Immigrants fill construction gaps in B.C.

Program to address shortage in province’s booming construction sector could provide a blueprint for the entire country
By Andy Shaw
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/22/2007

Awden Askander knows what it is to be an immigrant looking for work in Canada. Fourteen years ago, shortly after fleeing his native Iraq and the first Gulf War, Askander, an agricultural engineer by training, went to work in Vancouver construction for a month — for nothing.

“I couldn’t find a paying job, but I wanted to prove I could work,” said Askander, now a superintendent with Peter Ross Ltd., one of British Columbia’s major roofing firms.

Now, he and the roofing company are putting four recent immigrants to work, helping to top off Vancouver highrises. It’s part of the Immigrant Skilled Trades Employment Program (ISTEP), a three-year pilot project being run by the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) with the support of the Construction Sector Council of Canada (CSC) and federal financing from the Foreign Credential Recognition Program. If the program is successful in B.C. — and all signs indicate it’s working so far — ISTEP will serve as a model for other parts of Canada facing similar construction shortages.