Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made an announcement at a luncheon in Calgary on April 10, 2012. He outlined plans to create a new Skilled Trades Stream to help combat our nation’s growing labour shortages in construction, oil and gas, other natural resources, and similar industries.
It seems fitting that the news release (click here to read it) was made in Alberta, where the labour shortage in the construction and oil and gas industries is expected to be the most severe, given the province’s vibrant long term economic outlook and resources. We consider the announcement of changes to make it easier and faster for skilled tradespersons to immigrate to Canada to be a major step in the right direction, albeit long overdue.
The new streamlined program will fall under the Federal Skilled Worker Program (“FSWP”), Canada’s long time flagship economic immigration program. The program is being overhauled to reflect the needs of our current economy. Historically, the FSWP has arguably placed too much emphasis on years of post-secondary and not enough on the more practical training tradespeople receive. In the current system, university graduates with a generic degree are scoring far more points than a tradesperson is, but in the existing labour market the latter is often in greater demand. The new changes will, among other things, facilitate tradespeople scoring more points for their education.
To mitigate the labour shortage in the trades much more needs to be done than merely creating this new immigration program. Foreign credential recognition remains a huge barrier to employers hiring skilled immigrants and foreign workers. Paradoxically these people are often unemployed or underemployed at the same time as employers are unable to find workers to fill their vacant positions. Canada has among the most stringent qualification standards for professionals, skilled workers and tradespeople in the world, and for good reason. We highly value quality of workmanship and safety in our society. The Federal Government is working, and needs to work, more closely with the legislative bodies of provincial and other jurisdictions to improve foreign credential recognition. Doing so would obviously help both employers in search of skilled labour and new immigrants in search of employment commensurate with their training, experience and education.
Another thing that could be done to ease the labour shortage and improve job prospects for foreign tradespeople, some who later become immigrants themselves, is expanding the existing Group of Employers Pilot Project administered by Service Canada. This project facilitates employers operating in the same industry sector banding together and forming a Group of Employers collectively hiring temporary foreign workers in high skilled positions for a common project/initiative, such as a construction project within defined locations. Perhaps it could be expanded to facilitate the mobilization of these workers from one project/location to another?
Canada needs to do much more to facilitate the entry of international post-secondary students, including tradespeople, who not only enrich the cultural and social fabric of our educational institutions, but often later apply for immigration to Canada through one of the economic classes. For example, perhaps the tuition fees for international students, which average more than three times as much as for Canadians, could be substantially reduced. Furthermore, it could be made easier for citizens of countries requiring visas to study in Canada to get them. After all, most post-secondary students in Canada, and immigrants, originate from visa requiring countries. These moves would significantly increase the number of foreigners being educated and trained in Canada, reducing the need to recognize foreign credentials.