Showing posts with label Calgary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Calgary. Show all posts

Let foreign workers stay, Alberta urges

Calgary, AlbertaImage via Wikipedia

Settlement through immigration will help ease labour shortage, minister argues

With another boom just around the corner, it's time to shift away from reliance on temporary foreign workers and concentrate on immigration, says Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's minister of immigration and employment.
Lukaszuk is ready to push the federal government to allow more immigrants from among the 30,000 temporary workers now in the province, offering them a chance to settle with their families.
Employers facing labour shortages would also be happy because they could keep workers they have spent the last few years training, he said. Lukaszuk's first priority is to make sure Canadians in underemployed groups, such as First Nations and the disabled, are "fully engaged" in the workforce. "But at the end of the day, even if we naively think we will get 100-percent employment in those groups, we will still be short of workers," he said.
Last year, Lukaszuk ordered a review of the temporary working program by parliamentary assistant Teresa Woo Paw. Her report assessing the effectiveness of the program will be released in a month. The Calgary MLA spent a year hearing from employers and other interested parties on the issue.
Lukaszuk said he's ready to "raise the volume" on this issue with the federal government.
He hopes to garner support from his provincial counterparts in preparation for a ministers' meeting this fall.
"The federal government took in 280,000 new immigrants this year, the highest number ever, and that's great," he said.
"But that record intake didn't make a dent in the 360,000 temporary workers in the country."
Since that number has been steady in recent years, it's clear the demand for workers isn't just short-term, he said.
At the height of the boom in 2006, Alberta had more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers -the highest per capita of any province. Many worked on oilsands projects, but a lot of them left when the economic downturn hit in December 2008.
Recent federal government legislation has made the temporary foreign worker program less attractive Lukaszuk said.
Under the new rules, temporary foreign workers can spend a maximum of four years in Canada, and then must leave for four years before reapplying for another fouryear term.
Previously, a permit issued for two years was renewable several times if the employer could prove the worker was needed.
The new four-year rule means welltrained workers will leave Alberta to go to other industrialized countries, not back home to the Philippines or Ukraine, Lukaszuk said.
Alberta got a wake-up call a few weeks ago when Australian mining companies came to Edmonton to recruit all kinds of workers, including engineers and skilled tradesmen.
Australian employers are offering immigration status to anyone who takes a job. That's a big advantage over Canada and Alberta, Lukaszuk said.
"When I go to Germany to recruit welders, I can tell them they can only come for four years," he said. The only way to currently offer permanent residency to temporary foreign workers is under the provincial nominee program.
Larry Staples of the Alberta Construction Association said his industry will need more immigrants and temporary foreign workers to meet demand for planned oilsands projects.
At the height of the boom in 2006, the construction industry brought in about 7,000 skilled tradesmen, "but these days, that's down to almost zero," Staples said. People from overseas and Eastern Canada left the province in droves, he said.
"Now we're looking at ramping up again. We need to turn up the burner on immigration for the skills we need and make sure they come to Alberta and don't stay in Toronto or Montreal.
"We need to get more skilled immigration to the province."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said he was pleased Lukaszuk wants to move away for temporary foreign workers.
But he said it's not clear the federal government will listen.

Minister Kenney launches national consultations on immigration levels and mix

Calgary is the largest metropolis in the Calga...Image via Wikipedia
Calgary, July 12, 2011 — Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney has launched a series of cross-country consultations on immigration issues, beginning today in Calgary.
The Minister is meeting with stakeholders and the public to discuss the important issue of immigration levels and mix. Following the Calgary session today, the Minister will meet with stakeholders in Vancouver on July 18, Toronto on July 20 and Montreal on July 22. Online consultations will take place later this summer and will be open to the public.
The purpose of the consultations is to seek feedback on immigration levels, including the appropriate level of immigration for Canada, and the most suitable mix between economic, family class and protected persons. Discussions on system management to provide improved services, such as reasonable processing times, and addressing issues such as fraud, will also be included.
In planning for the total number of people to admit as permanent residents, CIC not only balances immigration objectives but also considers several other factors, including broader government commitments, input from provinces and territories, and current and future economic conditions. The Department must also consider its operational ability to process applications in a timely manner, as well as the capacity of communities to welcome newcomers.
In addition to presenting an opportunity to gather input from stakeholders and the public on key questions facing CIC, the consultations also allow the Department to share with stakeholders and the public some of the considerations and difficult choices involved in managing a global immigration system.
The consultations present an important opportunity to generate greater understanding of the trade-offs involved in setting immigration levels. There are competing visions and diverging goals for the future of the immigration program, and there is no single right answer on what the focus should be. Engaging stakeholders and the broader public in that conversation is a key part of developing a plan that will work for Canada going forward.
Invited stakeholders represent a variety of perspectives, including those of employers, labour, academia, learning institutions, professional organizations, business organizations, regulatory bodies, municipalities, settlement provider organizations and ethnocultural organizations.
A report on the consultations will be available on the CIC website once stakeholder and public consultations have been completed.
More information about the online consultations will be available on the CIC website.

Minister seeks input on immigration issues

Jason KenneyImage by mostlyconservative via Flickr
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney kicked off a series of national consultations in Calgary on Tuesday, asking shareholders to provide input on issues and programs in hopes of better determining appropriate immigration levels for Canada.
"We want people's views on what is the right mix of our various immigration programs, how do we ensure that immigrants succeed economically, because when immigrants get good jobs, Canada succeeds," Kenney said.
About a dozen attendees from immigrant settlement organizations, employers, industry groups and community associations joined the minister in a private meeting to discuss everything from which programs to focus on, how to ensure skilled workers are selected to fill job shortages, and how to reduce backlogs and maintain reasonable processing times.
Kenney will hold similar sessions with stakeholder groups in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal later this month, as well as online consultations later this summer, which will be open to the public.
The input will then be fed into the federal government's multi-year immigration levels plan, which determines how many people should be admitted to Canada and into which programs.
For the past several years Canada has admitted between 240,000 to 265,000 permanent residents. Last year the government exceeded the planned maximum, admitting 281,000 permanent residents.
"There's always a maximum to the number of immigrants we bring. We're maintaining very high levels, but we want to make sure that immigration is actually working for newcomers and newcomers are working in Canada," he said, adding that increasing the maximum number was a possibility. "We don't want to be bringing people here to face unemployment or underem-ployment, we want them to fill the job shortages that exist, particularly in this region."
Recently, Premier Ed Stelmach and other western premiers blamed the federal government for hurting western economic growth by setting a cap on the number of immigrants admitted through the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provincial governments to choose immigrants based on their economic needs.
But Kenney said the government has been very generous in letting the program grow nationally almost tenfold, from 5,000 admissions six years ago to 45,000 this year, and actually reduced federal immigration programs to give more spots to provinces.
In turn, Alberta saw its immigration grow from 18,000 immigrants five years ago to more than 32,000 this year, Kenney said.
Deciding which programs to emphasize is a difficult process, as any increases in one program come at the cost of another, he said.

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Severe worker shortages’ forecast for Alberta


CALGARY — A perfect demographic storm is developing in Alberta leading to severe worker shortages for many years to come.
Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta’s Minister of Employment and Immigration, said the province is already starting to see labour shortages in some sectors such as the transportation and hospitality industries.
“There are companies that simply can’t find workers already,” he said. “There are sectors that are already showing inability to readily find employees at competitive price. And that will only escalate as time goes on.
“Overall, we will have severe worker shortages not only in this province but in Western Canada for many, many years to come.”
Lukaszuk said the province is heading into a perfect demographic storm.
“Very rarely do stars align like that,” he said.
Many economists have forecast Alberta’s economy to be a nation-leader in the next couple of years. Many of the Baby Boomer generation are retiring which will create a “massive exodus” of workers. That will create a void in not only numbers but experience in the workforce. The natural population growth is not replacing that exodus. And the retirees will force increased demand for various services from coffee to medical care.
On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that the province’s unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 per cent for the month, down from 5.9 per cent in April. This rate was the third lowest in the country behind Saskatchewan’s 5.0 per cent and Manitoba’s 5.3 per cent. It was also down from 6.7 per cent in May 2010.
Employment increased by 8,500 and over the previous 12 months, employment grew by 2.8 per cent, or 56,300 jobs, the fastest growth rate in the country.
In the Calgary census metropolitan area, the unemployment rate fell to 5.7 per cent in May from 5.9 per cent in April. Statistics Canada said 1,500 jobs were created in the Calgary CMA from the previous month and year-over-year employment grew by 19,200 or 2.7 per cent in the region.
Calgary’s unemployment rate was 7.6 per cent a year ago.
Danica Lelliott, 33, was hired in May to work as a server at the Wurst Restaurant and Beer Hall. As she was job hunting, Lelliott noticed the growing choices that were available to her.
“There are quite a few jobs available — especially in the service industry. People are always hiring if you’re the right kind of person — if you have the experience and have the personality,” she said.
“There’s definitely a demand for people. People are more than willing to hire.”
Michael Fotheringham, research manager at Calgary Economic Development, said the local labour numbers are a positive trend with a gain in full-time employment and a decline in part-time employment.
“I think it means that we’re possibly inching closer to possible labour shortages (and with) increased demand and shifting demographics we may not be too far off the pre-recession unemployment rate,” said Fotheringham.
He said CED is sensing a more positive mood in the business community with further capital spending and job growth in the future. He expects the unemployment rate over the summer months to hold steady but see a further reduction in the fall.
The provincial government has developed a short-term employment forecast tool to identify potential imbalances in the labour market in the near future. Sixteen occupations were listed as having a significant likelihood of shortages in the next three years.
They include retail trade managers; restaurant and food service managers; mechanical engineers; petroleum engineers; computer programmers and interactive media developers; web designers and developers; general practitioners and family physicians; registered nurses; retail trade supervisors; food service supervisors; technical sales specialists, wholesale trade; hairstylists and barbers; estheticians, electrologists and related occupations; construction millwrights and individual mechanics (except textile); heavy-duty equipment mechanics; and motor vehicle body repairers.
In Alberta, full-time employment increased by 18,200 while part-time employment decreased by 9,600 from April to May 2011.
The following industries had the most employment increases in May from the previous month in the province: Construction, 8,600; Health Care and Social Assistance, 6,300; and Information, Culture and Recreation, 5,300.
Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions has established an executive search Calgary-based practice in Alberta to help clients respond to the emerging talent crisis which some reports say will result in a labour shortfall of 77,000 workers over the next 10 years.
“From a human capital perspective, this is a critical time for Alberta,” said Mark Hopkins, managing partner. “We believe that companies must effectively manage the leadership gap being created as an aging workforce retires in ever-increasing numbers. At the same time, we are seeing rapidly increasing activity levels, increased technical and commercial demands, and a significant shortage of specialist technical skills.”
Across the country, the federal agency said employment rose by 22,000 in May, bringing gains over the previous 12 months to 273,000 (1.6 per cent). The employment increase in May, combined with a decline in the number of people looking for work, pushed the unemployment rate down 0.2 percentage points to 7.4 per cent, it said.

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Opinion: The big picture shows immigrants are a good bet

Calgary is the largest metropolis in the Calga...Image via WikipediaBy Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun

I’m an immigrant.
Let’s get that out of the way first in this reaction to the Fraser Institute’s disingenuous study asserting that immigration costs Canada as much as $23.6 billion a year.
Researchers Herb Grubel and Patrick Grady — both of whom are also immigrants and presumably don’t consider themselves a burden on the economy — conclude that in 2006, immigrants received on average $6,051 more in benefits than they paid in taxes.
On the basis of this snapshot, they advocate restrictions upon immigration. However, the narrowness of the data set suggests the broad conclusions don’t have sound foundations.
Indeed, the arguments sound suspiciously like those of the old Reform Party, which gave gloomy voice to utilitarian assumptions about acceptable skill sets and wealth required of prospective immigrants.
Of course, anxiety about the potential financial burden of newcomers is well established, if misplaced, in framing immigration policy for Canada.
Similar concerns were expressed about Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century. Central Europeans, Russian Jews, Scandinavians — even the English — have all been subjected to worries that they got more from their new country than they contributed.
So, here we are in 2011 faced with two successful immigrants, both indisputably valued and productive members of Canadian society — let’s leave aside the amusing irony of the Fraser Institute issuing tax-deductible receipts to wealthy contributors so they can pay less tax — fretting that new immigrants don’t pay enough tax to cover their cost to Canadian society.
This sounds like the venerable “I’m in the lifeboat, pull up the ladder” argument.
I say venerable because the notion that the most recent arrivals are paying insufficient tax and drawing excessive benefits remains one of the persistent memes in Canadian society.
And it is almost always based on selective statistical evidence while ignoring the unassailable fact that of the 34 million people in Canada, 33 million are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who helped to build a national economy which ranks in the top eight globally.
I’m not alone in my doubtful reaction to the Fraser Institute’s study.
Robert Vineberg, a senior fellow at the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation, notes that the average income of immigrants in Canada more than 15 years before the 2006 census was actually higher than for native-born Canadians.
On average, those immigrants paid more in taxes than they got in benefits, Vineberg observes.
“This turns the Fraser Institute’s analysis on its head and suggests that immigrants are net contributors to government revenues if their entire working life is considered,” he says. The data used can lead to diametrically opposed conclusions, he notes, and suggests “the whole principle of such analysis is faulty.”
Vineberg argues that immigrant contributions are much broader than their tax contribution. For example, an immigrant nanny earning less than average income often enables both native-born parents to earn higher salaries and therefore to pay higher taxes.
So it all depends where you take your snapshot.
When my father brought me to Canada as an infant 63 years ago, the only job he could find was on a garbage scow, although he was a qualified machinist. He worked filling paint cans and delivering bread at considerably less than the average income. He had five kids in school. That snapshot would show him – and me – as a social cost rather than a benefit.
Later he became an award-winning journalist, still writing at 87. And those five kids – two are newspaper columnists, one works for the navy, another provides research and management consulting to big health care organizations, one is a successful artist. By that snapshot, he’s a benefit rather than a social cost.
Vineberg concludes: “By zooming in on one small part of a complex phenomenon, the Fraser Institute ... has come to conclusions that may appear correct but, if the assumptions involved are examined closely, are unfounded. This does not make a constructive contribution to the needed debate.”

Aussies court skilled workers as Alberta labour crunch looms

Calgary, AlbertaImage via WikipediaBY BRYCE FORBES, CALGARY HERALD

With a massive worker shortage looming over Alberta, an Australian job fair in Calgary offered a glimpse of what could be an international battle for labour.
Nine-hundred people crowded into a downtown hotel ballroom Saturday to check out the fair where oil, gas and mining companies tried to woo skilled, senior-level Alberta workers.
The fair, which continues in the city today and next weekend in Edmonton, comes on the heels of a warning from the province’s employment minister that Alberta could face a labour shortage of 77,000 people in the next 10 years.
Rupert Merrick, the organizer of the Opportunities Australia Expo, said Australia is in the midst of its own labour crunch because of booms in the mining and oil and gas sectors.
Calgary was the first Canadian city targeted for the fair because of its skills base.
“Canada, and especially Alberta, is considered world class in terms of the skills that they have and Australian employers are suffering from a skill shortage right now,” said Merrick, who added Saturday’s turnout was twice what they expected.
Richard Truscott, Alberta director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the Australian endeavour is a sign a bidding war for workers is set to heat up in the next 10 to 20 years.
“This is clear evidence that we are in major competition for skilled workers,” said Truscott. “It’s another reminder that we need to get our act together and really carve out some effective strategies to attract and retain workers to Canada from elsewhere.”
Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said his warning of a 77,000-worker shortage was conservative, based on the province’s low birth rate, rebounding economy and baby boomer retirements.
“(The year) 2011 is the first year in which official baby boomers are turning 65, so we’re looking at a large exodus of workers — not only in numbers, but in experience,” Lukaszuk said Saturday.
He said he is concerned about Australia and other countries coming to Canada and poaching skilled workers.
But, for him, the bigger concern is the whole immigration process and the delays prospective workers face before receiving visas to enter Canada.
“Our national immigration policies are not as nimble as they are in other countries, which would definitely include Australia,” said Lukaszuk.
Merrick said Australia boasts a “very refined immigration system.”
“It’s all about meeting the demands of the employers,” he said. “The government has some very clever mechanisms in place, which allow employers to go out and get the skills that they need.”
Anastasia Reyes, a job applicant who has worked in the oil and gas business in Calgary for five years, said she would fly out to Australia on Monday if offered a job.
“I got to work through the boom here, which opened so many doors of opportunities, so I would love to see what doors would be opened to me somewhere else overseas,” said the 23-year-old after setting up interviews for early this week.
Working toward her civil engineering degree, she said one Australian company said it would help pay for her remaining education as well as guarantee a job afterwards, an offer she hasn’t seen in Calgary.
There are many perks to working in Australia, said Brooke Wilson, recruitment manager with oil refiner Caltex Australia, including comparable wages, a lower cost of living, relocation packages and even surfing. Two of their oil refineries are close to surfing hot spots.
“People in our refinery in Sydney actually go down for a surf in the afternoon,” she said.

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Mentors help immigrants find success in Canada

bow valley collegeImage by Dave McLean (aka damclean) via Flickr
Many immigrants come to Canada with years of work experience, talent and new ideas, but often run into language barriers and challenges adjusting to the local culture.
Frustrated and desperate to feed their families, many new Canadians end up taking minimum-wage jobs far from where their expertise lies.
It’s a situation that Ratna Omidvar sees everyday in her line of work.
That’s where mentoring programs can help, said Omidvar, president of Maytree, a Toronto-based private organization that invests resources to reduce poverty.
“Skilled immigrants bring talent, connections to world markets and new ways of thinking to solve problems,” she said at the Sheraton Suites in Eau Claire, where the 2011 ALLIES Mentoring Conference is taking place. “We need to collapse the time for them to succeed.”
Omidvar credited a mentor for helping her find her career path when she first arrived to Canada from Iran nearly 30 years ago.
Her mentor took the time to organize mock interviews, work with Omidvar on resume-writing skills, and even taught her about the “unwritten rules” of Canadian workplace culture.
The experience inspired Omidvar to take on many mentees throughout the years, many who have found success in Canada.
More than 120 delegates from across the country are in Calgary today and Friday to discuss how mentoring between employers and skilled immigrants can benefit workplaces and also help newcomers realize their full potential.
A local partnership between the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC) and Bow Valley College pairs mentors in the city’s corporate world with immigrants new to Canada.
Katalina Bardell, a mentoring project lead and employment facilitator for the program, said the partnership has facilitated over 100 matches.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi lauded the program and many others that are sprouting up across the country, but he said more needs to be done to help put new immigrants in jobs that best suit their abilities.
“We need to ensure everyone who comes to this country has the ability of achieving his or her own potential,” he said.
Immigration policy changes also need to be made to better recognize foreign credentials, he added.

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Hunt is on to fill positions in oil and gas industry

Calgary, AlbertaImage via WikipediaThe beginnings of a recovery in Alberta's oil and gas industry are combining with other powerful forces to create shortages in a range of job skills.
From engineers to derrick hands, the industry is looking for talent for work in Canada and overseas.
And demand is likely to grow substantially in the months and years ahead, says the latest study by the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
"Over 30 per cent of the industry's core workforce -including engineers, geoscience professionals, trades and (equipment) operators -are expected to retire within the next decade," says the 2010 third-and fourthquarter labour market study by the PHRC.
Cheryl Knight, executive director of the PHRC says the industry will need 105,000 new recruits in this decade; some 30,000 to fill newly created positions, and 75,000 to cover retirements and other attrition.
As retirements loom, experts say, immediate job growth is being driven by:
 Firming oil prices ($85 to $95/bbl), responding to steady demand from emerging economies, such as China and India;
 Horizontal drilling and other technologies that are opening up major new reserves within the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin;
 Alberta's recently revised royalty formula and increased pace of land leasing; and,
 Reactivation of several major oilsands projects.
The PHRC survey shows immediate skills requirements across the oil patch include:
 Experienced engineers in the fields of exploitation, completions, production and mining;
 Plant operators, steam engineers and power engineers;
 Maintenance trades;
 Production accountants;
 Field operators;
 Rig crews; and,
 Environmental and regulatory specialists.
Intensified work in unconventional gas and oil and in situ oil recovery are also creating demands for:
 Software developers;
 Surface and subsurface engineers;
 Steam engineers;
 Geologists and engineers with shale reservoir and well stimulation experience;
 Measurement-while-drilling specialists;
 Formation fracturing specialists;
 Completions specialists;
 Class 1 drivers;
 Water and environmental management technicians; and,
 Logistics specialists. "Our industry's challenge, coming out of a downturn is making people aware that we're hiring," says Knight.
The industry needs people across three broad sectors. Exploration and production companies need engineers, geoscientists and business professionals; drilling and service companies need specialists willing to travel to remote drilling locations; and construction contractors need trades people to build major projects, particularly in the oil sands.
Knight concedes the volatility of oil and gas prices poses a constant staffing challenge to the industry, especially to the drilling and services sector.
"It's a fact that we're in a commodity-based industry, and that drives jobs."
But she says that during the latest downturn -when oil prices plunged from highs above $130 per barrel in June 2008 to $36 by December of that year -many companies made greater efforts to keep their talent. Drilling and service companies, in particular, sent some of their key people to subsidiaries in the United States in order to keep them on the payroll.
"It keeps people working, but you can't necessarily get them back when you need them," she says. So now the hunt is on for people to fill positions on rigs in Canada.
Nancy Malone, of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, says last year was a fairly solid recovery year for the sector, and this year is on a similar pace.
After the downturn, Malone says" re-attracting those (experienced) people is proving to be difficult. Currently, we are very, very short-staffed."
She says some of those experienced people have gone to international drilling companies, while others have been hired by Calgary companies with international operations.
Knight says advancing technologies and the constant push for improved safety performance mean there's a rising demand for drilling and service sector people with Canadian experience.
But she says there's also a greater willingness in all three sectors to recruit people with industry experience from around the world.
She adds there's a growing conviction that, while lack of English can be a safety hazard, an accent should not be a bar to employment.
So great was the need for thousands of tradespeople to work on oilsands projects between 2000 and 2007 that contractors imported construction workers from wherever they could be found. They brought in some 15,000 people under the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program, and operated fly-in, fly-out programs for tradespeople from the Maritimes.
This time, Knight says, things may be different.
"Alberta is at risk with our heavy reliance on Maritime workers" because of the impending construction starts on the $6.2-billion Lower Churchill (Muskrat Falls) Power Project and the $5-billion Hebron offshore oil platform, both in Newfoundland. Nearly simultaneous starts on those projects could leave very few Maritime tradespeople looking to commute to Alberta, she says.
But the industry, and particularly the oilsands players, are working on various ways to manage their people requirements, she says. For some years, oilsands operators have tried to stagger construction starts to enable the flow of construction trades from one project to the next.
And Knight says operators in the oilsands have been very creative in finding ways to bring more women and Aboriginals into their permanent workforces.
In addition, she says, the Alberta government is working with the federal government on ways to enable temporary foreign workers to obtain landed immigrant status, rather than having to return home at the end of a contract.
"If you're looking at chronic labour shortages in the future, and we are, why wouldn't you do this?" asks Knight.
Meanwhile, Canadian companies aren't the only ones looking for Canadian oil workers, Knight says. Several foreign companies have advertised in Calgary newspapers for various skills in recent weeks, including Qatargas and mighty Saudi Aramco, the work's largest oil producer.
"The skill and training of Canadian workers is highly regarded," she says, and several foreign companies recruit on a more or less constant basis in Calgary. Aramco held a job fair in Calgary for three days in early February to interview people who had applied for a wide variety of jobs.
Knight says while foreign companies are a constant presence in the Canadian job market, they don't appear to be hiring large numbers of people. She says PHRC has no numbers on Canadians working abroad, but adds that many Canadian companies also send workers to their operations in various parts of the world, from South America to Africa and the North Sea.
Calgary-based oil companies with big foreign operations include Nexen Inc., Talisman Energy and Vermilion Energy.
Many of the Canadian subsidiaries of multinational oil companies also send expats abroad.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

Challenges await Chinese immigrants, but so do opportunities.

Calgary is the largest metropolis in the Calga...Image via Wikipedia
Wenying Wang hadn't seen her husband in 19 months.
The Chinese immigrant left her home outside Beijing last year and moved to Calgary to start a new life with her 14-year-old daughter.
On a cool winter day recently, she anxiously waited for her husband Yongbin Fan to join them.
Finally, the painful wait ended -- for a short time anyway -- as he landed in Calgary to reconnect with his family. Later this month, the mechanical engineer will return to China to support his wife and daughter, as well as care for his parents.
"When he isn't here with me, I was sad," Wenying says from her modest townhouse in southwest Calgary, husband at her side.
"We come to a strange country with no experience, almost know nothing about it. It is maybe a little difficult for us to adapt to this country," Yongbin adds.
The family's emotional reunion serves as a stark reminder of the struggles newcomers often experience when arriving in Alberta.
Yongbin wants the family to have a smooth transition into Canada, so he expects to work for another year in China until his wife can find a job in the health-care field.
For many newcomers, the joys of launching a new life are often tempered by social isolation, language barriers and a foreign culture. There are also severe financial pressures.
Wenying, 42, left behind everything she knows, including a job as a nurse. But she moved to a new city with growing ties to her homeland. The opportunities Alberta provides outweigh the struggles of starting over, she says.
"Our country (China) has some strong points," she explains. "But I like challenges. And I choose Canada."
Indeed, more Chinese are choosing Canada -- and Alberta -- as their home.
At least 1,000 new immigrants are expected to arrive in Calgary this year from China, making the country one of the largest sources of newcomers for the city.
In total, more than 75,000 Chinese people live in Calgary today, the city's largest visible minority group.
They are helping construct a social and cultural bridge to China that's changing the face of Calgary and Alberta.
People power may well trump energy, manufacturing and agriculture as the most important commodity in the Sino-Alberta trade relationship.
And as more Chinese nationals move to the province for work, an increasing number of Albertans are looking for jobs and a new life in the Asian country.
"China has a natural affinity for Canada," says Liu Yongfeng, China's consul general to Alberta.
"Nowadays, though our national conditions and social systems differ, there exists no conflict of fundamental interests between us -- and our common interests far outweigh our differences."
Canada holds a special place in the hearts of many Chinese.
On the streets of Beijing, residents almost instinctively cite the famous Norman Bethune, a gifted Canadian physician who took up the Chinese Communist cause in the late 1930s and treated soldiers on the front lines in years of war.
"Chinese people always remember -- forever," says Wenying. "They think Canadian people are friendly and like helping people."
Some 1.3 million Canadian residents are of Chinese origin and more than 50,000 Chinese students currently study at Canadian schools, says David Mulroney, Canada's ambassador in Beijing.
Chinese (primarily Mandarin) is also the most commonly spoken language in Canada, after English and French.
The two-way flow of people -- through business, immigration and tourism -- will "further strengthen our people-to-people ties, build understanding between our two countries and strengthen our commercial, cultural and political relations," the ambassador predicts.
People power flows in both directions.
Inside Mulroney's official residence, native Calgarian Rosalyn Ediger works as the embassy's chef. After graduating in 2005 from SAIT with a diploma in professional cooking, she travelled the globe and eventually stopped in China.
Intrigued by the distant country and culture, she jumped at the chance for a chef posting at the embassy. After two-and-a-half years, she doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.
"I didn't know anything about China. It was just so mysterious," says the 25-yearold chef. "The more I know, the more I want to know."
Chinese residents take a little time to warm up to, she notes, but they are genuine people who have a deep respect for Canada.
Ediger, who grew up in Calgary's Huntington Hills community, believes hospitality is an integral part of diplomacy.
"If you give them a chance, they then give you a chance," she says.
"They're just as curious with me as I am with them. It's a good cross-cultural connection."
Alberta Immigration
Minister Thomas Lukaszuk wants to tap further into that connection.
China is a preferred partner for Alberta as it looks to attract newcomers, he says during a stop in Beijing.
Alberta is forecasting a severe shortage of workers over the next few decades and the province must look overseas to find people to sustain the economy.
China is particularly attractive because of its highly skilled workforce, Lukaszuk says.
He's hoping to streamline the process for approving immigration applications from China, which can take anywhere from nine months to four years.
"We know China has the capacity to partially satisfy our need," Lukaszuk says.
The number of permanent residents moving to Alberta from China has increased in the past couple of years, but still lags behind the boom times of 2006.
Last year, 2,034 immigrants arrived in Alberta from China -- up 13 per cent from 2007. The first half of this year saw 1,091 Chinese permanent residents land in the province.
The connections are profound on other fronts.
For example, the largest number of foreign students in the province originate from China.
In Calgary, Chinatown is marking its centenary in 2010 -- the Year of the Tiger -- with year-long festivities.
Jason Luan, a 47-year-old social planner with the City of Calgary, is actively involved in bridging the city's Chinese heritage with immigrants who will shape the future.
In 1988, he moved to the city from China to pursue a master of social work at the University of Calgary.
Today, he sees first-hand the challenges of integrating into a foreign society, serving as a member of the Immigrant Sector Council of Calgary.
Chinese newcomers often face social isolation and cultural shock, he says, and generally know less English than immigrants from many other countries.
"There is an immediate need. You need to find something that echoes your language, culture and sense of belonging," says Luan. "Never mind being successful, you're probably struggling for survival."
Luan is also a former president of the Chinese Professionals and Entrepreneurs Association of Calgary, an organization that helps immigrants succeed in the workforce.
Many group members hold dual post-secondary degrees in China and Canada, speak multiple languages and understand the sensibilities of both countries.
As China continues to flex its global economic muscles, more companies in Alberta are searching for employees familiar with the country's languages, customs and business climate.
"The bridge has become so strong," Luan says. "The relationship has developed."
In 1989, Glenn Wang arrived in Canada as a 26-yearold student with only $50 in his pocket and two suitcases in his hands.
Originally from Inner Mongolia and educated in Beijing, he earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering in Saskatchewan before moving to Calgary.
Today, he's a successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas sector and an immigration success story.
"I really see a lot of growth between the two countries with business and with people," Wang says. "I really find it's a two-way street."
The businessman believes Calgary is a "melting pot," but recognizes concerns exist among people about China's Communist regime, as well as its record on human rights and censorship.
While those worries can't be discounted, he cautions people about making misinformed judgments about the Asian powerhouse that don't tell the story of modern day China or its people.
"Like it or not, China is coming. So it's better for us to understand who's coming and why they're coming," he says.
Back at her home in southwest Calgary, Wenying Wang says she came to the city for many reasons, including opportunity, a clean environment and moderate weather.
Most importantly, she chose Calgary because she was looking for a place where her family would feel welcome.
As she waits for her family to reunite permanently, she has a message for other Albertans.
"Chinese people want to know the world -- and I think the world will want to know China," she says.
- - -
Jason Luan: Chinese immigrants face cultural shock.
Grant Black, Calgary Herald
-¦ At least 1,000 new Chinese immigrants expected to arrive in Calgary this year.
-¦ More than 75,000 people of Chinese ethnicity live in Calgary.
-¦ Approximately 137,000 Albertans are of Chinese descent.
-¦ Chinese is the largest visible minority group in the city and province.
-¦ 1.3 million Canadian residents are of Chinese origin.
-¦ More than 50,000
Chinese students currently study at Canadian schools.
-¦ Chinese (mostly Mandarin) is the most commonly spoken language in Canada after English and French.
-¦ China has been the largest source of Canadian immigrants over the past decade.
-¦ Processing times for Chinese newcomers can take anywhere from nine months to about four years.
Source: Alberta government
- - -
China Calling
Special Series
Thursday: Why China matters to Alberta, and where the future lies.
Friday: Alberta has much to offer travellers. The province's tourism sector expects to lure unprecedented numbers of Chinese here.
Saturday: Alberta is a big oil supplier; China is the world's largest energy consumer. More deals are inevitable.
today: People power is the most important part of Alberta's relationship with China, as new immigrants arrive in Calgary each year.

Read more:
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Landing a job in Calgary

Downtown Calgary seen from Edworthy ParkImage via WikipediaSource:

Calgarians are changing.
Not so long ago, Calgary was known as a city of Caucasians wearing cowboy hats and shit-kickers. Slowly, gradually, it is developing into a multicultural metropolis.
But for the thousands of immigrants who increasingly call Calgary home, moving to Canada and planting roots is hard work. The hard work starts with the application process to get permission to move to Canada, which can take years; the trials and tribulations continue when immigrants arrive on Canadian soil. Doctors, engineers and other professionals often have an incredibly difficult time obtaining certificates, training and experience recognized by Canadian companies and government. Along with the stresses of adapting to a foreign environment, many immigrants are forced to take minimum-wage jobs, often part-time, to make ends meet. And too often immigrants get frustrated with jumping through bureaucratic hoops and obstacles; of the many immigrants who apply to come to Canada, few truly comprehend the arduous journey ahead.
For Pramod Kumar, it has taken seven years, two cities, hundreds of job applications and plenty of personal struggles to find success in his adoptive city of Calgary.
Born in central India, Kumar studied agriculture and received a master’s degree in plant breeding and genetics. For two years, he worked at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute. Given the opportunity to continue his education in his chosen field, Kumar came to Canada to attend the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
When he left school, he quickly realized that landing an agricultural job wasn’t going to be easy.
“After graduating I was trying to get a good job. I started working for a small consulting firm and then because of a shortage of work I was laid off,” he says. “Then I kept applying for several jobs, but because I didn’t have farm experience here in Canada I couldn’t get a job in my field.”
Two years ago Kumar moved to Calgary, hoping that a bigger city and a more developed business community would help his employment situation.
“I have applied for 300 jobs and got maybe two interview calls,” he says.
Refusing to give up on agriculture, Kumar started his own business, AgriClaim Canada Inc. He enrolled in a self-employment program through Meyers Norris Penny, which provides a wide range of business advisory services, and received startup funding from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.
“My main business is farm consulting but I also specialize in plant breeding, so I thought of offering some unique services. One of them is intellectual property protection, which is plant breeders’ rights,” says Kumar.
With a handful of clients and a lot of potential, Kumar’s company is slowly growing; he has hired a full-time employee and recently received a grant from the federal government to further develop a portal that allows farmers, plant breeders and consultants to easily communicate and exchange information.
Kumar’s wife, Sonika, moved from India to Canada in 2005, and now, with a daughter, Anya, in kindergarten and a newborn baby girl, Prisha, the future looks brighter for the couple.
“Calgary is a very business-friendly city. I found it much better than Saskatoon because it is a larger business community. There are all kinds of company headquarters here which may help in the future,” he says. “Some of the people have started recognizing my services or my name at least.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 1997 about 4,000 immigrants moved to Calgary. In 2007 that number had jumped to more than 14,000, and last year more than 18,000 immigrants came to Calgary. Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, points out that Calgary receives almost twice as many immigrants as Edmonton, and there are more temporary workers per capita in Calgary than any other city in Canada. “Calgary has become a city of choice,” he says.
A 2009 report by Calgary Economic Development called The Changing Profile of Calgary’s Workforce says that immigrants represent 25.3 per cent of Calgary’s labour force. “This large segment grew by 41.9 per cent from 2001 to 2006,” the report states. “The group [was] comprised of 178,700 workers in 2006, an increase of over 52,800 workers from 2001.”
There are two main reasons for immigrants to move to Calgary, says Mae Chun, an employment bridging officer with Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC). “One is if they have friends and family here — if they have that, it is usually the deciding factor,” she says. “In absence of that, it will be for economic reasons because a lot of immigrants, in my opinion… whether they come from South America, China or Indonesia, they come here with a lot of oil and gas experience, which makes Calgary the logical place for them to begin.”
Born and raised in India, Vijay Panchmatia moved to Calgary in August 2009, mainly to land a job. With a background in transportation and freight, he had worked in Dubai in the freight industry, shipping goods and equipment for many oil conglomerates.
Realizing similarities between Calgary and Dubai, Panchmatia decided to move here after visiting a few Canadian cities.
After applying for 46 jobs, which produced only two phone interviews, Panchmatia realized he needed help. He was applying for positions he felt he was far more than qualified for, yet he was alarmed that he wasn’t getting work. So, he tapped into services and programs offered by the various governments.
“It’s been very interesting, but the biggest thing I like to say is that the government support for immigrants is massive, it is so huge. There are so many different agencies for support,” he says. “I know of more than 32 agencies in this city alone.”
One simple initiative is, a Calgary Economic Development website that provides basic information for immigrants starting out in Calgary. Another program, Momentum, teaches new Calgarians to use computers, and helps them with financing (borrowing and repaying business loans) and to secure meaningful employment. Other groups help with coping skills, interview skills and pair new immigrants with mentors in their chosen business fields.
Tapping into an ISC program, Panchmatia was partnered with a mentor who regularly coached him and advised him which companies he should send job applications to.
He ended up applying for a position as a shift manager with FedEx — a job he thought he was overqualifed for, but his mentor told him to apply anyway. The advice paid off, as Panchmatia ended up getting a higher, better-paid position — services manager — that was not publicly advertised, but FedEx officials recognized his skills and experience. Now that Panchmatia has settled into a job, he plans to bring his wife from India to Calgary.
The hardships and challenges faced by so many immigrants coming to Calgary start long before they leave their birth countries.
It often takes years for a foreigner to go through the tedious bureaucratic process to get the proper papers to migrate to Canada. The recent recession and rise in unemployment hasn’t helped much.
“The downturn came very quickly,” says Chun. “It was a sharp drop. It took a lot of people by surprise.”
For many recent immigrants, it has been a shock to arrive in Calgary and discover the economy isn’t as robust as they were originally led to believe.
“The first group that is impacted are the most recent arrivals,” says Birjandian, adding many come with education and job experience, but they end up working for minimum wage in the retail, food and hospitality industries.
One problem that causes major confusion and frustration is misinformation about employment opportunities. Prior to leaving their birth counties, many immigrants are told their job experience and certification will be recognized in Canada.
“When you come here, all your past education and experience is discounted,” says Panchmatia, who learned the hard way. “And for that you’re not prepared. This is where the support system in Canada is trying to bridge that gap. If this information is freely available to the people [immigrants], they can prepare for it.”
This has been a sticking point for years — something Alberta government officials say they are trying to fix.
“We want immigration composed of immigrants who are linked to the workforce,” says Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
The government recognizes that immigration is necessary for the province, but Alberta wants to attract skilled, experienced workers, says Lukaszuk. Government officials, he says, are working on making it easier for immigrants to have their certifications recognized, particularly in the medical, dental and engineering professions.
“Usually they talk in very general terms,” Chun says of governments, “but in practise they are only fast-tracking certain professions and for the majority, it’s still the same long process. As far as I am concerned, it is not changing fast enough.”
Lukaszuk agrees with Chun. “A great deal of headway has been made, but we have a long way to go,” he says.
So, for now, some of the best and brightest immigrants will continue to hit stumbling blocks in getting their foreign experience and education recognized.
“You need to be above-average in your field of industry,” says Panchmatia. “Every immigrant is above-average in their field in their country or else they do not qualify. The people that come here are the crème de la crème.”
It often takes years for newly landed immigrants to develop the Canadian skills and experience they need to secure jobs in their chosen fields. Until that point, many have to take jobs — any jobs — to survive and pay the bills.
The key to success, says Kumar, is to have an open mind.
“My advice is to make use of all the resources because there are resources available everywhere,” he says. “If you need specific training, there is training available. Focus on what you want to do and get appropriate training and maybe some work experience.”

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