West Kootenays Businesses Find Labour Solutions through Rural & Northern Immigration Pilot

From left to right: Erin Rooney, Regional Coordinator, West Kootenay RNIP; Mom Gurung, Chef de Partie at Nelson’s La Cantina del Centro restaurant; Kris Sadang, Junior Sous-Chef; Zoe Essex-Hartis, Head Chef, and Operations Manager Alex Beadoin.

While the COVID-19 pandemic affected businesses across Canada by intensifying the shortage of skilled workers, Nelson restaurant La Cantina del Centro was fortunate to employ a head chef and two cooks who were in Canada on temporary work permits.  Night Owl Hospitality, which owns La Cantina and other restaurants in Nelson and the Okanagan, faced losing these vital employees if they could not get Permanent Residency (PR) status after their initial six months in the country.

 “The ability to keep these employees we had invested in took pressure off our staff who were working overtime to fill in the gaps,” says Operations Manager Alex Beaudoin.  “It enabled us to maintain our high standards for our food and employee culture.” The RNIP is a community-led immigration program designed to support the path to permanent residency for skilled foreign workers through permanent work opportunities while also helping fill job vacancies for employers. Community Futures Central Kootenay (CFCK) was one of 11 communities across Canada and one of 2 in BC selected to deliver the RNIP when the pilot launched in 2020. Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, Rossland and surrounding areas created a partnership between municipalities, economic development agencies, non-profit partners and employers in the region to deliver the West Kootenay RNIP.

Multiple Benefits to Individuals and Communities

The lives of many residents in the region have been changed forever through the West Kootenay RNIP. To date, over 142 employers have been assisted in recruiting 300 employees to achieve Permanent Residency, including chefs and other hospitality workers, health care aides, carpenters, early childcare educators, accountants and truck drivers. Night Owl Hospitality is among a number of employers who have used the RNIP to support multiple candidates. The program has also supported 210 spouses and children who often go on to fill other jobs in their community and invest in local businesses.

ETSI-BC Supports Project Extension

The pilot was initially funded by the Government of Canada and Province of British Columbia as well as Community Futures Pan West Network Inc. An ageing workforce and other economic factors indicate the demand for skilled workers in the Kootenays is expected to be an ongoing challenge. CFCK applied for supplemental funding from ETSI-BC to maintain full-time delivery of the program to maximize employer participation and the number of workers they can recruit and retain for the regions.

The West Kootenay RNIP was a good fit for ETSI-BC funding, as labour shortages are among the key issues facing businesses in the Trust’s service area. The project also contributes to ETSI-BC’s funding priorities of projects that build economic capacity, support labour market growth, develop human capital, and promote regional collaboration.

The funding enabled CFCK to hire a part-time assistant to help RNIP Coordinator Erin Rooney with employer outreach and support, conduct candidate interviews and liaise with project partners. In 2021, the geographic boundaries were also increased to include Yahin the east, Rock Creek in the west, and Nakusp and Kaslo in the north.

“The support from ETSI-BC has enabled us maintain the momentum of this much-in-demand program,” says Rooney.  “The feedback from employers has been overwhelmingly positive and we are well on our way to meeting our 2023 target of supporting more than 100 employers in the region.”

For Head Chef and new Permanent Resident Zoe Essex-Hartas who immigrated from New Zealand, the opportunity for secure full-time work at La Cantina del Centro has been a game-changer for her and her partner who also achieved his PR.  “As soon as we arrived in Nelson to work at what we love, we knew this was the place for us,” she says.

More News & Stories