Brandon’s business community, and the community at large, continue to benefit from the job experience and trade skills of foreign workers.
In the latest news, Behlen Industries offered 13 conditional letters of employment to welders following an employment expo in Ireland earlier this month.
As the Brandon Sun reported yesterday, Sandy Trudel, the city’s economic development director, says welding has long been an industry in need of workers in Canada, including here in Brandon.
In Manitoba, skilled tradespeople remain in high demand. According to the provincial government, there will be a need for more than 40,000 workers in the trades and transportation sector by 2020.
And with unemployment rampant in southern Ireland, there are scores of people, like new Brandon resident and Irish welder Sean Sionnach, looking to land on foreign shores in search of viable work.
“I’ve always worked, I’ve always wanted to better me self and better me life,” Sionnach told the Sun. “If that means moving abroad, that’s what it takes.”
But Manitoba and other Canadian provinces looking to lure employees from afar are not alone. While it may be a sad reality for Ireland, there is no doubt that companies and countries around the world are taking advantage of unemployment in that country and other parts of Europe.
Over the past decade, city officials have been directly involved in attracting workers from Europe to Brandon. In 2007 and 2008, officials travelled to Germany to pull from that country’s 20 per cent unemployment rate. And local real estate agents have also been busy luring British residents to empty farmsteads across Westman.
And of course, most everyone in Brandon is well aware of Maple Leaf’s expanded newcomer workforce, and of its impact upon the community, since the plant opened more than a decade ago.
This new Irish influx — though we note not all potential employees at the Irish job expo are necessarily Irish — follows the arrival of 40 newcomers from El Salvador who found gainful employment at Maple Leaf Foods here in Brandon last fall.
While it is encouraging to see Brandon businesses use the provincial nominee program to its full effect, it is fair to ask why those who are already unemployed in this country cannot scoop up available jobs, instead of having companies look beyond our Canadian shores for workers.
In fact, a few provincial pundits have openly called for the province and the federal government to put the local unemployed population above foreign worker programs, and provide new training initiatives for Canadians who want or need to find new employment in a trades field.
That is a noble-sounding goal that, for the moment, has more to do with wishful thinking than any practical application.
As Trudel has argued, drawing from workforces abroad fills an immediate need for local businesses looking to maintain or expand their operations.
“What you’ve got is a business that has an immediate hiring need in order for them to continue to be economically viable and profitable,” Trudel argued. “And you have folks on the other end of the spectrum that are unemployed, but they don’t have training or experience to fill that gap.”
In order to lessen that gap, the federal government recently proposed a new Canada Job Grant through the 2013 federal budget that would provide up to $5,000 per person for job training, an amount that will have to be matched by provinces or territories and employers for a total of $15,000.
The goal is to match unemployed Canadians with the thousands of current job openings, while providing more job opportunities for recent immigrants, people with disabilities and aboriginals.
At the same time, the Manitoba government currently offers several financial assistance programs for individuals seeking to improve their job skills, everything from apprenticeship programs and wage subsidies to student aid and youth grants.
While we welcome these kind of initiatives — as do many local companies that are struggling to fill job openings with qualified individuals — it will take time to meet the demand. To train as a licensed welder in Manitoba, for example, takes approximately three years, according to provincial numbers.
In the meantime, until the pool of seasoned and experienced tradespeople broadens in this country, Brandon and other communities in western Manitoba will have to continue looking to distant shores to fill their need.