A federal program streamlining the immigration process for skilled tradespeople was applauded on Wednesday by Central Alberta manufacturing representatives.
“It’s a good thing for Alberta, and it’s long overdue,” said Debi DeBelser, president of Innisfail-based NWP Industries Inc., which supplies and manufactures oilfield equipment.
“In manufacturing, skilled labour has been difficult to get, has been for a while.”
Many young Canadians are not choosing a career in the trades, leaving companies searching abroad for the skills they need.
DeBelser supports any government effort to reduce the paperwork and make it easier to bring in foreign help.
“We tried bringing in a welder — it was probably five or six years ago — and the red tape was just phenomenal. We’re hoping this will cut through some of the red tape.”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced in Calgary on Tuesday that an updated skilled worker program will be unveiled later this year to include a separate stream for skilled tradespeople. When assessing immigration applicants, the program would put more emphasis on their practical training and work experience rather than formal education.
The previous points system favoured professionals over the skilled trades.
Federal immigration requirements are not the only obstacle to recruiting foreign workers, said DeBelser.
“We have to get the provincial government, and the apprenticeship board for sure, on the same page that the feds appeared to be going, for it all to work well.”
DeBelser said the province’s apprenticeship board often doesn’t recognize foreign apprenticeship training, forcing incoming workers to start their training all over again.
“There are issues like that we sure would like to get ironed out.”
Scott McLeod, executive director of the Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association, also was pleased to hear of the federal government’s intentions.
“The biggest issue that we’ve identified among manufacturers in the area is the lack of skilled labour,” said McLeod. “That’s the No. 1 priority around here and the biggest barrier to the success of businesses in the area.
“The manufacturers I talked to this morning are thrilled with the changes.”
McLeod said the idea of immigrants needing a university degree over a trades certificate is “rather elitist.
“What’s really needed in this province, particularly in construction and manufacturing, are skilled tradespeople, particularly in the areas of welding and machinists and things like that.”