Pilot program for temp foreign workers grows

E-LMO will speed up hiring in 33 occupations in Alberta and B.C.

Construction companies in British Columbia have long known where to turn to find more roofers, one of the occupations in highest demand in the province’s overstretched construction industry. The delay has been in proving they need to go to Germany to get them.

That has changed under an expansion to a federal pilot program aimed at easing labour shortages in B.C. and Alberta. The expedited labour market opinion (E-LMO), introduced in September and expanded last month, allows employers in specific occupations in B.C. and Alberta to receive a labour market opinion more quickly.

The LMO is an assessment that looks at the potential impact hiring a temporary foreign worker will have on Canada’s labour market. In the past, it has taken up to five months to receive an LMO. Under the pilot program, employers can expect to receive it within five days.

“Roofers are thrilled to pieces. Right now, the wait time is about 31 weeks, so they’re very happy about this,” said Regina Brodersen, the B.C. Construction Association’s (BCCA) director of human resources in Victoria. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Roofers are among 21 new occupations added to a list of jobs eligible for the E-LMO, in addition to 12 identified when the program was introduced last fall.

The new list includes several categories of engineers, machinists, steamfitters and pipefitters, ironworkers, heavy-duty mechanics, welders, industrial electricians, surveyor helpers, commercial and specialized cleaners, food service supervisors, industrial meat cutters, courier drivers, residential cleaning and support workers, manufacturing and processing labourers, construction labourers and roofers.

According to a Construction Sector Council forecast, the sector needs 14,793 new construction workers to work on projects between 2006 and 2009. However, Brodersen warns the E-LMO is “not a quick fix” and companies should think carefully before hiring temporary workers from abroad.

“I don’t think (the E-LMO) is geared to companies that have never hired foreign workers,” she said.

Companies cannot, ethically, let somebody go after three months because the work ran out, she said, and the pilot program is only part of the solution to labour shortages.

“It’s all based on volume,” she said. “But for us, we also look at certain types of skills. Right now, what we’re in urgent need of is not high in numbers, but what we need is finishing carpenters and cabinet makers.”

Even with an E-LMO in hand, however, there’s still the matter of finding skilled, experienced and qualified workers — and getting them to Canada.

Ken Mah has found that process frustrating. The Tim Hortons franchise owner in Camrose, Alta., who talked to Canadian HR Reporter in the fall after the pilot project was announced, had hoped to hire several workers from the Philippines by now. Instead, a lack of staff has forced him to close one of his drive-thrus.

To recruit on his own, Mah said, he has to rely on contacts made through other foreign workers in Canada. This doesn’t allow for proper screening, which means the applications often get held up at the embassy level. Using a recruiter isn’t paying off either, he said, because recruiters are so busy.

The E-LMO pilot program will run in B.C. and Alberta until September 2008.

Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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