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Canada hunts for trades people in Europe

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Construction industry leaders from British Columbia (B.C.), Canada are hoping that skilled trades workers from Europe can help solve the province's skilled labour shortage.

Next month, Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) president Keith Sashaw will travel to Europe to promote B.C. construction-job opportunities Germany, England and Scotland. He hopes to recruit journeymen-level employees who can help meet increasing demand for workers on Olympic, major infrastructure and other projects.

European employees would then be hired in conjunction with the provincial nominee program, which allows provinces to expedite an immigrant's work permit and landed immigrant applications.

An immigrant with a confirmed job offer will receive faster processing of a permanent-residence visa application through Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The employer must make the application on behalf of the employee.

The Construction Sector Council (CSC), a national organization funded by industry and government that aims to increase Canada's skilled construction workforce, estimates B.C. will face a 50-percent increase in demand for skilled trades workers by 2013. That means the province will require 60,000 new workers.

Driving the demand is Canada's aging population, increased demand for technological skills and a strong construction market. Several construction projects are ramping up this year and next as B.C. prepares to complete several major projects in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Sashaw's aim is to increase awareness of B.C. construction job opportunities on a global basis. He will act as a facilitator between companies and prospective employees at five career fairs, distributing information about each firm to potential recruits. Companies will then interview and screen employees, and assist in immigration processing. Companies who don't attend will still be able to have materials distributed at the career fairs free of charge.

The CSC and other construction industry groups have identified immigrants, women and Aboriginals as potential sources of skilled-labour supply.

But the national group warns language barriers, concerns surrounding the recognition of credentials and a lack of Canadian-based training make immigrants a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.

However, Sashaw and other B.C. industry leaders say recognition of the European credentials should not be a problem, because British and German training standards are among the highest in the world and most of B.C.'s trades do not require certification.

The Calgary-based Canada West Foundation, a think tank which makes recommendations on government policy, has called for more use of provincial nominee programs to help fill skill shortages.

Vancouver-area construction industry leaders welcomed the VRCA's recruiting mission.

"We've got to do everything we can to increase the pool of skilled labour here," says Peter Simpson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association. "If it means going to Europe to recruit the workers with skilled crafts, that's a good idea. We have to look at all the options."