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While there’s lots of room for growth in efforts to attract and hire more immigrants in Atlantic Canada, a number of businesses and organizations across the East Coast are on a pathway to success by employing or helping newcomers.
Immigration, business go hand in hand
Anyone doubtful of the economic impact of hiring immigrants should talk to Russ Mallard, president of Atlantic Beef Products in Albany, P.E.I.
Attracting employees was a challenge because of the company’s rural location near the Town of Borden and the Confederation Bridge.
So, his team started hiring temporary foreign workers in 2013 and 2014.
The first were 20 or so Filipinos who had come to P.E.I. to work in fish plants but didn’t have full-time jobs.
“We helped them to get their papers to stay on and this helped them in making a better life for themselves,” Mallard recalls.
Since then, as many as 200 new Canadians have been employed at Atlantic Beef.
Besides the Philippines, they’ve hailed from countries such as Syria, Brazil, and Nigeria.
The vast majority of the plant’s 90 or so employees are newcomers.
Many of them have earned Canadian residence status, a process the company assisted with.
New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd. hired a director of immigration last year and the company predicts it will hire 400 immigrants over the next three years for Canadian operations, according to spokeswoman Mary Keith.
— CBC News
Mallard is quick to point out a couple from Nigeria, who arrived at Atlantic Beef via Alberta, who both hold degrees in engineering and medicine and are in the process of finalizing documents to work in those fields.
They needed jobs to support themselves and Atlantic Beef was a good landing spot for them, he says
Overall, Mallard believes the immigrant workforce has helped his business and created a huge influx into a community.
“Some of them even bought homes and moved their families in. This created a mini-boom for the Borden area.”
Mallard’s perspective is counter to “Our young people are out searching (for jobs) and you want more immigrants?”
That’s some of the feedback received by SaltWire’s Deep Dive into Hiring Immigrants.
But the experience at Atlantic Beef Products aligns with what think tanks, all levels of government, economists and others say — attracting and hiring more immigrants are keys to the economic future and population base of Atlantic Canada.
And to grow in that area, programs such as Atlantic Growth Strategy, and the related Atlantic Immigration Pilot, are in place to attract skilled newcomers.
Across the East Coast, more and more businesses are like Atlantic Beef, where an immigrant workforce is helping with their success.
HULLO OUT THERE
Hullo is an app developed by New Brunswick’s SyntecX to help with the inclusion of newcomers in the community. It includes job search, a map and messaging for newcomers to interact with settlement organizations/agencies (such as the Multicultural Association of Fredericton).
— City of Fredericton
One of them is Aspin Kemp and Associates.
Based in Montague, P.E.I., the company designs, manufactures, installs and supports power generation and energy assets for marine, offshore oil and gas, and land-based industries.
It also recruits and employs a variety of talented newcomers.
“We have a broad swath of employees here. We cast our net world-wide in hiring as there is a relatively small pool of people we can draw from,’’ Jason Aspin said. “There are 15-20 countries represented in our operation.”
He does hire local, home-grown talent, but of the 100 at the Montague office, 90 of those are international hires.
Aspin said bringing the newcomers in, supporting their families, and getting them into immigration programs has made the transition for everyone as smooth as possible.
This helps them become fluent in the required languages and also what it takes to be part of the company, he added.
“We have been lucky here. The province is a supporter of what we do and helps us to get people here. We have run into a few hiccups, but in general, it has been a good experience.”
Other Ocean Group Canada Limited is another company that’s benefited from hiring immigrants.
It operates a video game development studio in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a video game quality assurance company in P.E.I.
It’s created games for publishers such as Disney Interactive and Microsoft and develops titles for all major platforms, including iOS, Xbox and PlayStation.
Deirdre Ayre is the company’s St. John’s-based head of Canadian operations.
She says immigration has been a key element in reaching business goals.
To be designated as an Atlantic Immigration Pilot employer, a business must be in good standing, have operated in the region for two years and work with a settlement service organization to support candidates.
— Atlantic Immigration Pilot
She considers it critical, and says without highly-skilled workers from around the world, Other Ocean Interactive simply would not exist.
“It became clear that in order for our business to succeed, our recruitment efforts would need to reach well beyond Canada,” Ayre said during an address to a recent diversity conference.
The company has recruited staff from the United Kingdom, South and Central America, Continental Europe, Asia and the United States.
“Other Ocean, at considerable expense, has been successful at attracting some of the game industry’s best and brightest programmers, artists, designers and producers,” Ayre added.
She says a workplace with culturally diverse talent — both men and women — makes Other Oceans more innovative and creative and more competitive.
“We will develop products that are far more reaching demographically. A diverse workforce gives organizations a broader range of ideas and insights to draw on in decision making and policy development.”
A model for the rest of Canada?
According to Trevin Stratton, a chief economist at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, small businesses say the Atlantic Immigration Program is “very successful” in getting workers to site. “We see this as a model that could be extended to other regions of the country,” he said.
Those who stay can help others walk the same path, ease the transition
SYDNEY, N.S. – Deeno Tuger is eager to talk about his role in convincing international students to remain in the community after they complete their studies at Cape Breton University.
But a very Canadian thing is keeping the 34-year-old Nigerian from making his appointment – his car is buried under snow from the latest storm that just happened to hit the area while he was feeling a bit under the weather and, logically, unable to shovel.
Tuger arrived in Canada 10 years ago with the goal of getting a university education that would help him when he returned to his home in Africa’s most populous nation. But after graduating from Cape Breton University, the native of Lagos decided to stick around Sydney – at least for a while.
“When I first came here my plan was to finish school and then go back, but then I thought I would be better off with some Canadian work experience because I knew that would probably help me when I did go back,” he recalled.
But plans change.
“I got a job and I became comfortable — then before I knew it I had a family, and this became my home,” said the 34-year-old, who resides in a quiet Sydney neighbourhood with his Egyptian wife and fellow-CBU graduate Sohalia Abdo and their two-year-old Cape Breton-born son Balil.
Outmigration impacts economy
Even though immigration levels in New Brunswick have reached record levels, a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada says the biggest challenge to economic growth is the province's weak demographic profile. “The large flow of residents to other provinces and a negative natural increase (i.e., births outnumber deaths) erase any potential gains in population.”
— The Canadian Press
Tuger has walked the path of a foreign student trying to make it a new country. He’s overcome the expected obstacles and hurdles of adapting to a community with a different language, culture and lifestyle. Now he is using that experience to help other international students.
Since last August, Tuger has been employed as a retention officer with the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration. He sees himself as a perfect fit for the position.
“I have been through most of the things the students are going through and will go through, so I understand their perspective of looking at things in a different way – it really does help when you’ve been through the system, even more because there were actually less support programs then that there are now available in Cape Breton,” he said.
“We’re here to help smooth the immigration path for people.”
And given that Tuger came to the relative quiet of Cape Breton from the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s fastest growing cities (Lagos has a population of 21 million), it’s no surprise that there were a few bumps along way.
“I don’t want to complain, but the weather’s not really so nice in winter,” he said, adding that the climate is one of the biggest concerns of international students.
“They all talk about the weather and it’s mostly the cold. But the snow is something new for many of them and they embrace that as being exciting.”
As a retention officer, Tuger’s job goes far beyond convincing students they will become accustomed to the weather. He’s there to help them find employment and he believes that even part-time jobs are important stepping stones in the process of acclimatizing to a new land.
“It’s all about becoming immersed in the community. If you go to places like Walmart, you will see a great number of international students working there. And that’s great because jobs like that are part of the process of networking and getting to know people,” said Tuger, who also noted that many CBU students are also volunteering in the community.
“They look at things differently and they are willing to go through the process — for them, it’s a new place, they’re excited and they want to make sure they fit into the community.”
Tuger estimates that about 1,500 of the more than 2,600 international students presently enrolled at CBU have part-time employment. He also said most foreign students don’t mind taking on part-time jobs that are considered menial or outside of their areas of study.
“Getting a job while they are studying gives them a sense of accomplishment and can open other doors for them in the future,” he opined.
“Immigrants who stay in Atlantic Canada have higher employment levels, higher wages and face less discrimination than immigrants to other parts of Canada, yet the region struggles to attract newcomers and has the lowest retention rates in Canada,” wrote Kelly Toughill, associate professor, University of King's College, in an April 2018 piece for The Conversation.
Other than offering introductions to local employers, Tuger and others dedicated to helping convince international students to remain in Canada have come up with a variety of tactics to prepare them for a new life in a new country.
“For example, we take them to other parts of Cape Breton – Richmond County, Victoria County, Inverness County – with the purpose of showing them the other side of the island and the opportunities that might be available there for them,” he said.
“There are jobs on the other side of the island that need to be filled, so we’re trying to expand the area for job prospects.”
Tuger has already been around long enough to witness what has become a problematic exodus, or brain drain, as bright young students armed with degrees head to more populous areas that offer more employment opportunities than might be available in Cape Breton.
“I also felt that I would have to move away from Cape Breton to get a job because all of my classmates who were from here were applying for jobs in Halifax, Toronto and Alberta,” he recalled.
“But there are jobs here, it’s just a matter of whether or not people want to take those jobs and whether they are willing to work hard to make something happen – many newcomers believe there is plenty of opportunities in Cape Breton, it’s just a matter of perspective.”
And, he might add, it might also be a matter of getting used to the colder temperatures of Nova Scotia’s maritime climate.
— By David Jala
CAPE BRETON ISLAND CENTRE FOR IMMIGRATION
- Case management
- Referrals (language classes, health services, employment, etc.)
- Orientation to local services (school, hospitals, transportation, etc.)
- Group Information sessions and workshops
- Employment connections and supports
- Community outreach and education
“You are 12 per cent less likely to get an interview if you don’t have an English sounding name … Studies have been done in Atlantic Canada of co-op programs that results show if you don’t speak the language, you don’t get the job.”
— Memorial University’s Tony Fang
Immigrants can bolster communities and help the economy, but if only employers pitch in
Everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador came from somewhere, notes Tony Fang.
He’s the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Economic and Cultural Transformation at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
“This place has a long history of immigration,” Fang says. “Outside of the Beothuks, there was a host of pioneers who came and settled here from European countries.”
Noting the province’s business community has a small population from which to hire — just over 500,000 — he suggests attracting immigrants could only help.
“We need farmers, fish-plant workers … jobs people are not willing to do. This is our common future and by adding immigrants and temporary foreign workers, we can help overcome the shortages we have in the workforce.”
Fang says attracting and hiring more newcomers will help to build community, which will help the immigrants stay.
If this doesn’t happen, he believes communities will die.
“It is a close-knit community here in Newfoundland with a high sense of belonging in Canada. But it’s hard for newcomers to break in … or for the employers to trust people to let them in. A cultural shift is required.”
Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia has developed a website to provide internationally educated teachers with comprehensive information about the province’s education system in Nova Scotia. Teach-in-NovaScotia.ca offers contextual awareness for preparation for certification, to increase success on the job, and to assist with alternative career exploration.
— Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
Fang says statistics show immigrants in highly skilled trades exceed education levels of respective Canadian-born workers by more than 20 per cent.
Not using these immigrants to enhance the workforce is a “waste of human capital,” he says.
He believes there has to be a greater role on the part of the employers to change this.
Fang spoke at a conference recently where a number of people addressed these issues, including government and employment organizations.
Glaringly missing were employers.
“The employers are not there. They are the key to assimilation. Integration is driven by this. They need to get a job to survive.”
Fang notes Newfoundland and Labrador’s declining fertility rate and that 2018 saw the province’s lowest birthrate in recent years.
“There were less than 4,000 babies born here last year, and we lost 3,000 more residents through outmigration in 2018.”
He later adds, “People need to have babies, and this is not going to happen, so immigration is how to fix the issue.”
Attracting newcomers can help offset the drain on the province’s coffers caused by population decline, he says.
“If we bring in young people, they will contribute to the economy right away.”
Filling individual needs
For 30 years, the Rabbittown Learners Program in St. John’s has provided literacy and adult basic education training geared towards the individual needs of immigrants. “The student’s strengths, limitations, obstacles to learning, and their future goals are all considered and built into a program that is tailored to their needs,’’ administrator Lori Hapgood told SaltWire Network.
To illustrate the impact of hiring more immigrants, Fang looks to Manitoba.
“Manitoba, which is in the centre of Canada, some would consider the middle of nowhere … and it’s cold … is also booming due to immigration. Immigrants can serve to complement the local work force, to fill the void we have now.”
Fang notes the population of Germany, and other European countries, is also aging and those nations have turned to immigration to reverse the population trends.
He suggests Newfoundland and Labrador needs to bring in 5,000 immigrants annually, a similar number to Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Fang notes other benefits, that food, but culture, education, international trade — are all driven by multiculturalism.
“We are a homogenous population. If we bring in more people from different places, it will make our economy more vibrant, more exciting.
“Adding all of these to our society will make this a more attractive place to live and stay.”