Why training workers in Canada beats importing them from abroad – by Barrie McKenna (Globe and Mail – December 17, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA — Fast-tracking the entry of foreign workers to toil in Canada’s mines, oil fields and construction sites is certainly expedient. The work is there. So bring them in and get it done, for the sake of the economy. But a rented foreign work force is hardly an enduring solution to a skills shortage that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called “the biggest challenge our country faces.” At best, it’s a stop-gap.

Labour shortages are now a permanent feature of Canada’s labour landscape. The country is staring at a decade or more of critical labour scarcities as the massive baby boom generation retires and the economy grows. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will go begging for electricians, welders, pipe fitters, heavy equipment mechanics and many other trades.

The federal government’s recent announcement that it intends to bring in an extra 3,000 skilled tradespeople next year may be welcome news for employers.

It’s one thing to bring in foreigners to do jobs Canadians can’t or won’t do. Farmers have been doing it for years to harvest crops. But the program betrays the national interest if it is being used as a cover to import workers whose only asset is a willingness to work for a lot less than Canadians.

A continuing Federal Court case in British Columbia highlights some of the troubling consequences of Ottawa’s temporary foreign worker program. Labour unions allege in court filings that HD Mining International, a Chinese-owned coal mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., won federal and provincial approval to bring in as many as 200 Chinese workers over the next few years, even though it is paying them substantially less than the going rate, with no benefits.

Under the program, an employer must first demonstrate the jobs can’t be filled in Canada. The unions say the company cleared that hurdle by demanding workers speak Mandarin – a claim the company denies.

Canada’s labour market is highly fragmented, with shortages in some industries and provinces, and surpluses elsewhere. The jobless rate remains high at 7.4 per cent, worse than it was before the recession. And Canadians who find themselves out of work are unemployed longer – five weeks more than prerecession levels and well above the historic average.

There’s also a mismatch between the skills demanded in sectors that are hiring and the skills of workers in shrinking parts of the economy.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/jobs/why-training-workers-in-canada-beats-importing-them-from-abroad/article6460050/%3bjsessionid=vnDRQPPNwfmLkQ13hXGGlKWqWhnQ5TrBL2JNrQ5W5dxpd1GZyVFk!-1061355143/?ord=1