temporary foreign workers

Despite changes made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in late 2013, it's clear the need to tap into that labour supply remains strong, and nowhere is that more clear than in the labour-starved Calgary market.

"When you look at the types of jobs we are looking for in this city, it's across a wide range of sectors from hospitality ... to medical services ... to an engineer to a project manager to a lawyer," says Mary Moran, vice-president of marketing, communications and research for Calgary Economic Development (CED).

The program has been a hot topic of debate across Canada, including the recent changes, but it has been proven especially relevant in Calgary and Alberta.

"It (TFWP) has been effective," says Moran. "We need to work locally first (to) provide opportunities for all Calgarians."

Companies are now required to do more extensive searches for local and Canadian talent, including longer and broader searches - something Richard Truscott, Alberta regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), says can hamper small business in particular.

"Yes, there is a need to tighten the program for those that attempt to misuse the program ... but in the meantime, what they've done is seriously impaired the ability for small firms to use the program in a legitimate way to find qualified people to work in their business," said Truscott.

The unemployment rate in Calgary is 4.7 per cent, compared to about 7.0 per cent nationally.

"In Alberta, we have the unique challenge that small business are competing against multinational oil and gas and pipeline companies for qualified people," Truscott said, noting firms face urgent demand for labour across all sectors.

A recent CED report notes: "When looking at the same data points, but isolating the Calgary market, it is very clear that painting the whole country with one stroke does not take into account the regional differences or reflect the current situation in Calgary."

The hospitality industry in Alberta, for example, relies heavily on temporary foreign workers. One out of every five full-time employees in the hotel industry across Alberta are temporary foreign workers, according to a survey conducted by the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA).

"There are businesses that wouldn't be able to operate without the component of temporary foreign workers and that would jeopardize jobs for Canadians that are there," said Dave Kaiser, president of AHLA.

Twenty-eight per cent of its members employ foreign workers under the program and 44 per cent plan to hire more within the next two years, he adds, noting there are added costs associated with bringing them in.

"It's not a cheap labour solution," Kaiser said. "It's been an onerous process over the course of time. The rules keep changing."

Moran stresses the importance of sourcing local talent as the key strategy, followed by expanding that nationally. However, when that fails, it's clear the TFWP is essential to providing companies of all sizes and in all sectors with an important pool of workers.