Written by Shawna O’Neill
Skilled refugees may soon come to work and live in Cornwall and SDG.
The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce, Sigmapoint, EOTB and ACCFutures are exploring new international skilled labour opportunities for our region.
The Chamber is always striving to make valuable connections. By supporting initiatives that relocate refugees and help them to find a job in their field of work, the Chamber is also hoping to address labour market shortages, especially ones in our region.
“This is not normal territory for us,” explained Chamber Executive Greg Pietersma, referring to the international partnerships. “We want to expose our businesses to this kind of recruitment and continue to grow our economic development capacity. This is something we want our members to be aware of and have access to.”
Recently, Sigmapoint Chairperson Tom Kaneb, introduced the Chamber, EOTB and ACCFutures to a few organizations that support local integration of skilled immigrant and refugee workers. One of these organizations is Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB).
TBB, the first organization of its kind, focuses on resettling refugees, who are also skilled workers. These individuals have proven work experience and appropriate accreditations. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there have been some systemic setbacks affecting processing times for these workers.
“We are desperate for talent,” explained ACCFutures Executive Director Lesley Thompson. “Our employers can’t find the right kind of talent they need, despite posting jobs for long periods of time. It is vital for the economic and social success of this community to support employers with their biggest need, which is accessing the skilled workforce. TBB helps to take away the complexity and intimidation factor as it pertains to hiring someone outside of Canada.”
“You can solve two problems at once: the shortage of skilled workers, and resettling these refugees,” said Kaneb. “It’s important to note that this is not philanthropy. This is job recruitment for positions that a company needs, where they are having trouble attracting Canadian talent.”
Kaneb explained that he has hired immigrant workers before who have attained their permanent residency through the traditional pathway, which is notoriously long and difficult to navigate. He also noted that some employers may try to poach employees of competitor companies. But this method of hiring isn’t addressing any skill shortages.
TBB aims to increase the number of skilled workers available to labour markets, while resettling refugees and streamlining their relocation process.
“I think these initiatives will greatly benefit our area and various communities across Canada,” said Martha Woods, EOTB Executive Director. “Identifying ways that we can address our workforce gap is so important. Attracting newcomers to the area is something we are confident will grow our development opportunities, which is one of the many reasons why we recently opened our Newcomer Employment Welcome Services Centre.”
Patrick O’Leary, Canada’s newest TBB Director, agrees with this sentiment. He explained that TBB currently has a pool of more than 26,000 skilled workers, who speak various languages and specialize in occupations of all industries.
“What we are trying to do is change the narrative around refugees,” said O’Leary. “People who are displaced are often seen as helpless victims. When given the chance, many of these people are capable of providing with their own skills…and relocation for them is literally life saving. It’s exciting and hasn’t been done before.”
O’Leary feels that smaller communities like Cornwall and SDG will attract many TBB workers. He explained that a TBB refugee worker, who was relocated to a small town in Nova Scotia, was offered another job opportunity in Vancouver. This worker turned it down, explaining how they felt so welcomed in a local setting and like they were really a part of the community.
“The resiliency of these people, after being in a refugee camp for eight to nine years, having the drive to continue education and work remotely — it’s mind boggling,” said Kaneb. “I can imagine what great employees these individuals will be, given what they’ve had to go through to survive.”
Additional programs the Chamber is supporting include Miles4Migrants and Windmill Microlending. “(Filling jobs with skilled refugee workers and helping them relocate) is such a dynamic and ever-evolving problem. There has to be a lot of solutions and a lot of partners at the table,” said Thompson. “Miles4Migrants and Windmill Microlending represent two other solutions to getting them here and ensuring they are getting the right credentials.”