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Labour Shortage Addressed by North Okanagan Immigration Pilot Project

In this time of unprecedented labour shortages, 11 rural communities in Canada, including the North Okanagan, have been participating in an immigration pilot project that is demonstrating a solution to filling the job gap. The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is a community-led immigration program designed to bring skilled permanent residents to rural communities by matching them with employers grappling with job vacancies. Community Futures of North Okanagan (CFNO), through a partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is delivering the program in the region with funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

Vernon is the largest city in the North Okanagan Regional District. Growth and demographic changes in the Vernon area made it a good candidate to deliver the Pilot. Recent data indicates over 90,000 job openings will exist in the Thompson-Okanagan region by 2028, due to retirement and economic growth. To support the North Okanagan in filling labour gaps and remaining competitive, CFNO successfully applied to be one of the communities delivering the program.

CFNO partners in the program with the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and various local community organizations. All the groups work together in consultation with employers, municipalities, provincial/federal departments, and settlement services providers in the delivery of this rural workforce development initiative.

ETSI-BC Supports Communications Efforts

The Pilot also aligns with many strategic priorities of ETSI-BC, including economic sustainability of small communities, job creation, job preservation or enhancement, economic diversification, and community collaboration. To further assist in the project`s success, ETSI-BC provided a $25,000 grant to fund the development of an online platform that connects regional employers who have permanent full-time job vacancies with interested skilled immigrants, as well as the creation of a digital marketing plan for the program. Communication is key in initiatives like this one, and the website that ETSI-BC helped fund plays an important role in the project`s success.

In Vernon, both employers and immigrant workers must apply to participate through the new website and demonstrate that they meet qualification requirements. “Already, 115 new immigrants to the North Okanagan have been recommended for positions in sectors such as manufacturing, health care, tourism and the trades,” says CFNO Executive Director, Leigha Horsfield. By December 2022, the target is to recommend 300 applicants who can apply for permanent residency after participating in this project.

New Immigrant Residents Contribute to Economic Growth

In addition to filling labour market needs, the Pilot helps new immigrants deal with the challenges of settling into a new community. Collaboration and partnering with immigrant settlement service providers have established a “new pathway to permanent residence” for skilled immigrant workers by creating a welcoming environment that attracts, integrates, and retains newcomers. New residents and their families contribute to economic growth by paying taxes and buying goods, housing, education, and services in the community.

Successful employers are required to provide a living wage which equates to $40,000 a year. With the initial 115 placement already made, salaries of $4,600,000 a year are being injected into the local economy, plus the benefit that those employees generate for the businesses they work for.

Justin Sharma, the owner of City Furniture and Appliances in Vernon, hired skilled immigrant workers, Alexander Schoepp from Germany, and Manpreet Singh Sidhu from India. “The RNIP program is about finding experienced candidates who can apply their expertise in helping a business operate and grow,” says Sharma.

“This Pilot is a strong pipeline to bridge the job gap in our region,” says Horsfield. “Contributions such as the funding from ETSI-BC have been key to the Pilot`s success and creating a framework for long-term solutions to labour market challenges.”

CFNO has created two videos to tell more stories about the RNIP program.   Hear about the success of the program by clicking on the links to Interior Homecare Solutions and SilverStar Resort located in the North Okanagan.

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