Businesses use temporary worker program to train

  • Apr. 23, 2014 2:47 p.m.

A recent controversy has arisen in Alberta surrounding the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Canadians Against the Temporary Foreign Worker Program recently held a rally in Edmonton at the Legislature to protest the lay offs of Canadian workers replaced by foreign workers.

Canadians Against the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is opposed to importing workers into Canada and has even begun selling their own branded t-shirts and hoodies, sporting the slogans ‘Proud Canadians’ on the front and ‘Canadians Against The Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Many users of the group’s facebook page make posts stating the TFWP is causing unsafe work conditions due to language barriers and improper training as well as taking away work from them as these workers can be paid less than their domestic counterparts.

According to 2012 statistics from Employment and Social Development Canada, Alberta’s use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) far exceeds that of any other province. These statistics show in 2012, Alberta’s workforce employed 84,465 foreign workers, in comparison to Ontario with 49,770, British Columbia with 28,060, and Saskatchewan with 9,995.

While many of these 84,465 foreign workers are employed at fast food chains and coffee shops, a large number of these workers are skilled tradesmen.

Many are upset with the TFWP, but some Canadians and Red Deerians are relishing the opportunity to support the economies of struggling countries around the world and disagree that the TFWP as a whole is a bad program.

For one Red Deer company using the TFWP was an integral part of the growth opportunity that has allowed them to continue contributing to the City and the province’s economy.

Studon Electric Ltd. of Red Deer has been utilizing the TFWP since May of 2012.

Louie McCullaugh, human resources coordinator, for Studon Electric spent nearly all of 2011 recruiting employees. McCullaugh was searching high and low, placing ads on bus benches and every surface he could find.

He and a fellow Studon recruiter went from B.C. to the east coast in search of journeymen electricians and instrumentation technicians. It still wasn’t enough to fill the labour shortage the company was facing.

“It got to the point where we were having to turn down work and turn down jobs because we didn’t have the staff to be able to get the work done,” he explains.

McCullaugh, who came to Canada from Northern Ireland, has been living in Canada for nearly 40 years. “My family back in Ireland kept telling me stories on the phone about how no one can find a job over there.”

Worsening conditions in the European Union countries caused by the recession of 2008 left skilled tradesmen struggling to find employment. Yet in Canada McCullaugh couldn’t find journeymen fast enough.

He connected the dots and shortly after made a recruiting trip to Northern Ireland where they held a mini job fair.

Of Studon Electric’s 1,000 employees, 95 are now temporary foreign workers.

They are all accredited City & Guild electricians, which is the journeyman ticket equivalent for the United Kingdom.

Studon prefers journeymen from these countries, as their training closely resembles the Canadian certification process, in which people attend school for two months, work for 10 months, and repeat until they are certified.

McCullaugh stated that it would not have been possible for them to continue to hire more Canadians during their worker shortage without the help of these temporary foreign workers.

He stressed the fact that in order maintain their level of Canadian apprentices they needed the temporary journeymen to help train them.

Gerry Hodgson, owner of Central Alberta Flooring, was in the same position as McCullaugh when it came to needing journeymen to train his younger workers, as well as being so busy he was close to having to turn down work.

Much like Studon, Hodgson spent countless dollars and hours placing ads in search of skilled journeyman tile setters.

He explained how the only people who were available to help fill his labour shortage were young local boys and men who usually had little to no experience in the area.

“Business had picked up so much and we couldn’t find enough skilled tile setters to begin training these new guys we were hiring. So we had to reach outward to fill that gap, and now we are utilizing the TFWP as a stop gap until we can get our younger workers to a point where they can run their own crews and tackle their own jobs.”

Hodgson currently employs one journeyman equivalent tile setter from the Philippines and one from Spain.

He explains his decision has been a perfect fit, as foreign workers have a four-year time frame in which they may work in Canada before they either apply for permanent residency or return home and it usually takes nearly three years before an untrained worker is at a point where they may head jobs alone.