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Foreign-trained workers support Saskatchewan manufacturing growth, job creation

Published by CME Staff on April 23, 2014

By Derek Lothian, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council, CME

Saskatchewan manufacturers prefer to hire Saskatchewanians first. Not only is it a shared social obligation, it simply makes good business sense — with reduced training times, mitigated financial risk, and more predictable long-term employment outcomes.

Where that fails, Saskatchewan manufacturers prefer to hire staff from other regions of Canada.

The reality, however, is that internationally-trained workers — sourced from both the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program and the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program — remain an essential element of the province's workforce strategy.

In 2013 alone, Saskatchewan manufacturers lost an estimated $1 billion in sales due directly to skills and labour shortfalls, equivalent to roughly 6.6 per cent of total production output. That's a $3.15 billion hit to the provincial economy, because employers couldn't find the right people to meet the demand for their products (despite manufacturers paying wages more than 11 per cent higher than the average for all industries).

There are several reasons why these pressures are felt so acutely in Saskatchewan's manufacturing sector.

Take, for example, location. Industry does not stop at the city limits of Regina or Saskatoon. In fact, manufacturing powers small, rural communities right across this province — in some cases, comprising half of a given town's total population. But these businesses are often far off the beaten path (several hours from the nearest major centre), and attracting skilled workers accustomed to more urban lifestyles can prove to be a daunting task at best.

And then there's the pull from Saskatchewan's thriving resource sector to contend with. Despite what may be picked up most frequently by the news cycle, jobs filled by foreign-trained workers are typically high-paying, high-skilled and amongst the most in-demand across a broad spectrum of industries. Sometimes, the only way to fill these positions is by looking abroad.

Very few will argue that Saskatchewan must do a better job developing its workforce from within. It's a necessity. Yet, even fewer will argue that's an easy task. The challenges are complex and wide-ranging. There is no silver bullet or overnight solution.

That's why we must put aside politics and ideology, and focus instead on policies that improve, not punish, employers' use of foreign-trained workers.

Make no mistake: These systems should and must be refined, to instill both a greater level of accountability and a greater level of consistency. Permanent immigration must also become much more responsive to markets like Saskatchewan with the most prevalent economic need.

But, as the old saying goes, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

The overwhelming majority of manufacturers leverage these critical programs responsibly and respectfully to the communities in which they operate. It is this common sense approach that allows them to make investments, drive our economy, and create well paying jobs for all Saskatchewan residents.

Established in January 2013, the Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council is a CME-led initiative comprised of more than 40 leading industry executives, who have come together to speak with one voice on priority issues impacting the province's manufacturing and exporting sectors.

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