BY JASON VAN RASSEL, CALGARY HERALD
The federal government announced Tuesday it is creating a separate queue for foreign tradespeople, to ease labour shortages affecting industry.
The current federal skilled worker program’s emphasis on academic qualifications has traditionally favoured professionals, meaning tradespeople have made up only a small percentage of those entering Canada.
A new, separate stream for tradespeople will place greater emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal education.
“We’re going to have a more flexible system,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in a speech at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Foreign workers are assessed against a 100-point grid examining several factors, including proficiency in English or French, education, work experience and whether they have arranged employment.
Kenney said he hopes the new program, with a revamped grid for tradespeople, will be in place by the end of 2012.
The minister estimated the program may only see a few thousand applicants at first, but expects that number to increase.
“It will probably start as a fairly small stream,” he said. “It could grow into the tens of thousands.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers welcomed the news, saying the industry is expecting to spend $55 billion on capital projects in 2012.
“It’s going to require a lot of skilled labour to address this growth,” spokesman Travis Davies said.
Hiring Canadian-trained workers and increasing mobility between provinces are favoured methods of finding workers, but Davies said those measures alone won’t meet the industry’s needs.
“We have to look beyond our borders,” he said.
Alberta’s largest labour organization, however, is concerned the scheme is moving in the wrong direction.
“The real question is whether we should be opening the floodgates to tradespeople from outside the country when we have 1.4 million Canadians looking for work,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “We’re concerned that giving employers quicker access to foreign journeyman is going to remove the incentive for construction employers to take on Canadian apprentices and train the next generation of Canadian tradespeople.”
Canada admitted 48,678 people via the skilled worker program in 2010, but the government estimates only about three per cent of them are skilled tradespeople.
Overall, Canada has allowed an average of 254,000 permanent residents into the country per year since 2006.
The announcement Tuesday is the latest in a series of reforms to the immigration system recently unveiled by the federal government.
The moves, Kenney said, are aimed at better matching foreign-trained professionals with jobs here and reducing the time it takes to process their applications.
The government plans to hire an outside company to evaluate the credentials of foreign skilled worker applicants.
The idea, Kenney said, is to give would-be newcomers an idea of how their credentials stack up against someone with a similar Canadian education.
That initiative is linked to another government plan, to create a job bank of qualified foreign workers that would be available to prospective employers.
“We’re going to look the quality of education and its relevance to the Canadian job market,” he said. “We will bring (skilled workers) in, in double-time.”
To speed up processing, Kenney said it was necessary for the government to close the files of anyone who applied to the skilled worker program before the end of February 2008.
Opponents have criticized the move, which may affect up to 300,000 people, but Kenney said Canada was losing too many skilled workers who opted to settle elsewhere instead of waiting years to get into Canada.
“The best and brightest were choosing not to come here,” he said.
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