By IAN ROSS
The shortage of experienced engineers is not just a Canadian problem, it's a worldwide problem.
It's a job-rich but candidate deficient market for mining, electrical and mechanical engineers with heavy industry experience.
Louise Bergeron, director of executive recruitment at Levert Personnel Resources says there's a "desperate" need for engineers across the region.
Her Sudbury-based recruiting and staffing firm serves mining, industrial supply and construction clients in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec.
"Most companies have more work than bodies," said Bergeron.
One of her Sudbury engineering clients has 40 positions to fill.
Levert sources professionals worldwide -- China, India, United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, Australia, Sweden and Romania -- with many of them inquiring through job websites like Workopolis.
These days, it's a job hunter's market with some engineers only committing to short-term contracts or project work.
"They don't have to commit, because the world is open for them," said Bergeron. "They've got a very solid hand to play with."
There's heavy demand by the major miners and consulting engineer firms for prime candidates with seven to 15 years experience, but they're tough to find.
In Northern Ontario, engineering grads, depending on discipline, can start anywhere between $40,000 and $60,000. Starting salaries for more experienced people can be between $75,000 to $80,000 and upwards.
But besides the frenzy of mining-related activity, there's spinoff industrial projects work with service and supply companies doubling their square-footage.
"There's such an appetite for project work, production and planning," said Bergeron. "If there's community growth because of mining, there's a domino effect to everything."
There's a plethora of industrial construction work in the North and especially a need for engineers with high-tech skills because of the need for more efficient, automated processes.
She conceded the lack of qualified and experienced talent is hampering economic growth in the region.
Some partners at short-staffed engineering firms are involved in both day-to-day business operations plus project work.
"You can't sustain that without it having an impact on timing of projects. Companies are saying no to new work," says Bergeron.
Many internationally-education professionals want to work in Canada because of its living conditions and good health and safety environment. But it's a tough sell to convince some to leave the ethnic diversity and amenities of southern Ontario.
For some foreign-trained immigrants, it's a culture shock to work in a small Northern Ontario town with few social supports.
Bergeron says she recently attempting to recruit a Chinese-trained municipal engineer for a six-figure position in a Sault Ste. Marie firm. One of the deal-breakers was his wife's refusal to leave her established social network in Toronto.
Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) doesn't like the idea of qualified foreign-trained professionals driving taxi cabs or delivering pizzas to survive while they search for meaningful work.
The licence-granting body assesses the credentials of foreign-trained graduates for the industry. The organization has made it their mission to remove all the red tape and licensing barriers to place people in jobs.
In many ways, the PEO is miles ahead of other licensing bodies because of the huge industry demand for engineers. The PEO and their national body -- Engineers Canada -- felt compelled to respond.
"Of any of the regulators, we've been doing the most to recognize that whole changing tide," says Kim Allen, CEO of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO).
In 2007, more than half the professionals the PEO licensed were internationally trained. In the last five years, 70 per cent of their applicants for licensing have come from aboard including China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan, following the normal migrations pattern to Canada.
Of Ontario's 70,000 licensed engineers, 35 per cent have been educated abroad.
"There's more people immigrating into Ontario with engineering school (credentials) than those who graduate from Ontario engineering schools.
The PEO has licensed professionals from 1,600 foreign educational institutions through international agreements like the Washington Accord which cover competency standards for engineers.
As well, the PEO conducts individual interviews to determine if applicants have any gaps or deficiencies in their education that require upgrading.
The organization works with Ryerson University on a government-sponsored bridging program to help foreign-trained engineers get the information and technical skills upgrades they need before entering the workforce.
In Ontario, foreign-trained professionals can get their credentials assessed within six to eight weeks and they can be fully licensed within six to 12 months.
"Our preferred method is to have people apply and have their credentials assessed before they emigrate," said Allen.
Allen said their national affiliate, Engineers Canada, is doing a labour market study to identify job opportunities geographically and provide foreign-trained engineers with the information to make an informed decision where to find work.