Screen for skills, attitude: speakers

When it comes to bringing foreign workers into your operation, it pays to plan carefully and invest time in the process.

When it comes to bringing foreign workers into your operation, it pays to plan carefully and invest time in the process.

This was a message delivered on Wednesday by two people who specialize in helping Alberta employers bring foreign workers into the province. Martine Varekamp-Bos, an immigration consultant and member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, and Henk Ten Wolde, owner of recruitment firm Dutch Western Canada Connection and a trade commissioner at the Trade Office at the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Edmonton, shared their expertise at a session in Red Deer organized by the Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Cluster.

“It’s better not to take a foreign worker than to take the wrong one,” said Ten Wolde. That means screening not only for skill but for attitude, he said.

Employers should also carefully assess what their needs are so they can look for the right candidate — do you need someone to fill a narrow role or do you want someone who can help you grow your company?

Varekamp-Bos, based in the Ponoka-Lacombe area, also stressed the importance of proceeding carefully and deliberately.

“Hiring a foreign worker is a process that’s planned, and what you do at the beginning might affect whether this worker can stay or not.”

She described how the requirements for bringing a foreign worker to Alberta are complex and time-consuming, with both federal and provincial officials involved.

The national occupation classification code of the job must be identified, advertising for Canadian candidates conducted and an application made for a labour market opinion confirming that no domestic candidates are available.

It currently takes 10 to 12 weeks for a labour market opinion to be issued, plus up to several months more for a visa to be issued, depending on the applicant’s country.

“An employer will have to dedicate a lot of time to make sure they do it right,” she said, adding that many opt to hire a consultant, such as herself, to accelerate the process and reduce the risk of errors.

Ten Wolde agreed that a consultant can prove invaluable in preventing mistakes.

He and Varekamp-Bos anticipate that the need for foreign workers in Alberta will increase.

“The demand will be growing,” said Ten Wolde. “The only question will be, where are they coming from?”

Varekamp-Bos said she’s been getting more inquiries from employers, both as a result of business growth and retiring baby boomers.

Ten Wolde said Canada is generally considered a desirable place to live and work.

“Canada has a good name, especially in the Netherlands of course, with what happened in the Second World War.”

The Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Cluster is a partnership between the Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association (CARMA) and Community Futures.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com