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Feds aim to lure skilled tradespeople to Canada

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CALGARY -- Ottawa has announced a new immigration program that it says will make it easier for Canadian business to hire the workers most urgently needed -- skilled tradespeople.

The new stream for workers in fields such as construction and manufacturing should be set up later this year, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Tuesday in Calgary.

It's music to the ears of Ron Hambley, executive vice-president of the Winnipeg Construction Association.

"We're very interested in any changes to immigration policy that would allow our members to recruit skilled tradespeople from offshore," Hambley said. "In fact, a group of my counterparts in the West were just in Ireland and had an overwhelming reception from both the Irish government as well as hundreds of unemployed tradespeople."

Kenney chose Calgary, the financial heart of Canada's oil and gas industry and a city all too familiar with skilled labour shortages, to make the announcement. But even the modest construction boom in Winnipeg over the past few years has posed challenges in finding enough skilled tradespeople.

"It's relatively easy to bring over a project manager or estimator or supervisor from Europe to work in the construction industry, but it is impossible to bring a skilled tradesperson," said Hambley. "The current ranking system discriminates (against) those working on the tools."

There are some avenues for newcomers to become permanent residents, like the Provincial Nominee Program and the Canadian Experience Class. Kenney said those have been helpful, but insufficient.

"There are still huge gaps. We're talking about tens if not hundreds of thousands of shortages in the skilled trades predicted in the next decade alone."

Skilled tradespeople now make up a small percentage of immigrants coming to Canada, even though the resource and construction sectors are clamouring for welders, pipefitters, electricians and other workers.

Criteria required to enter Canada under the existing program put tradespeople at a disadvantage because the rules are geared toward professionals, said Kenney.

-- CP, with files from Martin Cash

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2012 B4

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