© Scott Anderson
MP Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Multiculturalism makes a point to Rem Enterprises General Manager Richelle Titemore and Cypress Hills Grasslands MP David Anderson during a tour of Rem Enterprises on Saturday.
Concerns over attracting qualified labour to the Southwest was the focal point of federal cabinet minster MP Jason Kenney's visit to Swift Current on Saturday.
Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Multiculturalism, had a day full of activities, touring Rem Enterprises and the Saskatchewan Abilities Council Swift Current Branch in the morning, participating in a business roundtable in the afternoon, and ending his day as the guest speaker at the Conservative Party of Canada's Cypress Hills-Grasslands 2014 Winter Fundraising banquet.
During an interview session during his Swift Current stop, Kenney admitted that a skilled labour shortage is an issue right across Western Canada.
"I hear the same thing all across the prairies," Kenney highlighted. "You hear the same refrain from employers and businesses everywhere, which is that the constraint on growth they face now is primarily a shortage of skills, and in some cases just a shortage of general labour. And I think the challenge I heard articulated by many of the business owners here is that rural Saskatchewan is not the first place that many people think of going to when they immigrate to Canada. And a lot of Canadians who might be unemployed in other parts of the country don't think they are going to have the quality of life they want moving in this area.
"So it is a particular challenge. You've got a strong economy. You've got the best year in agriculture in record. Four straight years of really solid results in the farm sector here. Livestock prices up. Commodity prices up. Oil and gas coming on stream, with horizontal drilling, with gas fracking…and everything else that's going on down here. And what I'm hearing from every single employers is skill and labour shortages is their challenge. This is kind of hard for me to translate to the rest of the country, because down east people see a lot of unemployed Canadians. My message to them is if you'd like to pursue different opportunities across the entire skills spectrum, think about Southern Saskatchewan."
He pointed out that while the Southwest has a need for skilled workers, unemployment is an issue in eastern provinces. One of the challenges of the federal government is making it easier for qualified workers to move easier between provinces.
"One of the things we've been trying to promote is greater labour mobility within Canada. We've been trying to break down the barriers, for example the professional and licensing bodies of the trades to ensure that a tradesman from Ontario can move to Saskatchewan, get his Red Seal of work right away. To ensure a professional from Quebec can move to Saskatchewan and not have to redo training. That's very important.
"We also need to break down unnecessary barriers to the recognition of credentials for immigrant professionals. For example, I've been trying to promote a greater reciprocity in the apprenticeship program. So a young fellow who might do a couple of years of an apprenticeship program in Ontario could move to Saskatchewan and still carry his hours with him and not lose any time towards getting his journeyman ticket."
"The message is that there are parts of Canada, like Southwest Saskatchewan, that are desperate for workers right across the skills spectrum. Great opportunities out here," Kenney said.
His first stop in Swift Current was a visit to Rem Enterprises, where General Manager Richelle Titemore toured Kenney though both their wire form facility and equipment division.
"I think it's important that the Minister see what industry is doing in Saskatchewan. See what small businesses are doing. Understand some of the labour challenges that we're experiencing," Titemore commented following Kenney's hour long visit.
In Swift Current, REM employs approximately 150 employees, with one third of their workforce an immigrant population.
As a board member of the Agriculture Manufacturers of Canada, Titemore highlighted that skilled labour is a constant issue for manufacturers in Western Canada. One of their compounding factors is that their wages are constantly compared to wages in oilfield and mining, adding to the existing difficult, competitive labour market. REM is one of many businesses who have sought to address their worker shortages with recruiting overseas.
"I think the immigration programs as they stand now are good, but the wage issues associated with those programs, the wages required to attract that labour is a little bit out of proportion for the industry itself," she said.
"For the Federal Government, I think training, and subsidizing specific training is important, and not subsidizing other types of training is important. We're training people right now for careers that there is not demand for, and we need to train them for where the demand is."
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