|English: View from Calgary Tower, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Growing population helps fill many shortages
BY DEREK SANKEY, POSTMEDIA NEWS AUGUST 3, 2013
The growing immigrant population is not only changing the face of Calgary, it's also serving an increasingly vital part of helping oil and gas companies solve labour shortages, which are only expected to increase in the next 10 years.
In 2010, Calgary's immigrant population was estimated at 304,000 - almost 30 per cent of the total population, and the visible minority population is projected to reach 40 per cent by 2020, according to data from Statistics Canada based on the last census.
Over half (52.7 per cent) of those immigrants were in the crucial working demographic of 25-44.
It's a number that Joaquin Benitez is very familiar with. As an immigrant from El Salvador in the mid-1980s, he now finds himself working alongside teams consisting almost exclusively of others like him who came to Canada seeking a better life.
"There are a huge number of immigrants in projects I'm working on (but) sometimes it's so difficult to communicate with them because they don't speak the language," says Benitez, trained as a civil engineer and now a senior piping designer with SNC Lavalin in Calgary.
Language remains one of the top barriers to employment for immigrants, who often have a high calibre of skills. Getting their degrees from their home countries accredited in Canada is another big barrier.
"In terms of the immigrant population, 80 per cent that come from abroad are educated, so that is definitely a benefit to the Calgary community," says Cindy DeVouge, chief development officer for Immigrant Services (formerly the Calgary Immigrant Aid Society).
Her organization implemented an "integrated mentorship program" that matches immigrants with employers and assists them with resumebuilding, mock interviews and other skills.
The oil and gas industry is projected to need between 125,000 and 150,000 additional workers in the next decade due to growing demand and retiring baby boomers, according to some estimates.
Last year, more than 35,000 immigrants came to Alberta, of 198,000 across Canada.
Immigrants stand to play an increasing role in filling that shortage of workers, says DeVouge: "Qualified (immigrants) will be able to fill some of that labour shortage once some of their challenges are addressed."
As oil companies poach skilled engineers from other sectors, it leaves a broader void in labour supply across the country.
"They have to bring immigrants to sustain the demand for people in engineering, drafting and design work," Benitez says. "As more people get into the industry, other industries are lacking people. It will require more immigrants to come into the country."
When he came to Canada, the National Energy Policy had crippled the economy in Alberta and there were no jobs. It only compounded the fact he didn't speak English very well and had no education.
Benitez took the opportunity to go to school and become a civil engineer. By the time he graduated, industry activity had rebounded and he was offered a job with Fluor Daniels before he even graduated.
"For the first few years, we struggled a lot," he says. "When you don't speak the language and you don't have the proper education, you limit yourself in terms of the jobs you can do."
What many oilpatch firms have begun to do in recent years to address the labour shortage crisis is to implement so-called "work-share" programs, where they open offices in countries such as India or China, where labour is less expensive and readily available.
The problem with that strategy, says Benitez, is that the quality of work suffers because local engineers in those countries aren't familiar with Canadian weather considerations or regulations and building codes.
The result is that more work - and cost overruns - ends up occurring on the projects on the ground in Canada. It may reduce costs to the client initially, but costs them more by the time the project reaches completion, he adds.
DeVouge views the increased number of immigrants in the workforce as a positive, lasting benefit to Canada's economy.
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