July 16, 2014

Irish construction workers still helping to build Canada

Irish construction workers have been helping to build Canada for many years.

In the 1850s, more than 3,000 of them built the 2.5-kilometre-long Victoria Bridge in Montreal.

Most had come to Canada to escape the famine that was sweeping Ireland.

Many of those who survived the journey and the subsequent typhus epidemic went to work on the bridge.

Today, more than 150 years later, Irish people are still coming to Canada to work on large construction projects.

What’s different now is that many are working in western Canada, most are well trained and the immigration process is more complicated.

Many contemporary Irish construction workers have been thrown out of work in their own country by a prolonged recession.

B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) vice president Abigail Fulton said there are three commonly used ways by which they make their way to Canada and the jobs that are here.

The least complicated route is International Experience Canada, a reciprocal travel agreement which provides young people with an open work permit,” she said.

“In the case of Ireland, it’s open to people 18-35 years old and the work permit is valid for two years.”

Canada can take 10,000 Irish youth per year under the IEC program.

There are no qualifications required to be eligible.

“Many construction laborers and skilled workers enter this way,” Fulton said.

Employing someone who comes into Canada on an IEC is simple and uncomplicated.

There are two other common ways for international tradespeople to get a Canadian work permit, but neither is as quick and easy as an IEC.

One way is to obtain a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Service Canada, which shows there is a need for an international worker to fill a job for which no Canadian worker is available.

“The LMIA recently replaced the former Labour Market Opinion process,” Fulton said.

“Employers are still digesting the new rules.”

In B.C., once an LMIA has been approved, an employer can recruit offshore.

A tradesperson, who receives a job offer, can then apply for a Canadian work permit.

An employer can also use one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) to bring a foreign worker into Canada.

“In B.C., within recognized areas of skills shortages, such as trades, employers who can’t find a Canadian to fill a job can offer it to a qualified international worker,” Fulton said.

“The worker can then apply to the PNP for a work permit and for nomination for permanent residency.”

Representatives of B.C.’s PNP were on hand at BCCA’s job fair in Ireland in fall 2013.

About 30 Canadian employers attended the event.

Roughly half were from B.C., and the rest were from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“We went over with 700 job openings and employers made 500 job offers,” Fulton said.

“The majority of positions in B.C. were available under the Provincial Nominee Program.”

The BCCA has taken part in five recent job fairs in Ireland.

“The job fairs worked well because they were focused and specific and because we brought employers prepared to hire,” Fulton said.

Because the construction industry is cyclical, the demand for specific trades is cyclical, too.

“Some of the tradespeople we need in B.C. now are formwork carpenters, metal fabricators, experienced welders, pipe fitters and heavy duty mechanics,” she said.

“But, it changes all the time.”

Fulton said the Irish apprenticeship system is at least as good as the Canadian Red Seal program.

“During the Celtic Tiger period (rapid economic growth between 1995-2000), the government put lots of money into trades training,” she said.

“Trades were a number-one career choice for young people at the time.”

The Irish apprenticeship system is called SOLAS, the Gaelic abbreviation for Further Education and Training Authority.

Spokeswoman Maria Walshe said most Irish apprenticeships last four years.

“There are normally seven phases in an apprenticeship program,” Walshe said.

“In most trades there are four on-the-job phases and three off-the-job phases.”

In the first year of an apprenticeship there is a 20 week off-the-job phase in a training centre.

In the second and third years there is a 10 week off-the-job phase in an educational college.

Apprenticeships are available in many construction-related trades, including <0x000A>brick and stonelaying, carpentry and joinery, electronic security systems, plastering and plumbing, as well as painting and decorating.

SOLAS recently replaced another organization that was responsible for Irish trade apprenticeships.

Although the organizational change hasn’t yet affected the apprenticeship system, the Irish government recently commissioned a review of the program.

“The outcomes from this may reflect a different structure of any new occupations introduced under the apprenticeship program going forward,” Walsh said.

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