Canadian Manufacturing

Better access to immigration needed to address worker shortages: CFIB

Study shows more than 75% of SMEs have had difficulty hiring workers over the past five years due to skills and labour needs.


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OTTAWA – The immigration system is not meeting the needs of small and medium-sized (SME) employers who are facing significant labour shortages, says a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

The national association that represents small businesses cited the biggest issues as a mismatch between the jobs that need to be filled and the skills-level of immigrants the government prioritizes, and the long, overly-complicated process of bringing in and retaining foreign workers.

“Employers who use the immigration system to fill a vacancy face a complex web of red tape and high costs, especially if they are hiring a temporary foreign worker,” said Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs. “Once workers are in Canada and have become integrated in their communities and workplaces, it can be extremely difficult to retain them because there are limited pathways to permanent residency, especially for those with lower skill levels.”

The study (Workers without borders: Addressing SME labour shortages through immigration) shows more than three quarters of small business owners have had difficulty hiring workers over the past five years due to skills and labour shortages.

Respondents said most occupational shortages are for jobs that require a college diploma or apprenticeship (46%), and those that require a high school diploma or on-the-job training (31%). However, only 17% of economic immigrants in 2017 had the diploma/apprenticeship qualifications; and only 2% had the high school diploma or on-the-job training qualifications. Sixty per cent of immigrants had a university degree, but less than one in ten occupations experiencing shortages require one.

CFIB notes small business owners who can’t find a worker locally may turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and they’re generally very satisfied with the workers. However, hiring requires filling out reams of complicated forms, paying non-refundable fees and waiting six to 12 months or more for approval before beginning recruiting.

“When small business owners turn to the immigration system to fill a vacant position, it’s because they have tried everything else and run out of options,” added Emilie Hayes, senior policy analyst at CFIB and lead author of the report. “The cost and stress they have to go through to recruit a foreign worker wouldn’t be worth it if this wasn’t their last resort to keep their business operational, and sometimes keep their Canadian workers employed as well.”

CFIB urges the government to make changes to the immigration system:

  • Create an “Introduction to Canada Visa” as a pathway to permanent residency for foreign workers in sectors or regions with high demand.
  • Ensure the skills of new immigrants being welcomed into Canada on a temporary or permanent basis more closely align with the skill levels needed by employers of all sizes, including in the skilled trades, and lower-skilled occupations.
  • Conduct a full review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program process to reduce the complexity of applications, improve government customer service, and significantly reduce delays in processing applications.

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