Skilled workers settle in to new home, jobs
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Skilled workers settle in to new home, jobs Red Deer Advocate August 20, 2004 By HARLEY RICHARDS Advocate business editor Photo by DAVE OLECKO/Advocate staff Bernhard Ruis, left, and Mario Koch work some of the cutting machinery at Contempo Kitchen's in Blackfalds where they make contemporary kitchen cabinets. Both workers are from Germany. The Town of Blackfalds has gained a slightly more European flavour - and a couple pretty good craftsmen - thanks to ongoing efforts to attract skilled workers from overseas. Bernhard Ruis and Mario Koch joined the staff at Contempo Kitchens Ltd. about a month ago, gaining expedited entrance into the country under the Canada-Germany young worker exchange program. They learned about Contempo's needs from a Central Alberta delegation that took part in a March recruitment trip to England and Germany. This was the second year Central Alberta Economic Partnership Ltd., or CAEP, participated in the Alberta Economic Development project. The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, Alberta Human Resources and Employment, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada were also involved. In addition to Contempo Kitchens, Nossack Fine Meats Ltd. benefited from this year's trip. The Red Deer company is currently awaiting the arrival of five German workers hired as a result of the project. Three are coming to Canada under the young workers exchange program, and two are gaining admission through the provincial nominee program. "It's a great program," said Ingrid Nossack, who operates the company with her husband Karsten. "For us it's been a very successful mission." Bruin's Plumbing and Heating Ltd. is also hiring a European worker it contacted as a result of the CAEP trip, with several other businesses considering doing the same. Prior to this year's trip, CAEP conducted a survey of regional employers to determine their labour needs. That resulted in a list of 112 positions, which were publicized during the trip and compiled on a website. Prospective employees could post their qualifications for employers to consider. Despite the successes of Contempo Kitchens and Nossack Fine Meats, CAEP chair Norma Duncan said she had hoped more hirings would have resulted. "I thought we'd be doing better." Duncan said some employers found it difficult to utilize the website, or were intimidated by the perceived administrative hurdles to hiring a foreign employee. "It's not a simple process," she said. Duncan also believes some businesses are reluctant to hire out-of-country workers for fear the arrangement won't work out. "They're really nervous about bringing someone from that far away." The website is being reviewed and consideration given to holding special workshops for employers, said Duncan. She thinks it would help if employers travelled with the Central Alberta delegation on future "Euromission" trips. That's what Ingrid Nossack did, and Contempo Cabinets owner Raimund Rudolf met with applicants during a separate business trip to Germany. "You can do your interviews right there," said Nossack. An ongoing challenge for CAEP is letting Central Alberta employers know about the project. More than 100 businesses were contacted prior to the most recent trip, but Duncan said many more are probably unaware of this option. "What would be perfect is if we could talk to every employer." The project has attracted some criticism from people who fear the European recruits are taking jobs away from Canadians. But Duncan stressed that foreign workers can only be hired into positions the employer has been unable to fill domestically. Duncan added that CAEP is pursuing other initiatives to address the regional shortage of skilled workers, including lobbying the province for more local apprenticeship programs. "Immigration is only one solution, and it's a very small solution," she said. Duncan is optimistic CAEP will participate in a third European recruitment trip next spring. She said the matter will likely be discussed at the organization's Sept. 8 board meeting. "I think the early plan is yes, there will be another one." CAEP is an economic alliance consisting of 41 communities in Central Alberta. It can be contacted at 340-5300.