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Immigrants looking for work should target IT, health care, hospitality, construction sectors

“We need more human resources talent.” That’s the bottom line for David Duplisea, chief executive officer for the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce in New Brunswick.

He knows the majority of such talent has to be imported. In fact, immigration accounts for up to 90 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth.

While the government wants to reunite families and support refugees, particularly from countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine, Canada also works directly with the business community to attract the workers needed in specific sectors through the Global Skills Strategy (GSS). In 2021, GSS approved 38,500 temporary workers with specific skillsets through this program.

Where Are Workers Needed?

That’s the big picture, but for individual immigrants, two questions remain. Which sectors of the economy are most in need of talent, and which particular skills are employers looking for?

In 2021, Canada launched the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot, which, according to Sean Fraser, federal minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, is being expanded and, “aims to address Canadian labour shortages while providing durable solutions for refugees with the skills and qualifications that Canadian employers need.”

In his annual report to parliament, Fraser only names health care as a priority sector, but the government has others. Health care fits into one of two broad prioritized foreign worker programs: essential services and the film and television industry. The former includes agriculture and health care. These are further divided into dozens of categories.

Agriculture includes everything from butchers to fish plant workers, from greenhouse workers to farm machinery operators. Health care takes in a wide range of workers: doctors, medical specialists, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, paramedics, midwives, and even home childcare providers. Duplisea agrees there’s a shortage in health care.

“We need health care workers like doctors, nurses, licensed practitioners. There are immigrants looking to come that have those skills sets, but they can’t get in fast enough.”

At the same time, Duplisea says many other sectors are in need of skilled labour. First on his list is information technology (IT). Breaking it down further, he says workers skilled in IT infrastructure and IT services are needed. He throws in financial services as well.

The Voice of Business

In Canada’s Immigration Advantage: A Survey of Major Employers, conducted by the 80 members of the Business Council of Canada collectively, they employ 1.6 workers in 20 industries—the study found the talent gap exists in every province and is most prominent in IT, computer science, and engineering.

Employers are also struggling to find skilled trades people such as construction workers, plumbers, and electricians. Mike Johnston, president and CEO at REDspace, a small IT firm in Bedford, Nova Scotia, said in a recent interview, “Approximately 80 per cent of our recruitment success in recent years has been international.” He adds the shortage of IT talent is global. “Every industry needs programmers and this demand continues to grow.”

COVID Aftereffects

Duplisea says hospitality and tourism was hard hit by the pandemic and is another sector in need of workers.

A September 2022 Angus Reid study showed employees of all ages are leaving the hospitality and tourism sector across the country, creating more and more openings at hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Current estimates of openings across the country are in the hundreds of thousands.

Beyond specific labour force skills, in a bilingual country, language proficiency is also important. Canada has even dedicated a stream for French-speaking and bilingual immigrants. This category is unlimited and attracted 24,000 permanent residents in 2021. The target for 2023 is 32,000.

Regardless of the particular economic sector, Duplisea says the problem of the talent deficit is simple and there’s an immediate solution.

“We need more people to work. One of the only ways we’re going to get them is through population growth. It is our number one priority to increase the population through immigration.”

Darcy Rhyno

Darcy Rhyno has penned hundreds of articles on everything from Indigenous tourism to the wild horses of Sable island. He writes about travel, history, the environment, health and literature. He's published two collections of short stories, two novels, stage and radio plays, and two non-fiction books, including his most recent, Not Like the Stars At All, a memoir about life in the former Czechoslovakia.

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