP) wasn't on Tina’s  radar until she heard about a speed networking event from the Workforce Planning Board of York Region for IEPs. Gareh liked the opportunity to provide insights and facts to newcomers hoping to work in HR. She was also curious to hear their expectations and to help make recommendations to move them forward in their HR careers: “Human Resources is very complicated in Canada, and can be quite different from other countries. The reality is that many employers are still looking for Canadian experience.” At the February 2017 event she found “most were looking for corporate office rather than manufacturing opportunities. Most were not looking for entry positions, they wanted management positions.” It had been an interesting event, but Gareh didn't think she was going to come away with an opportunity.

Then Marlene Lee-Gordon sat down with her. They connected immediately. Gareh says she saw that Lee-Gordon had a plan and understood that she needed to get her foot in the door in Canada and gain experience. They just started talking, openly and comfortably, and what Lee-Gordon talked about resonated with Gareh. She says she felt they had “a kindred spirit around HR and where an HR person fits. She understood the role.”

Lee-Gordon's expectation was not to start as an executive, she wanted to learn and get back into HR. Gareh was impressed that “she was eager to learn how things work here, what the differences are from her experience.”

Lee-Gordon already had an impressive HR track record. When she came to Canada, she left an executive position as Vice President of HR in a private Jamaican hospital. Previously she had worked in HR in the financial sector, gaining a wide range of experience. She moved easily from training, recruitment, and hiring up to being responsible for HR in thirteen bank branches. Eventually she sat as an HR representative during the restructuring of Jamaican banks in the early 2000s, which resulted in the creation of the Union Bank of Jamaica.

Like many newcomers, she came to Canada to ensure that her two children had opportunities. While it has been the right decision for her family, Lee-Gordon knew that it would be a big personal and professional transition. She gave herself some time to get settled and then actively started looking for work in her field. She thought success would come sooner.

Looking for work was a new experience. Like many accomplished professionals, jobs in Jamaica came through her networks and contacts. Searching for work in Canada, not getting responses from her job applications was difficult and demoralizing.

But Lee-Gordon wouldn't let it get her down. And then she connected with us: “Someone referred me to the York University Internationally Educated Professionals Human Resources Bridging Program. I went to an orientation session and was very interested. In May 2016 I started the program.” Lee-Gordon was impressed with the program and the help she received.

The program connected her with a  mentor who was incredibly helpful, giving her guidance and encouragement, without telling her what to do (other than make sure she created a profile on LinkedIn!). Academically, she initially thought that she was in over her head. When she took her first online course, she found the transition to online learning daunting, but she ended up with her highest mark in the program. It was clear that she could master new systems, processes and technology.

She went to every session and event she could, then attended the speed networking session. When she met Gareh, who was new in her HR position, she saw a growing company. Lee-Gordon had merger experience, she saw potential and opportunity to use her skills and experience. She knew she could be an asset for them and told Gareh she was willing to start in an internship to gain the experience and show her ability.

Gareh decided to bring Lee-Gordon on board for a short-term project to see if the connection they both felt was indeed a workplace fit. She still needed to make the case within her employer, Vertex. York University’s Bridging Program staff then connected Gareh  to JVS Toronto, where she was able to access an Ontario government hiring and training grant. The grant would cover 40% of Lee-Gordon's salary for fifteen weeks. With this support Gareh was able successfully pitch the project to her superiors: “We were doing something good for someone else, but also ourselves. Fifteen weeks is not a huge risk. If it didn't work, we could walk away.” But, Gareh knew that Lee-Gordon would succeed.

Linda Conforzi, Workforce Specialist, JVS Toronto, says that when employers connect with them, it can be the tipping point for them to provide an IEP with a new opportunity, but at low risk to them: “Employers may not be sure how to work with community agencies. When they see it's a collaborative effort and everyone is working for the client and employer best interests it becomes easier to envision integrating IEPs into their workforce.” Conforzi says that Lee-Gordon's referral from York University for participation in the Mentoring Partnership at JVS was also helpful: “She received support from her Mentor at the City of Toronto, which also contributed to her success in positioning herself in the speed networking event.”

And succeed she has. Lee-Gordon's success story is Vertex's success story. Serendipity also played a role. She was working at Vertex in Summer 2017, impressing Gareh, as expected. In late August 2017, Vertex's HR Assistant went on sick leave and didn't return. Tina needed a payroll person and extended Lee-Gordon's contract until the end of December.

Doing payroll was a new experience for Lee-Gordon. She had managed payroll staff before, but hadn't herself worked on the intricacies of doing payroll for 150 employees in four locations; three different manufacturing plants and a corporate office.

Gareh trained her. It was challenging – both conceptually and in terms of technology – but she pushed Lee-Gordon to learn. She learned quickly and took payroll on herself. For Gareh, pushing Lee-Gordon was useful for her company, but also for Lee-Gordon's future: “Payroll people are indispensable in HR. What Lee-Gordon is learning can help secure her future in HR. After a year of experience, she'll be able to choose whatever role she wants in payroll within HR.”

At the end of December, Gareh convinced management at Vertex that they needed to hire Lee-Gordon in a more permanent role. Gareh sees her developing into an HR manager in the company if she stays. There are opportunities there. She understands that Lee-Gordon sees the job as a stepping stone. Lee-Gordon wants to get back to an executive level eventually. But she can also grow within Vertex.

And, Gareh says, mergers and acquisitions, an area where Lee-Gordon has plenty of experience, are coming. Gareh will need additional HR support as the company grows. She is actively mentoring and grooming Lee-Gordon. The more Gareh can increase Lee-Gordon's skill level and give her responsibility, the more Lee-Gordon will be successful in her career, and at Vertex.

This is a story of individual and corporate success. Gareh found an untapped pool of talent she didn't know about previously. She was glad to find York University’s IEP Bridging Program through the help of the Workforce Planning Board, and Lee-Gordon.

It's also a story about connections and partnerships. Many pieces of the puzzle came together to help Vertex find the talent it needed. From the Workforce Planning Board of York Region's employer engagement and education, to a hiring manager willing to give an IEP an opportunity to JVS Toronto's  partnership with York University’s IEP Bridging Program that enabled access to grants and subsidies to make the opportunity possible.  The rigorous preparation Marlene undertook at the York HR Bridging Program, and the students' excellent talent and drive, helped  both an IEP and a York company find success.

Marlene is one of hundreds of students who participate in York’s IEP Bridging Programs for HR, IT and Business professionals. This program offers a ready pool of talent and staff eager to help employers connect and advertise opportunities at no-cost to them. To find out more about how the program can help you promote your brand contact This program offers a ready pool of talent and staff eager to help employers connect and advertise opportunities at no-cost to them.