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REGINA, Sask. - Barry Marchand has been dogged by a shortage of heavy-duty mechanics at Frontier Peterbilt in Regina, but you could say he answered some of his problems by moving Downton.Bert Downton ...

PETE PICKS: Barry Marchand (centre) of Frontier Peterbilt found model employees in Stuart Gregory (left) and Bert Downton. (Photo by Pat Rediger)
PETE PICKS: Barry Marchand (centre) of Frontier Peterbilt found model employees in Stuart Gregory (left) and Bert Downton. (Photo by Pat Rediger)

REGINA, Sask. – Barry Marchand has been dogged by a shortage of heavy-duty mechanics at Frontier Peterbilt in Regina, but you could say he answered some of his problems by moving Downton.

Bert Downton is one of two Frontier employees who have been able to take advantage of a two-year pilot project known as the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which fast-tracks immigration paperwork for those filling spaces in industries that face a shortage of skilled workers.

Heavy-duty truck shops fit the bill.

The Business Immigration Programs of the Saskatchewan Economic and Co-operative Develop-ment Initiative is filling the need for skilled workers and entrepreneurs in a number of Saskatchewan businesses and organizations.

Ultimately, it helps expedite immigration processing. Instead of taking about 1-1/2 years to receive permanent resident status, PNP reduces the process to about six months.

“PNP has just been the ultimate,” says Marchand, general manager of the Regina-based Frontier Peterbilt. “When it came into existence, we were the first ones to use it.”

Marchand actually helped urge the government to consider this type of program about 2-1/2 years ago, when he began running short of skilled mechanics. The technical colleges were producing a limited number of graduates, and he had little luck when advertising across Canada.

It was then that he turned to the overseas market and began advertising in the U.K., from which he received 17 applications.

“Then we didn’t know how we were going to interview them. What were we going to do?” he asked. But Peterbilt had an office in England, which agreed to conduct interviews.

Along came Bert Downton.

Downton operated his own service station in England, but it had begun to fall on tough times. He had wanted to visit Canada for more than 20 years and began making a few inquiries about job opportunities. By May 1997 he decided to tour Canada and was interviewed by Marchand. He worked in the shop for about a week, and Marchand was satisfied with his work.

“As soon as I got back I made arrangements to end the business. I didn’t want to rush things, but I had to lay off my staff and sell everything,” Downton says. He and his family packed their furniture and belongings in a 20-foot container and came to Canada to start a new life.

But it was a difficult transition. His three children had to adjust to a new school; he had to put 25 per cent down on his mortgage because he wasn’t eligible for Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) financing; and he had to pay thousands of dollars for the proper paperwork. Since he wasn’t yet a permanent resident, his wife wasn’t eligible to work, so he had to pay all the bills.

Marchand began to worry. He had seen other immigrants leave his company because their spouses couldn’t work, and it put undue stress on their families. He didn’t want to lose a qualified worker.

He began writing politicians and bureaucrats about this problem, suggesting a program that would enable spouses of immigrant heavy-duty mechanics to work. (The approach would be similar to programs that allow the wives of immigrant doctors to work.)

Last September, the provincial government announced PNP. By expediting the process, immigrants could receive their permanent residency quicker, and thus push their spouses into the job market. Downton applied to the program and was soon approved.

His wife found a job the next day.

In the meantime, Marchand is looking further at PNP employees. He recently hired Stuart Gregory, an immigrant from the U.K. who is able to take advantage of the program from the start.

“I’m in the military at the moment and I’ve traveled all over the world,” says Gregory. “We had been out of the United Kingdom for 15 years and seen lots of countries. We came to Canada in April of last year and lived at Wainwright (Alberta). I found Canada to be the friendliest of all the countries I’ve lived.”

The high cost of housing in the U.K. and the stagnating economy convinced Gregory to begin looking for work in Canada. He contacted a placement agency, but was told that it would cost upwards of $10,000 to find him a job and process the paperwork.

It was through the Internet that he found PNP.

Department officials sent him information about the province and job prospects, including one at Frontier Peterbilt. Gregory contacted Marchand and he decided to head to Saskatchewan to see the job first hand.

After discovering Gregory could do the required tasks, Marchand hired him and Gregory applied for PNP, which will only cost him about $3,000 to move his family to Canada – and his wife will be able to immediately start looking for work. That compares to the $20,000 that Downton needed to invest to move.

“PNP has made it totally different for people to come across,” says Downton, who has since become the company’s service manager. He is also in charge of helping immigrants make the transition to Canada for the company.

PNP may also help alleviate the trucking industry’s chronic driver shortage problem. As part of the program, industry associations are encouraged to identify skill shortages and request assistance to recruit immigrants with particular skills.

Currently, drivers are not included in the province’s skills shortage list, so they are not eligible to be part of PNP. The Saskatchewan Trucking Association has approached the department about this program.

Association general manager Jim Friesen refuses to comment on current negotiations because they’re so sensitive.

However, if successful, trucking companies will not only be able to access a new pool of workers, but the provincial government will also assist their recruiting efforts. n

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