Western employers head to Ireland to recruit

Canadian firms, government attend 2-day fair that attracts more than 20,000 jobseekers
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/24/2012

In March, the government of Saskatchewan led a labour recruitment mission to Ireland.

Representatives from the government and 27 employers from the province participated in a two-day career fair in Dublin that drew more than 20,000 jobseekers, said Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration Rob Norris, who led the delegation along with Premier Brad Wall.

“The line to get into the job fair was more than a kilometre long,” said Norris. “What we saw on the ground really took us aback and it also resonated with us. I have to say there was a very strong sense of empathy.”

Along with the Dublin fair, the delegation participated in a one-day career fair in Cork. The provincial government and employers attended the fairs with the goal of hiring about 275 people in total and, while the final numbers are still being tallied, they found more than enough interested candidates and likely exceeded their goal, said Norris.

SaskPower attended the job fairs with the hopes of receiving between 25 and 30 very serious applicants, and representatives from the electricity company came back with 500 resumés, said Norris.

Tim Young, general manager of Young’s Equipment in Regina, attended the mission in hopes of filling 12 open positions and he hired eight people on the spot, he said. Young has since hired another employee who applied for the position online because he did not make it into the job fair — about 6,000 people did not make it through the doors.

“One fellow we gave a job offer to on Sunday, which was the second day of the job fair in Dublin, drove six hours to get there, got there at eight in the morning (on Saturday) and he didn’t make it in that day so he stayed overnight and came back the next morning,” said Young, whose business now has about 220 employees. “It was pretty humbling.”

The British Columbia Construction Association, which represents 2,000 construction employers, also attended the job fair in Dublin. It was overwhelmed by interest from very skilled tradespeople and had several hundred people regularly lined up in front of its booth, said Abigail Fulton, vice-president of the Victoria-based association.

The association has since received about 1,000 resumés on its website from interested jobseekers who attended the fair.

“Everyone who made it to our booth probably had two to three minutes to talk to a representative and then it was onto the next group — that’s all you could manage,” she said. “Our collateral that we brought with us was gone in about an hour, so we were writing on napkins and pieces of paper.”

Saskatchewan’s mission to Ireland came about after employers approached the provincial government and expressed an interest in recruiting in the country, said Norris.

“There is a great degree of family-to-family contact and community-to-community contact in Ireland across Saskatchewan,” he said. “We have 135,000 people that associate themselves through ancestry or ethnicity with Ireland, so there is great resonance and connectivity between Saskatchewan and Ireland already.”

Many employers across the province had heard stories of the difficult job situation in the country. Ireland’s unemployment rate is 14.6 per cent, according to figures released in March by the country’s Central Statistics Office.

“It looked like a perfect opportunity because inside every dark cloud is a silver lining when you know their economy is as bad as it is,” said Young.

Ireland was also an attractive recruitment location because trades are very highly respected and regarded in the country. Since Irish jobseekers would come to the province through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) — which identifies the skills and abilities most needed throughout the province — skilled tradespeople were in high demand.

Agricultural service technicians, heavy duty truck technicians, heavy duty mechanics, carpenters, concrete finishers, pipe fitters, welders, electricians and machinists were some of the trades positions being recruited, said Norris. The health-care industry was also represented with employers looking to find physicians, psychiatric nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists.

The British Columbia Construction Association was interested in Ireland because it knows the country has a very good apprenticeship system and high unemployment in the construction industry, and because there isn’t a language barrier, said Fulton.

“The less hurdles there are, such as speaking English and so forth, the better, because obviously on a construction site it’s pretty critical that you can understand for a safety purpose, if nothing else,” she said.

Recruiting in Ireland not only helped employers fill current vacancies but will be helpful in filling openings down the road. There are more than 11,000 openings on the www.saskjobs.ca website. Over the next five to 10 years, the government is anticipating there will be between 75,000 and 90,000 job openings in Saskatchewan, said Norris.

Over the next few years, the construction industry in B.C. is expected to have between 40,000 and 50,000 jobs available as a result of major projects throughout the province, said Fulton. The association is hoping the mission to Ireland will help them find more workers for projects in northern B.C., and more supervisors in general, she said.

“These are positions that we can’t find anybody to fill,” said Fulton. “Some people need 50 carpenters now and they’ve been advertising and one or two drift in.

“If you can’t get the people in, you can’t move ahead with the projects, the money doesn’t get invested — it’s this bottleneck that we’re trying to resolve.”

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