Construction leaders are applauding a new federal government initiative to create a separate and streamlined program that will target skilled tradespersons for immigration to Canada.
“Today’s announcement is good news for the construction industry because the need for workers with trade skills will continue to grow as Alberta’s economy grows,” said Merit Alberta vice-president Bill Stewart.
“We expect that the quota of 3,000 applicants will be absorbed quickly across Canada.”
Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney unveiled details of a new Federal Skilled Trades Program on Dec. 10.
The new immigration program, which targets tradespeople in high-demand occupations, is being launched on Jan. 2, 2013.
“For several years now, we have been telling the federal government that the Foreign Skilled Worker Program was broken, not trades friendly and focused on the wrong segment of the economy,” said Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association.
“The skilled trades we needed could not get in with the program. So, we are very happy the change is made because we have been calling for this for many years.”
The new program will target people in skilled trades’ occupations that are experiencing acute labour shortages, such as electricians, welders, heavy-duty equipment mechanics and pipefitters.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is currently working with the provinces, territories and federal government partners to produce a more comprehensive list of occupations that will be announced prior to the program opening.
“Essentially, the new program will have a standalone stream just for the trades,” said Atkinson.
“These tradespeople will not have to challenge the 100 point system. The new program puts a four point system in place.”
The criteria for the new program are based on four requirements that help ensure applicants have the right skills and experience.
These requirements are:
1) an offer of employment in Canada or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory to ensure that applicants are “job ready” upon arrival;
2) basic language requirement;
3) a minimum of two years of work experience as a skilled tradesperson, to ensure that the applicant has recent and relevant practice as a qualified journeyman; and
4) skills and experience that match those set out in the National Occupational Classification (NOC B) system, showing that they have performed the essential duties of the occupation.
The new criteria puts more emphasis on practical training and work experience, rather than formal education.
Initially, CIC will accept up to a maximum of 3,000 applications in the first year of the program, in order to manage intake, avoid backlogs and ensure fast processing times.
“Because it is a separate standalone program, we are starting with a new queue,” said Atkinson.
“They won’t have to wait in the queue behind everyone else. We are waiting to see what the demand is for the program. We need to see it in action and how it is working to determine how much this number will increase.”
Under the old program, Federal Skilled Worker applicants used a 100-point grid, with a pass mark of 67.
The grid takes into account the candidate’s official language ability, education, work experience, age, job offers in Canada, and their overall adaptability, which awards points for previous work or study in Canada, spouse’s education and relatives in Canada.
Some criteria, such as years of education, favour professionals and managers more than skilled trades.
For this reason, skilled tradespersons currently make up only three per cent of all FSWs entering Canada, which turns out be fewer than 700 applicants annually.
Atkinson has always argued that the point system works against the trades and it makes sense to use different criteria or a different balance of criteria.
Both Atkinson and Stewart pointed out that the changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program are part of a comprehensive series of reforms to the immigration system.
Atkinson said the new program may reduce the reliance of the industry on other immigration streams, in particular the Provincial nominee program and the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
The Construction Sector Council estimates that the national construction labour force will rise by 100,000 workers between 2012 and 2020 to meet the demand from increased activity.
In addition, industry will need to replace 219,000 workers that are expected to retire over the next decade.
This means the industry will need to recruit about 319,000 new workers to construction.
It is assumed that the demand requirements will be partially offset by the estimated 162,000 first-time new entrants to the workforce.
The remaining 157,000 workers required will be recruited from outside the industry and will include youth, women, Aboriginal people, workers in other industries and immigrants.