Hackathons helping skilled immigrants find employment

Farizan H. Razie is a recent BBA graduate from Simon Fraser University and the founder of PowerHack, a hackathon event that connects employers with skilled immigrant talent as they showcase the value of their global skills and experience by solving problems presented by local stakeholders.
January 29, 2020
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Farizan H. Razie is a recent BBA graduate from Simon Fraser University and the founder of PowerHack, a hackathon event that connects employers with skilled immigrant talent as they showcase the value of their global skills and experience by solving problems presented by local stakeholders. Farizan has always been passionate about assisting immigrants and refugees as they adjust to their new environment. Throughout the ideation of PowerHack, inspiration was drawn from Riipen, a platform that facilitates micro-experiential learning opportunities by connecting students and academic institutions to industry partners. Having experienced Riipen firsthand in a project management course taken in 2017, Farizan was inspired to create an innovative talent acquisition process to help both employers and immigrants. PowerHack allows employers to build their network of talent while providing immigrants the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

We sat down with Farizan to learn more about PowerHack and how it has the potential to change the employment landscape for immigrants. Keep reading to learn more!

Tell us about the very first PowerHack event

Before I start, I must first say that this initiative is a collaborative effort from several organizations to create a better employment system in our community. This initiative would not be possible without the support of the teams at the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC-BC) who executed the event, the team at SFU Radius who helped incubate the idea and provide a venue for the event, Ryerson University through their Diversity Institute and the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for funding this initiative, as well as Windmill Microlending for sponsoring the event.

We are also grateful to have the support of Traction on Demand and Vancity who were willing to give this initiative a try and came to at our Beta PowerHack event as employers. We would also like to thank our partners at ISS of BC, Options BC and MOSAIC for their insights and support in connecting us with skilled immigrant talents, some of whom actually attended our first event.

As for the event itself, we had 14 skilled immigrants specializing in IT that attended our beta PowerHack event on July 20th, 2019. Four diverse teams presented unique tech-based solutions for problems around employment barriers for skilled immigrants and lack of completion rates for online free self-guided courses.

Various stakeholders attended the event as employers, judges, mentors, and subject matter experts. It was a day full of interactions and collaborations with three micro-learning sessions on ideation, rapid prototyping, and how to pitch to further supplement the learning experiences of the participants. Employers and industry professionals were also involved in the team discussions to observe the team dynamic and assist the teams as they are working on a solution for the problem that they have chosen.

As this was the beta version of PowerHack, there were lots of lessons learned for us!

How can a hackathon help skilled immigrants find employment?

I’ve been a caseworker with the Muslim Food Bank for the past 2.5 years and I’ve worked with refugees who can’t find meaningful employment because they do not have local work experience. These are highly skilled people with Masters or Doctorate degrees and years of experience as engineers or developers who can’t find jobs. It’s stressful to be in their position and that’s where the inspiration for PowerHack came from. Why does a lack of Canadian work experience need to be a barrier? That just creates a “chicken and the egg” situation that prevents them from gaining the Canadian work experience employers are asking for.

I reflected on insights from Dana Stephenson, Riipen’s co-founder, and my personal experience with Riipen where employers were given the opportunity to connect with potential talent and see their skills in a non-traditional setting. That got me thinking about why we can’t translate the existing experience of skilled immigrants into a Canadian context rather than have them gain said experience through volunteering or working jobs just for survival.

When you look deeper into our current status quo with recruitment, the validation of an immigrant’s foreign work experience is being done after the hiring process. Employers can’t learn everything off a resume alone so they won’t know what a candidate is truly like until they are brought on board. We are flipping that status quo with PowerHack by letting the employers do soft and hard skills validation before entering the formal hiring process. This is done by letting employers interact with the skilled immigrants as they are solving a problem in a collaborative environment. Doing so reduces hiring risks for employers and gives immigrants the opportunity to let their talents shine. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

What’s next for you and PowerHack?

Right now, we are gathering feedback and making adjustments to our employer-participant interaction process for our next event. We’ll have a couple of events scheduled between now and the end of the year. Our primary focus will still be for skilled immigrants specializing in IT for the time being.

Hopefully, we can scale our initiative nationwide in the near future to help more skilled immigrants and employers connect with one another through our innovative interaction process.

Getting started

This year's PowerHack event will be taking place from February 28th - February 29th, 2020 at the Simon Fraser University Graduate School of Business in Vancouver. For more information click here.

Inspiration for PowerHack was drawn from Farizan's personal experrience with Riipen, North America’s largest marketplace for project-based experiential learning. Riipen makes it easy for higher education institutions and industry partners to collaborate on short-term project-based engagement to complement the existing curriculum of students. To learn more about Riipen and how to get started with experiential learning, visit our website or click here to connect with a team member. Also keep up with Riipen on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

Thank you so much to Farizan Razie for speaking with us and sharing PowerHack’s journey thus far. We are delighted that Riipen was able to contribute to the creation of this incredible social venture and we’re excited to see what the future has in store for PowerHack!

About the author:

Michelle Wong is a Toronto-based marketing and communications professional leading content marketing efforts at Riipen. She is a technology, social media, and marketing enthusiast with a passion for making connections and building community. She is an advocate for personal development and can often be found searching for new music, binge watching K-Dramas, or reading a good book.

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