Immigration program to support local employers looking for labour: EDO

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More workers could be drawn to Whitecourt after the provincial government approved the town as a designated community under the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP).

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The AAIP is looking to attract immigrants, but Whitecourt’s economic development officer, Rhonda Hough, said the town still supports the local workforce.

“It’s not to replace local employment or employees,” Hough told the Whitecourt Star.

“(Companies) need to demonstrate how they have tried to fill positions with our local workforce; it is designed to support businesses and increase workforce development.

From extensive visits to businesses, Hough said city staff learned that local employers were struggling to find workers.

“Our service sector was struggling to fill vacancies, and some skilled trades had vacancies for some time,” she said.

“This program has been an opportunity to address those workforce development needs and support businesses.”

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Hough said another benefit of the program is that many immigrants are drawn to big cities, and the AAIP allows some to be drawn to Alberta’s smaller communities.

Whitecourt Council had voted in April to apply for the rural renewal stream of the AAIP, which nominates job seekers for permanent residency in Alberta.

Hough told the board at the time that three companies were on board with the idea, having hard-to-fill positions.

These companies had been trying for years, facing challenges beyond COVID, Hough told the board in April.

The city announced in August that it had been granted designated community status.

“This is a great economic opportunity for our community,” Mayor Tom Pickard said in the city’s statement.

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“Being part of this program will not only bring highly skilled people to our community, but it will also bring new businesses and services that will contribute to our growing economy.

City, partners plan program, consider local job seekers

According to the town, the Whitecourt economic development team will work with local businesses and industry to attract newcomers and help them relocate to Whitecourt.

Under the program, Hough said newcomers would apply to the government for permanent residency and need a job offer before approaching the city administration.

The city’s role at this point would be to offer an endorsement letter confirming that staff know the employer and that the company has a position available, she said.

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Then, when the newcomers arrive, Hough said the city will provide them with support, including making sure there is housing available and their transition into the community is smooth.

The city can provide listings of what’s available for rent, and the city can also be a liaison for resources available to everyone, Hough added.

Because the city supports its local workforce, Hough said, when the city learns of job vacancies, it can also refer employers to locals who need jobs.

The city knows local job seekers through its contacts, including with Alberta Works, and through job fairs and career expos, she said.

“This program (AAIP) is a great tool, but we also have lots of other tools to support workforce development locally,” Hough said.

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Employers can contact the city, job seekers can benefit from a quality of life

Hough told the board in April that if the city applied for the AAIP, it would be ranked among other applicants on a point system.

She told the Star Whitecourt’s strengths in the application process last week included a good quality of life and employers willing to participate in the AAIP.

For her application, the city also had to develop a work plan for how the program would be implemented in Whitecourt, she added.

Now that Whitecourt is approved, Hough said companies interested in participating can join at any time.

Over the past week, she said the city has already received many applications from employers and job seekers interested in the program.

Employers can email economicdevelopment@whitecourt.ca or call and meet with her, she says.

Hough said she can review the program with employers to confirm their eligibility to join.

While the program can benefit all types of businesses, Hough said for the skilled trades, job seekers must have the proper training.

Hough noted that some employment opportunities under the program are already listed at whitecourt.ca under its Business Support Services section.

bquarin@postmedia.com

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