Proposed changes to Federal Skilled Worker Program gets nod from Canadian Construction Association

Proposed reforms to make Canada's immigration system faster and more responsive are "bang on", says one national construction association.

In a recent speech to the National Metropolis Conference, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney highlighted recent changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program and spoke of more flexibility within the current points system.

Though the minister did not go into policy details, Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Michael Atkinson said these proposed reforms sound good on the surface.

"Both those statements he made sound encouraging because both those elements, the timeliness and the points system, were often identified by our members as deterrents or disincentives for using the Federal Skilled Worker program to try and get permanent workers in."

Current applicants to the Federal Skilled Worker Program must have experience in one of 29 occupations in demand, or have a job offer in Canada. Atkinson said part of the current problem is the huge backlog for the program.

"It can take years in order to get someone in under the permanent entry skilled worker program. Obviously that's not quick enough in a construction setting," he said, adding that's why so many construction firms use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and provincial nominee programs.

Kenney recognized that the current points system used to assess federal skilled worker applicants needs to be more flexible and intelligent. It should place greater emphasis on the importance of language, he said, while recognizing that the language ability needed to successfully integrate in Canada is different for a doctor as opposed to a welder. It should also place greater emphasis on younger workers with high quality credentials that can be recognized quickly.

Kenney spoke of the growing success of the Canadian Experience Class, which allows certain foreign students and temporary foreign workers to translate their Canadian work and education experience into permanent residence.

"Immigration is playing an increasingly important role in our economy and we need a system that does a better job of attracting the people who have the skills that are in demand and getting them here quickly," he said.

The provincial and territorial nominee programs have played a role in spreading the benefits of immigration across the country and addressing long-term regional labour needs, said Kenney.

Ontario also recently announced that it is developing its first immigration strategy. A new expert roundtable, led by Julia Deans, past CEO of Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, will help develop the strategy and examine ways that immigration can best support Ontario's economic development.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was recently in Dublin on a labour recruitment mission to help fill the ranks of the province's skilled workforce.

Atkinson expects the CCA to be extensively consulted as the proposed changes and developments move forward as the construction industry employs more than 1.2 million Canadians.

"Given our needs in the future and given the fact that Canada's conomic growth is so dependent upon the kinds of infrastructure that we can provide to the resource based industries in Canada," he said, pointing to commodities like oil and gas, mining, metals and potash.

Projections currently indicate that the Canadian construction industry will experience a shortfall of 325,000 workers by 2019.

At the same time, demand for construction services in Canada is expected to continue increasing throughout the decade, elevating Canada's construction market to fifth-largest in the world.

While domestic efforts to increase skilled worker training in Canada is equally important, Canada's domestic population growth will not be able to singularly address industry needs, says the CCA.

Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Wed Mar 14 2012

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