Are foreign workers really the best option?

With poor selection processes, costly relocations and skill shortages, they just might be
By Kael Campbell
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/19/2013

Looking across Canada, unemployment rates start very high in the east, at 10 per cent in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick, but slowly drop as we travel west — Manitoba is at five per cent, Saskatchewan and Alberta are at four per cent and British Columbia is at six per cent.

Clearly, there are many unemployed Canadian workers who could fill job vacancies. Dig deeper into recent immigrant and First Nations populations and you’ll see even higher unemployment rates.

So how did we get to a point where temporary foreign workers are considered the best option? Can we avoid relying on this group so much through better planning?

Or are they an inevitable solution to skills and labour shortages?

Looking at the facts, the answer to both questions is yes.

Selection processes

Some selection processes unnecessarily screen out candidates who may have been successful in positions that are being filled by migrant workers. Some companies insist on a grade 12 graduation certificate from Canada or proof of its equivalent, which can prevent both recent immigrants and Aboriginal Peoples from being hired — and it may not be an accurate predictor of on-the-job success.

There are ways employers can overcome these gaps and other barriers to employment, such as skills training and the elusive “experience” component employers desire.

Employers should look at what processes are in place when it comes to attracting and selecting candidates. Are they using the following best practices to attract and retain employees?

•employee referral programs

•partnering with educational institutions, community groups and recruiters

•offering relocation assistance or providing accommodation

•using effective marketing strategies

•providing training and internships.

Employers should also consider potential barriers to recruiting candidates:

•Is the application and interview process effective?

•Are the application requirements necessary and realistic?

•Are they offering an inclusive workplace that will be attractive to Canada’s diverse ethnic and religious populations?

•Do they have ways to attract candidates who live outside of their regions?

Relocations

Employers can also use the huge variations in unemployment among the regions to fill low-skill jobs and help Canadians and permanent residents gain valuable employment experience.

However, the cost of relocation and value of labour do not always match up well for both candidates and employers.

The cost of relocating a Canadian professional between provinces is about $60,000, according to the Employee Relocation Council.

This is above and beyond what most employers are willing to pay to help potential employees relocate. Should unemployed candidates bear the cost of moving?

Some jobs offer wages that are too low for people to relocate or commute across vast distances. Communities just a few hundred kilometres apart can see labour shortages in low-skilled jobs, often because many service job salaries cannot support even a single person living alone, much less a family.

Cost-of-living wage calculations in some parts of Canada put the necessary wage for a two-income family supporting two children at more than $18 per hour per person.

So providing staff accommodations and employer or public transportation may be necessary solutions to regional shortages, combined with higher wages to attract unemployed candidates.

But there are a limited number of employers that provide accommodation, and relaxing the application requirements and prerequisite training cannot fill short- and medium-term job vacancies.

Without the use of migrant workers, there could be tens of billions of dollars lost annually in the Canadian economy due to skill shortages, especially in medium- to high-skill roles.

Some strategic roles require years of training and if Canadian workers lack the necessary skills development and education, migrant workers can step in — not only to help the economy but also to boost the employment of Canadian workers.

For example, an experienced John Deere or Caterpillar mechanic from the United States, with 10 years of experience, can result in the direct employment of eight to nine Canadians.

How? If the mechanic can maintain two large pieces of equipment, such as a drill rig or a mining haul truck, this equipment runs 24-7. Each piece of equipment requires four operators to share shift work around the clock, 365 days per year. In addition, each mechanic often supervises a Canadian apprentice.

If that equipment is not running, the Canadian operators and apprentices are not working and natural resources are not being harvested.

For strategic roles such as these, once a vacancy has not been filled for more than a month, an employer owes it to those who will be directly and indirectly employed to consider internationally trained workers.

It takes an enormous amount of talent to develop Canada’s natural resources and remain competitive. For this country to remain a productive economic powerhouse, it needs foreign workers.

Kael Campbell is president of Red Seal Recruiting Solutions, a recruiting source for the trades, construction and manufacturing industries based in Victoria. He can be reached at (250) 483-5954 or kael@redsealrecruiting.com or, for more information, visit www.redsealrecruiting.com.

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