Skilled Trade Workers Fall Through the Cracks
Daniel* was born and raised in Northern Ireland, he speaks English fluently, he is in his twenties, and he is a formally trained experienced carpenter. For the past year and a half he has been legally employed in Canada in his field. He has also established a home and a network of friends and family. So, he wants to stay. Unfortunately, he will likely have to leave Canada and all that he has established.
He was admitted to Canada on a work holiday visa. These visas essentially allow young working age foreigners to visit and work for 1 – 2 year periods. Canada grants certain countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland a set number of these visas. Citizens who meet basic minimal requirements can apply for these visas.
In 2012, Canadian employers and the then minister responsible for immigration visited Ireland to sell Canada as the best place to visit, work, and settle in. The minister even appeared on their “Late Late Show” to talk about how Canada was suffering from a labour shortage. The goal was to double the number of work holiday visas for the Irish to 10,000. He assured the audience that “…if the (Irish visa holders) get a decent job, a skilled job for at least one year they will then have an option to stay permanently with permanent residency …” and they could, ”…choose eventually to stay if they think there’s a long term opportunity …”.
Sounds good, right? But here’s the fine print not mentioned.
Those easy-to-obtain work holiday visas are temporary and not renewable. There is no transition program that allows temporary workers to become permanent residents.
Applicants trying to become permanent residents without being sponsored by a family member must acquire points. Those with the highest points get in. Points are awarded for age, foreign work experience, Canadian work experience, English or French skill, education, and other such factors.
Much to the surprise of Daniel* and other work holiday visa holders, their 1-2 years spent here counts for very little. How?
Most newcomers take at least a month to find a job in their field. At best, work holiday visa holders will likely acquire no more than 1 full year of Canadian work experience.
Applicants for permanent residence only receive 43 points for 1 year, 53 points for 2 years, and a maximum of 80 points for 5 years of Canadian work experience. This is out of a possible 1200 points. While the Canadian government made changes that now allow for some additional points to be awarded for Canadian work experience combined with education and Canadian work experience combined with foreign work experience, the maximum number of additional points awarded remains low, topping out at an additional 100 points.
More importantly, most skilled trade workers will not receive any points for their vocational education.
Points for education are only awarded if an applicant’s credentials are assessed by a private government approved organization. Oddly, these private organizations are not equipped to assess education programs that skilled trade workers undergo such as apprenticeships and vocational training. One response an applicant received was “…we are unable to complete an assessment for your Cskills Awards Level 2 and 3 because (we do) not evaluate trades training or vocational/professional training.” This means many skilled trade workers will not receive points for their vocational training even though it is the commonly recognized training for these skills.
Another challenge skilled trade workers face are the required government approved language assessments. While many skilled trade workers are fully capable of communicating in English to get their work done, they do not excel at standardized English tests. In fact, even applicants with doctorates have difficulty acing these standardized tests. This again means fewer points for the skilled trade workers.
In sum, these challenges mean that many temporary skilled trade workers fall between the cracks of the programs that allow them to become permanent residents of Canada despite the fact that we desperately need them.
Why do we need them?
Because Canada does not have the manpower it needs. In the 2016 census, the number of retirees outpaced the labour workforce (15 – 65 years old). Add to that the shrinking fertility rate. The average age of a woman giving birth is trending higher and currently sits at 30.2 years which is substantively older than mothers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Add to that, the fact that today’s mothers’ are having only 1-2 children, far fewer than their ancestors.
Also according to Manpower Group, a leading international staffing company, for seven consecutive years skilled trade jobs have been the most difficult to fill in Canada and this has been the case world-wide for five consecutive years. More than ever, Canada clearly needs these skilled trade workers.
What can Canada do?
To keep this valuable group of skilled trade workers, Canada needs to either award more points to those who have secured jobs in their trades, recognize that standardized English assessments should not be the only way to assess literacy, recognize the vocational training so vital to skilled trade work, or create a separate transition program that helps temporary workers become permanent residents.
Canada rightfully encouraged Daniel* and other skilled trade workers to experience Canada and share their skills through work holiday visas. They have proven their alignment with Canadian values and goals, so why are we not trying to keep them here?
By failing to attract and retain these skilled trade workers, Canada risks losing a work force within its grasp and jeopardizing its future.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the subject