Vernon employees and those looking for work can rest assured that a new immigration pilot program coming to town isn’t taking away local jobs.
The Rural and Northern Immigration pilot project begins Feb. 1 in Vernon, which is one of only 11 Canadian cities taking part in the program. Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO) is facilitating the program.
It allows local employers to post jobs that could help bring up to 100 skilled foreign workers to the North Okanagan every year until 2022 — bolstering the economy and helping employers overcome a looming skilled labour shortage that can’t be filled solely by residents.
These are skilled positions, such as those in health care, trades, high level manufacturing, engineers, technologists and IT sectors.
“The employers are telling us over and over again that they can’t fill these jobs,” said Leigha Horsfield, CFNO general manager. “We have to look at other options because domestically we can’t fill those positions.”
To underscore her point, she said by 2028 there will be 90,000 job vacancies in the Thompson-Okanagan.
While the program could process 300 applicants over the three-year period, Horsfield said that is the maximum and they may not see anywhere close to that many applications as Canada isn’t the only country struggling to find skilled workers.
The process won’t happen overnight because it starts first with foreign workers who are already here.
“Most of the people in the first round of the program are people that are already here, they are already working in some temporary fashion,” said Horsfield, who says other communities that have implemented the program say well over 50 of the applicants are coming from the community.
“We aren’t going to see all of sudden 30 people show up.”
On the employer end, hiring a foreign worker is the last resort.
“They have to demonstrate that they’ve tried to hire a Canadian,” said Horsfield, adding that the position must be posted locally.
“It is 100 times easier to hire domestically for these positions. This isn’t the easiest path.”
There is no wage subsidy for employers. The only incentive is a faster track for residency and obtaining skilled workers to fill a gap.
The existing housing shortage in the region has also been considered, which is why those that are already living here are ideal.
For employers hiring direct foreign workers, it is a long process that takes approximately five months.
“During that time they can source housing and support,” said Horsfield. “We want to set people up for success.”
There is also favouritism for those who already have a rental property here, if they’ve worked in the region, if they have a spouse or if they have a high level of English.
“The whole purpose of this whole thing is retention and keeping people in our economy,” she said.
While the goal is to support these skilled positions, it won’t benefit all.
“Based on our consultation with employers, this program is a start,” said Horsfield, noting the program won’t meet the needs for seasonal employers, as the positions have to be full time.
In fact, following Tuesday’s employer session, many do not qualify for this program but there are others that CFNO can assist them with.
“Some of them were frustrated because they don’t pay $20 an hour,” said Horsfield, adding that CFNO is a WorkBC office so is always helping employers and employees connect.
But the reality is that there is a major gap in the workforce locally.
“Only 48 per cent participate in the workforce,” said Horsfield.