Diversity opens the doors to opportunity

Story originally published in BioTalent Canada’s Close-up on the bio-economy: Atlantic Canada

Diversity hiring is on a lot of people’s minds these days. More and more businesses recognize it’s the right thing to do and good for the bottom line. For companies aiming at international markets — such as Fredericton-based anessa — diverse staffing can also be a powerful market wedge.

Q: What’s your focus at anessa?

AMIR AKBARI, PRESIDENT AND CEO: We help de-risk renewable energy projects and make them more appealing for investors. Our software platforms help all stakeholders involved in biogas projects, including biogas project developers, operators, investors and engineers gauge the feasibility of potential projects and run existing ones as efficiently as possible.

Q: What’s been key to your success so far?

AA: We’ve found having a variety of backgrounds on the team helps us maintain a creative, vibrant culture and build a better product. We’ve always made diversity a priority, especially with our business so focused on the international market. Our 16-person team includes eight different nationalities. That gives us a window into how to tailor our approach for different regions. When we arrive at the table with some sense of the culture and language of the international companies we’re planning to work with in multiple international markets, we’re off to a good start.

Q: What’s most important when managing a diverse team?

AA: The first thing is to make it meaningful. Don’t just hire people for the sake of being able to call your team diverse. It’s important everyone has opportunities to take on real responsibilities — even if sometimes they don’t have a lot of experience. For example, we brought on an intern as a junior engineer. She was dedicated and rose to every challenge we offered, and now she’s one of our integral team members and leads our customer support activities.

Q: What’s your biggest HR challenge?

AA: Finding people with soft skills and who are the right fit with our team and culture is always hard. We need people who can think out of the box, be creative and be team players. That’s not something you can necessarily measure by reviewing resumes or results from traditional university exams. Our education system needs to provide opportunities for students to work on team-based projects and solve real problems, to experience how things happen in the real world. Technical skills are easier to teach on the job. We recruit many fresh graduates from universities and colleges, and if someone comes in with the right core skills but we need to train them on a few technical ones, that’s no problem. Teaching the soft skill sets is more challenging.

Q: What would expand your talent pool?

AA: We need to find ways to to attract more women and candidates from non-traditional quarters. We recently posted for a software developer position, and fewer than 10 percent of the applicants were women. That shocked me. I know the talent is there, but there’s clearly a gap we need to bridge. I also think it would help if there were bio-economy specialization streams in certain post-secondary programs. Why not have a bio-energy specialization in mechanical or chemical engineering, for example? That would help develop skill sets the bio-economy needs. And not just in engineering. Marketers, administrators, lawyers and others who understand the bio-economy would be tremendously useful.

Q: What effect has COVID-19 had on your hiring?

AA: It’s really changed the competition for talent. On the one hand, it’s easier to interview and hire workers from more remote areas. At the same time, it’s easier for local workers to take jobs with companies in California or China or anywhere else. For positions we do want to ultimately have on site in our offices, we have to find new ways to attract and retain people. Fortunately, workers today are often looking for more than just compensation. Many want to work for a company whose purpose they believe in. So the fact that we’re actively working to address waste and energy — two elements that contribute to climate change, one of humanity’s biggest issues — is a big point in our favour.

Company profile: anessa

Location: Fredericton, NB
Employees: 16
Sub-sector: Bio-energy

Since 2015, anessa has been providing innovative decision-support software solutions to assess the feasibility of proposed biogas projects and optimize existing biogas plants.