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Temporary foreign worker Brian O'Donnell, from Ireland, carries a sheet of cladding while working on the construction of a new police station in Edmonton on April 30, 2012. In Alberta's stretched labour market, some employers have had to turn to overseas labour. (Jason Franson/Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)
Temporary foreign worker Brian O'Donnell, from Ireland, carries a sheet of cladding while working on the construction of a new police station in Edmonton on April 30, 2012. In Alberta's stretched labour market, some employers have had to turn to overseas labour. (Jason Franson/Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)

The Immigrant Answer

Is Canada's brand strong enough to attract the immigrants it wants? Add to ...

Mr. Wall walked the lineup himself, fielding questions about the price of milk and how long it would take to get a driver's licence. In the best-land-to-live competition, his province lost to Down Under on winter and how well the Irish could find it on a map, but won on affordable housing and a shorter flight home for family visits.

Saskatchewan had strategically organized a one-stop event: Once an employer offered a job, a cheerful immigration staffer next door assisted with the application forms. In an adjacent room, an Irish couple who made the move last year also fielded questions. It was a success by the only standard that counts: The 27 employers who made trip had hoped to fill 272 vacancies, but at last count were up to 282 job offers, and counting.

Employment fairs aren't new, but they are a recruitment tactic of choice for western provinces and employers, especially now that economically troubled Europe seems to be such a rich vein for workers. A significant shift has been to clear the ground work for approving foreign credentials – the British Columbia Construction Association, which also visited Ireland in March, met in advance with Irish professional associations. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that employers, even smaller companies, now come along, ready to hire on the spot if they find what they need.

A strong recruitment campaign must recognize what entices people to uproot their lives and settle in another country: good jobs or schooling, proximity to family back home, as well as social support, an easy route to citizenship, a strong economy and stable government. Highly skilled travellers aren't coming for their kids any more: “They are coming for themselves,” says Dr. Duncan, the Ottawa researcher. “If they don't make it in three to six months, they're gone. They don't have the patience of immigrants who came in the fifties, sixties and seventies.”

To that end, current Canadian approaches to recruitment, especially for skilled workers also being wooed by countries such as Australia, have focused on making firm job offers in advance of arrival – and reducing the timeline for starting that new job.

An effective plan also includes making newcomers want to stay. Sometimes, it doesn't work out: Bryan MacFadden, the Saskatoon division manager for Allnorth Consultants, hired two engineers and an engineering technologist after making a hard sell for Saskatchewan. But he lost a top candidate to an Australian company that offered a higher salary.

At the same time, the kind of immigrant who does choose Canada says a lot about where its sales pitch succeeds and where it falls down: A 2010 Gallup survey found that, compared with the United States, Canada is more likely to be a first choice among older, highly educated immigrants, especially those from Asia and Europe. As well, transnational networks are clearly important: A 2011 analysis of Gallup data from 146 countries found that adults who had friends or family in another country were three times as likely to express a desire to move there.

Bernard Cross illustrates this finding. On the weekend of the job fair, he had just arrived home from Australia with a firm offer in hand and expecting to move there imminently. Why did he change his mind? In large part because his wife has family in Canada. After all, newcomers are also natural ambassadors to potential workers at home: “Who is getting the message out is a reflection of who is here,” Dr. Jedwab explains.

The city that refused to just hope for the best

The personal touch is also behind a new immigration initiative by the Manitoba municipality of Winkler-Stanley, which began advertising for newcomers on the Web. Marketing doesn't have to be fancy, the community of 12,000 found – a simple ad on the Chamber of Commerce site quickly went viral through online forums. With the help of an immigration consultant, Winkler was looking for new residents who matched a certain skill set, or were interested in starting a business. Within months, 130 résumés had landed, and last summer, city representatives travelled to Berlin to interview the best candidates, co-ordinating with local employers to offer jobs. They spoke to pharmaceutical researchers, tradespeople, midwives, a doctor who had travelled from Israel. They also interviewed potential first-time entrepreneurs.

It wasn't just a job interview, says Darlis Collinge, Winkler's economic development officer; the candidates discussed their families and their hobbies, and asked questions about musical opportunities in Winkler and soccer teams for their kids.

“We really wanted to get to know who these people were,” Ms. Collinge says, “because we didn't want to just bring people over to fill jobs. We wanted people who will make a home here.”

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