Senior staff from three businesses with strong Westman ties recently returned from a recruiting trip in Ireland.
Cando Rail Services, Behlen Industries and Mazergoup all took part in the "Working Abroad-Canada Expo: Dublin" March 22-23.
"We were looking for some specific positions that we’ve been unable to fill," said Jim Brannan, vice-president of contract services for Cando.
The expo resulted in a number of contacts, according to Brannan, that will require government approval before any level of tangible success can be measured.
Cando has advertised for tamper operators and mobile diesel locomotive mechanics with little success. Furthermore, a number of retirements have put additional pressure on filling vacancies.
It’s the first time the company has recruited overseas.
Last month, federal Citizen and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander revealed an agreement between the Canadian and Irish governments that will open the door for more young Irish workers to come to Canada.
Under the agreement, 2,500 visas will be set aside for young Irish professionals who have secured job offers in Canada. The visas also come with increased permits for working holidays and Irish students looking for Canadian internships.
Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development, accompanied the business leaders to Ireland.
Trudel said there were about 30 exhibitors from across Canada at the expo, two-thirds of which were businesses and one-third ancillary services designed to help candidates get approved should they be offered a job.
"The skilled labour shortage is a national labour shortage that isn’t unique to Brandon or southwest Manitoba," Trudel said. "It’s been this way for a number of years and if we assume the projections that have been put forth are accurate, then it’s only going to get worse."
"Alberta and Saskatchewan had a very strong presence at the fair, so it isn’t an issue that is just related to Brandon and southwest Manitoba."
With a 5.3 per cent unemployment rate in February, Manitoba has the third-lowest unemployment rate of the provinces. Still, with room for improvement, Trudel said it’s not as simple as pairing unemployed people with job opportunities due to a skill gap.
"Often the need for skilled labour is linked to unemployment and those two items aren’t necessarily two items that should be linked together," Trudel said. "You can have a high unemployment rate but have no match between the skilled, experienced workers that are required and those that are unemployed."
She said the city is in constant communication with education partners and government agencies to try to bridge those gaps.
"The problem is that takes time and the businesses need productivity today," Trudel said.
And in the meantime, as the demand grows "and the supply shrinks you tend to have to travel further and further afoot to meet your labour needs," Trudel said.