The skilled trade shortage is a national dilemma, one that was preventing Mike Demore from growing his business.
Demore owns Demore Drywall, a Coniston-based business that specializes in residential and commercial construction projects. So, like many employers these days, he looked internationally to fill job positions.
“I already had 20 to 25 very good employees, but we were finding it hard to grow our company, so we looked to immigration to fill that need,” said Demore who worked with the international recruitment and immigration firm IVEY Group and a new pilot program through the City of Greater Sudbury to bring workers to Sudbury.
Yevhenii Kostenko is a carpenter and one of nine international workers Demore has hired over the last few years to fill positions. They come from Columbia, Mexico and Ukraine, where Kostenko hails from.
“Coming to Canada is my life’s dream,” said Kostenko who is originally from a small town outside of Kyiv but was working in Sweden when he saw an opportunity in Sudbury.
“When I signed the contract with Mike, I didn’t know anything about Sudbury, that this city exists. I knew about Toronto, Ottawa and Ontario, but not Sudbury. When I arrived in Sudbury, it was beautiful. I like nature and have travelled around Ontario with my family, but Sudbury is the best.”
Kostenko was working in Sudbury only for a few months when the war broke out in Ukraine, where his family still resided at the time.
“After two months of working, Mike helped me to move my family and I really appreciate it,” he said. Demore worked with IVEY Group to bring Kostenko’s two daughters and wife to Sudbury in May 2022. IVEY donated their time to unite the family and Demore paid for the flights.
However, work permits issued to international workers expire after two years. Demore would have to reapply for another two-year permit or Kostenko would have to go home. But a pilot program rolled out across the country in 2019 is making it easier for those workers, or workers not yet hired, to obtain permanent residency if they are filling a void in the job market.
So, when Kostenko’s work permit was set to expire, he headed down to Tom Davies Square.
11 communities part of program
Sudbury is one of 11 communities across Canada participating in the federally funded Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. Designed to fill labour shortages in the community, it provides the resources and support to match job vacancies with international workers who demonstrate a commitment to reside here for the long term.
If approved, workers can fast-track the path to permanent residency while avoiding the time-consuming Labour Marker Impact Assessment (LMIA) permit process.
The city’s economic development team, in collaboration with the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation, oversees the program. To date, there have been 350 employers across the city trying to fill job vacancies and participating in the program. However, it is more than just filling a permanent job role - these employers become mentors and instrumental in helping candidates settle in the community.
Since the RNIP started in 2020, the city has welcomed 658 candidates, and with spouses and children, that number inflates to 1,316 newcomers.
“We’re getting 10 to 15 new applications every single day,” said Meredith Armstrong, the city’s director of economic development, “and our staff is hard at work, doing the work to bring forward the candidates for the approval of our community selection committee.”
Armstrong said there will be another 515 candidates by the end of 2023, which is likely double that number when families are considered.
Demore said that hiring international workers has allowed his business to take on more and larger projects. It’s ultimately a win-win for the community and youth, he said. Having a larger skilled workforce means his company is in a better position to hire young Canadian workers looking for apprenticeships. That bodes well for Sudbury’s economy and employment rate.
Sudbury’s unemployment rate is below the provincial and national average — in August, Sudbury’s unemployment rate was 4.5.
Need for skilled workers
“Every sector has a need for workforce, but in particular, there’s a focus on skilled trade and health care,” said Armstrong. “But the great thing about the RNIP program is we do have the flexibility to consider the employer and the candidate. There is lots of opportunity in every direction you look at.”
Beyond skilled trades, health care is an industry experiencing a plethora of vacancies, from personal support workers to doctors, nurses and specialists. However, obtaining certifications and credentials required to work in Canada with a foreign education is beyond the scope of the RNIP program, said Armstrong.
RNIP is a pilot program and applications are currently being accepted until the end of Feb. 2024.
Armstrong said the program is “working well for us and we would like to see it in a permanent format.”
RNIP is “one tool in the toolkit” the city is using to grow the community through immigration.
The goal is to increase the population to 200,000 in the next 20 years, with immigration playing a large role in reaching that target. However, even if the sky was the limit in terms of attracting candidates through the RNIP program — Sudbury is capped at accepting 515 candidates this year — housing would be a limiting factor, said Armstrong.
“You can’t talk about economic development initiatives, including immigration, without talking about housing,” said Armstrong.
“We are blessed with a beautiful place to live and an affordable quality of life, but we definitely need to make sure we have inventory of housing, all shapes and sizes and price points, access points.”
To encourage development, city council recently approved an incentive program for multi-residential projects. City staff are also working on a housing strategy.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star