Bridging the labour gap
October 31, 2011
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Canada’s foodservice industry is starting to feel the labour crunch that
industry leaders have been warning about. Even with talk of a
double-dip recession, employers are seeing little to no response to job
postings, leaving them short-staffed and eager for a solution.
|The Temporary Foreign Worker program is a valuable tool for business owners who are unable to find Canadian workers to fill open positions.
Canada’s foodservice industry is starting to feel the labour crunch that industry leaders have been warning about. Even with talk of a double-dip recession, employers are seeing little to no response to job postings, leaving them short-staffed and eager for a solution.
The Canadian government’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is proving to be a valuable option for business owners who are unable to find Canadian workers to fill open positions. Gerard Curran, proprietor of the James Joyce Irish Pub in Calgary and past chairman of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), turned to the TFW program when resumés dried up.
“We were at the point where it was so stressful with no workers in the kitchen, so we had to jump into the program. It’s been fantastic; the program has worked really well for us,” he says.
Recruiting a temporary foreign worker is an extensive process that can be difficult for employers to undertake on their own. Agencies specializing in the recruitment of foreign workers can simplify the lengthy procedure, guiding both the employer and the worker through the various stages. A good recruiter will interview and screen qualified foreign workers to find the best match possible for the specific job that you are seeking to fill, as well as assisting with the necessary paperwork. The CRFA has approved two reputable foreign recruiters, Diamond Global Recruitment Group and Mercan Recruit, to help its members through the application process and beyond. Further information can be obtained on CRFA’s website, along with a labour shortage toolkit for CRFA members.
Garth Whyte, president and CEO of CRFA, says a good recruiter is integral to navigating the TFW program and ensuring compliance with the rules. “You really do need some support and advice to get through the labyrinth of problems. Pay strict attention to the Labour Market Opinion to ensure compliance, because if an employer is declared non-compliant, their name is posted on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website and they can be banned from the TFW program for a two-year period. If the recruiter you have breaks a rule, the employer can also be deemed non-compliant and banned from the program, so you have to follow the rules. There’s no quick fix; this is a long process that can take up to six months of planning just to get in through the process.”
The TFW program is usually a four-step process; the need to complete each step is dependent on the specifics of the job offer. The first step is determining if you require a Labour Market Opinion (LMO), which is provided by Service Canada to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). The LMO assesses the expected impact that hiring the foreign worker may have on the Canadian labour market, resulting in either a positive or negative opinion.
If you do require an LMO, which is usually the case, the second step is to complete the LMO application and submit it to Service Canada. If you receive a positive LMO, you can proceed to the third step, which is advising the foreign worker to complete and submit a work permit application to CIC. The fourth and final phase of the process happens at a port of entry, where a Border Services officer issues the work permit.
The work permit is valid for one year; however, if the employer wishes to extend the foreign worker’s employment, they can either extend the original LMO or apply for a new opinion, depending on the occupation. In either case, the paperwork should be done four months prior to the expiry of the original LMO.
Once the foreign worker is in Canada, it’s important for the business owner to provide a strong support network to help the worker integrate into their new surroundings. Curran has recruited 15 workers through the TFW program and says it’s vital to make their transition into Canadian society as smooth and easy as possible. “We bought them a house and got them Internet, a phone and bus passes. Our foreign workers are from the Philippines and many of them are Catholic-based, so we got them into the Catholic Church and onto the choir,” he says.
Curran explains that as these employees ease into their new roles, many will transition out of the house and into their own apartments, making room for new foreign workers who need the support when they first arrive in Canada.
Comprehensive training is also a must when a foreign worker arrives. “You have to teach them how to understand what’s going on in your industry. You have to teach them about your menu and safety courses, because we have certain standards within the industry that have to be followed,” he notes.
By having previously trained foreign workers act as mentors for new foreign workers entering the business, Curran finds that the training is more effective. “We have a six-week training session for all of our foreign workers. When you train them and treat them well, you get so much back from them,” he says.
Curran also encourages his foreign workers to return to their countries of origin for holidays and vacations to see their families. A trip home is a great way to boost employee morale, especially if they’re homesick.
Communication between the employer, foreign workers and the other employees is vital as well. By communicating on a regular basis, employers can quickly sort out any issues that may arise, from employee disagreements to mistreatment by managers. Curran advises that you must have an open-door policy to ensure that everyone, including your Canadian employees, is aware of why the foreign workers are needed and the asset that they are providing to the business.
Curran has seen the benefits of the TFW program first hand in both the front-of-the-house and the kitchen of his Calgary pub. With no resumés coming in, he is currently waiting for another LMO so that he can recruit an additional foreign worker to his business.
Meanwhile, CRFA is continuing to push the Canadian government for changes to the TFW program in an effort to decrease the red tape that is costing employers valuable time and money. The main objectives are increasing the foreign worker’s stay from one to two years, reinstating electronic LMO applications and allowing the foreign worker to become a permanent resident if the employer wishes to make their job long-term.
The TFW program has already proven to be essential for some business owners in the foodservice industry and with the looming labour shortage now at our doorstep, many more employers will need to rely on this program in the near future to stave off staff shortages and maintain the high level of service that their customers expect.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and regular contributor to Bakers Journal and Canadian Pizza magazine.
For more information on the TFW program, surf to www.restaurantcentral.ca and click on the staffing tab. Or, visit http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/tfw-guide.asp for government information.
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