Chatham-Kent looking to bring skilled immigrant workers to town under new pilot program

Chatham-Kent is going to try something new to find skilled workers as part of a provincial pilot project which helps foreign workers become permanent residents. 

The two year pilot project, announced Thursday, will bring 150 skilled workers to three rural communities: Chatham-Kent, Belleville and Cornwall, Ont. 

"A lot of work has gone in over the past year to get us to this point," said April Rietdyk, general manager of community and human services for Chatham-Kent. "A lot of work with the municipality, with the education sector, with our settlement services. It's a great community effort."

According to Rietdyk, Chatham-Kent has a labour shortage — they're at full employment, but with jobs available. 

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"Part of being able to fill those jobs is the need for skilled workers," said Rietdyk. "This is a great opportunity to bring immigrants into Chatham-Kent and work with employers."

The program — called a Regional Immigration Pilot —matches skilled immigrants to employers in rural communities. It will run from January 2020 to December 2022, bringing 50 individuals to each of the three locations. Part of Chatham-Kent's involvement will also be to assist the provincial government in looking at pathways to expand the program elsewhere.

Rietdyk said the pilot program will also show immigrants from around the world what a great place Chatham-Kent is to live and work.

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Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington said the region has done a great job building services to welcome newcomers.

"New people joining our communities will help our businesses grow and add to the local economy," said Nicholls. 

In September 2018 Chatham-Kent was vocal about welcoming asylum seekers to the community and was officially designated as the first welcoming community in Canada during that time. 

"For a community our size, where we're a tiny rural community, we have over 60 different languages being spoken in Chatham-Kent," said Rietdyk. "We're very multicultural. Bringing immigrants and refugees to our community is part of that."

Bringing in skilled workers is also part of Chatham-Kent's 2035 vision of economic prosperity.