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Electric wheel grinding on steel structure in factory (bugphai/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Electric wheel grinding on steel structure in factory (bugphai/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Guest Column

Why I will continue to hire permanent foreign workers Add to ...

Recruiting the right people with the right skills is a challenge for many business owners. But what do you do when the people with the skills you need don’t exist in your hometown, home province or even your home country?

It’s not easy to find available welders and steel fabricators in Canada, especially with the experience and skills that fit the industries that my company serves. With Alberta as our neighbour, many of the skilled tradespeople left Saskatchewan for more lucrative opportunities in Fort McMurray or Edmonton. Initially I tried recruiting from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, with little success. We just found that most people weren’t willing to leave their hometown and move west leaving family and friends behind.

This left me with little choice. In order for my business to grow and to continue to serve existing customers, I had to start recruiting outside of Canada.

When circumstances forced me to hire internationally, it was always my intention to bring workers to Canada on a permanent basis. My company would make every effort to help new international hires assimilate into the Saskatoon community and eventually become Canadian citizens. That meant providing competitive compensation, arranging accommodations, rides to work and working with local cultural groups to help new immigrants feel at home. Over the last decade, I have recruited 65 people from outside of Canada.

While I have had good results bringing permanent foreign workers to Canada, it does not come without its challenges. The cost of recruiting internationally is at least $10,000 per person. If you factor in the cost and time our human resources and management personnel devote to the process, the cost would exceed $15,000 per person hired.

In addition the process can take an extremely long time. For example, two years ago we recruited in the Philippines and are still waiting for a few of our new hires to arrive. We have the help of recruitment agencies and immigration consultants, but red tape makes it very difficult to expedite the process.

Recruiting and retention is a critical component of international hiring. When you are spending a large sum of money on hiring permanent foreign workers, you have to be sure you are making the right hiring choice. Our due diligence includes Skype interviews, in-person interviews as well as practical and theoretical evaluations of the candidate’s skills and assessing whether they are the right cultural fit with our company. This takes time, money and effort.

Despite the challenges, I have seen the benefits of hiring internationally beyond filling the skills gap within my company. Our employees are from India, Iran, the Philippines, South Africa, Israel, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, Germany and of course, people originally from Canada. The multicultural background of our employees adds to the working experience and contributes to a rich employee culture —something that is extremely valuable.

As a country, we seem to take one step forward and then one step back when it comes to filling the skilled trade shortage. The government of Saskatchewan has made tremendous efforts to expedite immigration for permanent foreign workers through the Saskatchewan Immigration Nominee Program, which has helped my company greatly.

On a federal level, there were positive steps taken when the government announced that it would be funding the Federal Skills Trades program in late December, 2012 to address the demand for skilled tradespeople. However, this type of training takes time and it may be years before Canadian companies are able to have a good pool of welders and steel fabricators to hire from in Canada. Recently, the government tightened its rules on foreign workers in response to companies abusing the system. This has adversely affected the time in takes to bring workers in to Canada to fill the skills shortage that my company faces.

As long as we continue to face a skilled trade shortage in Canada -- and we do -- I will continue to look abroad for talent. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to hire Canadians who are qualified, but for now, the pool of talent continues to be small.

Given the time, effort and money to recruit permanent foreign workers, my company only does this because it is absolutely necessary. In time, I hope that the pool of skilled tradespeople grows within our own borders, where countless opportunities exist.

Jim Nowakowski is based in Saskatoon and is the founder and CEO of JNE Welding and a QuantumShift Fellow.

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