BANFF, Alta. – Alberta is facing a crisis. With more than $107 billion in projects in the works over the next seven years, there simply aren’t enough workers to get the jobs done.
That’s why the province is making it easier to attract skilled workers from abroad through its Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and Larry Pana of Alberta Economic Development is urging trucking companies to take advantage of the opportunity.
Pana spoke to a roomful of trucking managers at the recent Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) management conference in Banff, Alta. to provide details of the program which also exists in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (see the April issue of Truck West for a story about Saskatchewan’s program).
Alberta’s PNP has been introduced to bypass the onerous immigration process that traditionally ran through Ottawa.
Pana said there are currently about 600,000 applicants waiting to become permanent residents of Canada by taking the traditional route. It would take between two and seven years to get a prospective driver through the process if it wasn’t for the provincial program, which expedites the process and allows a driver to begin working in the province in just two to four months.
Employers have eight months to evaluate their foreign drivers before deciding whether or not they want to keep them on and help them obtain permanent residency.
In order to take part, carriers have to demonstrate they’ve done everything they could to fill their positions within their own jurisdiction.
Having done so, carriers are free to begin recruiting from abroad. Once an individual has agreed to hop the pond and drive truck in Canada, employers can then file an application with the PNP. Pana said British drivers in particular are ripe for the picking. In the UK, drivers have recently had their allowable weekly working hours reduced substantially with no increase in pay.
They also face challenging working conditions including traffic gridlock that makes it difficult to earn a buck.
“The Brits want to get out and all kinds of push factors are driving them,” Pana said.
When the details have been taken care of, the employer must pay for a return flight for the driver and his family.
The key to success is making them feel at home when they arrive here, Pana said.
“Pick them up at the airport and provide them with a temporary residence,” he suggested.
“Then, if you want to retain that individual you have to integrate them into the community. Retention is very important and we have to work harder as employers to retain these people.”
Tom Kenny, general manager of Westcan Bulk Transport, has taken part in the program and has several European drivers working with his fleet “and a lot more coming.”
He couldn’t be happier with how the new drivers are fitting in.
“These are damn good drivers and good people,” he said. “They’re not people you have to worry about a whole lot.”
Still, he warned fellow carriers that while the program circumvents much of the red tape involved with traditional immigration procedures, it’s no walk in the park.
“This is not for the feint of heart,” he admitted, adding it takes two to three staff members just to handle the administrative duties.
“It’s a big job and don’t think it’s going to solve your problems tomorrow.”
Process isn’t cheap
There are also fees involved – to the tune of about $3,000 when applying for permanent residency for the driver.
In total, it could cost $10,000 or more per driver, but it’s a price Westcan is willing to pay.
“I have four boys but that’s not enough to fill our trucks,” he said.
So far, he said there’s been no resistance from the company’s other drivers.
Kenny said they are enjoying a better quality of life now that they are getting more home time when wanted.
Pana said the program isn’t going anywhere in the near future and urged carriers who are having trouble finding quality drivers to explore it further.