LATEST NEWS Skills Training
July 25, 2012
Associations look to foreign workers
With a labour crunch looming, construction associations are looking over the horizon for solutions.
The Vancouver Regional Construction Association recently held a seminar to get its members up to speed on the pros and cons of hiring foreign workers in the construction industry.
The seminar covered current and future employment conditions, as well as updates on foreign worker recruitment.
VRCA president Keith Sashaw cited the findings of Construction Looking Forward for 2012, a report which provides an assessment of labour markets from 2011 to 2020.
The report found that construction employment currently remains close to record-high employment levels, with the northern regions of British Columbia having the strongest growth.
“But several wild cards in the larger economic environment could affect employment, including continued volatility in Europe and the possibility of a decline in commodity prices,” Sashaw said.
Big projects include the Kitimat LNG terminal, the Rio Tinto Kitimat aluminum smelter expansion, numerous mining projects, and pipeline projects, as well as utility projects, all of which are increasing demand for skilled labour.
Expansion in demand has seen labour force requirements go up by 11,000, and estimated retirements will hit 33,000. That will be offset by about 20,000 new faces coming out of school and into the industry, but there will still be a sizable gap.
“Before it was easier to take in workers from other parts of Canada. We have reached a situation where B.C. will be competing with other regions, including Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” he said.
“Even Newfoundland, traditionally a source of labour in Western Canada, has seen its workers staying on at home to work on projects in the province.
Rowan O’Grady of Hays Recruiting explained his experiences with recruiting foreign workers, both in Canada and in Ireland.
“Recruitment is difficult to begin with, and adding the international element can introduce more uncertainty,” he said
The way Hays tackled the problem, he said, was to come up with a clear definition of what candidates must have in their background and experience, and understand what is genuinely essential to allow the pool of candidates to remain at a credible level.
A foreign worker will need a re-adjustment period regardless of skill level, he added, but at the end of that period will be amongst the best workers available.
If there’s one point he could stress, it’s finding out the motivation of the candidate for moving in the first place.
“Many people will say they’ll move, but realistically the monetary and emotional costs of moving can be substantial,” O’Grady said
The volume of vacancies dictates the method of screening, O’Grady said.
Multiple vacancy campaigns involve the employer travelling to the target market, but with single vacancy campaigns Skype or video conferences work best, followed by flying the candidate to the employer’s location.
O’Grady said creating “living and working in Vancouver” guides, as well as offering support for the logistics of settling in and including foreign workers in company social events can all make a huge difference to the morale of newly arrived foreign workers.
Michael Chew, the head of the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program, said that with more than one million job openings in B.C. and only 650,000 young people in the educational system, immigration will have to fill one third of the job openings in future.
“The current system is based on finding the right individual for a single job, and that system doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for a while,” he said.
The B.C. PNP is a program used to attract foreign skilled workers with abilities that fit the needs of British Columbia’s economy. It concentrates on business immigration and strategic occupations, he said.
Strategic occupations include skilled workers and there is a separate category for workers that can be employed on Northern B.C. projects.
Abigail Fulton, the vice president of the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA), said a recent trip to Ireland was not initially for recruitment purposes, but by the end of the mission, the BCCA came to the conclusion that Irish trades training was as good or better than what we have available in B.C.
“We didn’t expect the huge numbers of workers interested in working in Canada. We were turning people away at the job fair we attended,” she said.
The average age of apprentices is lower as well.
Some 30-year-old Irish workers had more than 10 years of experience.
The BCCA has been focusing on the Lower Mainland for placement, and the candidates have predominantly been Irish workers, Fulton said.
The next step is to push forward and conduct a BCCA job fair in Dublin on October 6-7, she said.
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