Vernon looks to immigration to fill skilled labour shortage - InfoNews

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Vernon looks to immigration to fill skilled labour shortage

FILE PHOTO: Welcome to Vernon sign.
June 19, 2019 - 3:00 PM

VERNON - The North Okanagan is set to see 100 new skilled immigrants arrive next year as part of a federal government program focussing on regions facing a labour shortage.

The pilot program aims to address a shortage of skilled labour, caused by an ageing population and declining birth rate.

"It's going to help as one more avenue to fill these positions that are being left by skilled existing staff," Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming told "It's one more small way of impacting this skilled labour shortage."

The City of Vernon was one of 11 communities across the country selected by the federal government after applying to be part of the program.

Cumming said the pilot program is set to run for three years and match existing immigration applications with skilled jobs in the region. It's estimated 100 skilled migrants will arrive in 2020.

The mayor said the Thompson-Okanagan is set to have 70,000 vacancies open up in the next nine years due to a retiring workforce. Another 20,000 vacancies are set to be created due to economic growth.

A survey conducted by the City of Vernon earlier this year found 20 per cent of downtown businesses that responded said finding staff was their biggest challenge. Another study released in February found that 78 per cent of Interior construction firms couldn't find the workers they needed.

The findings fit with figures from Statistics Canada from 2014, which found that almost 50 per cent of small businesses owners were between 50 and 64 years old and soon to retire.

Cumming said unlike the temporary foreign workers' program, this pilot scheme focussed on skilled staff. Newcomers also have employment lined up before arriving.

In a city with a severe lack of housing, he said a recent spike in construction should ease the issue of affordable housing. He said the city is set to have around 500 new units come on stream over the next 18 months.

"We're really pleased that the private sector is stepping up with purpose built rental and obtainable townhouses and (housing) in that price range," Cumming said.

He said the regions ability to fill skilled vacancies was a "huge concern" and the consequences would be felt.

"It shows up in the oddest places, suddenly your local small engine repair person can only repair your small engine in three months because the other small engine repair went out of business because he couldn't find anyone to replace him," Cumming said, adding he personally knew of businesses that had closed because of this issue.

The City also signed up to be apart of the Entrepreneur Immigration pilot earlier this year.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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