By IAN ROSS
Dan Newell grew up in a mining town. He knows how skilled immigrant labour grew Northern Ontario.
The Copper Cliff (in Greater Sudbury) native vividly remembers how Italian, Finnish and Polish miners and their families shaped Sudbury’s nickel basin in building its mines, smelters, community halls and small businesses, as well as spending their earnings in the community.
“We need to fill up our inventory again,” says the international staffing consultant at Levert Personnel Resources.
He is spearheading a campaign to bring ex-Northerners home and attract skilled immigrant labour to the region.
Newell says it is no secret other provinces and Canadian resource companies will scour the world for tradespeople and labour, with Ottawa’s consent, on a full-time or temporary basis, to fill positions such as transport drivers, carpenters, heavy-duty equipment operators, millwrights and welders.
Now it’s time for Northern Ontario to get its fair share, he says. Newell is determined to find a solution that is industry-driven and void of government red tape.
Newell has been searching for answers to the labour market shortage since being assigned the task last year by his boss, Richard Levert.
“Even if every (post-secondary) school were to graduate skilled tradespeople in the next five years, the shortfall would still be incredible.”
With Sudbury’s aging workforce alone, he estimates in excess of 5,000 replacement workers will be needed in the next 30 months.
He is developing a grassroots concept and forming a team to bring industry, colleges, universities, municipalities and cultural groups to the table to market Northern
Ontario as a place in dire need of skilled tradespeople that offers a great lifestyle and an affordable place to raise a family.
He wants to start lobbying politicians for marketing dollars and to encourage Ottawa to fast-track immigration procedures to allow skilled immigrants to be processed faster to enter the workforce.
There also needs to be a co-ordinated effort with education centres and the multi-cultural community to make newcomers’ transition easier.
In the last six months, Newell has been generating support for his idea among northeastern Ontario mayors, including Greater Sudbury Mayor David Courtemanche, and post-secondary institutions, including Collège Boréal, Laurentian University and Cambrian College.
A boom to replace the bust Newell says an influx of immigrant labour can create an economic boom in the North.
A 2003 University of Guelph study found recent immigrants to British Columbia, who settle in smaller communities like Nanaimo or Prince George, earn more than those in Greater Vancouver.
Newell says Ottawa’s existing immigration policy of processing foreign skilled labour is “too slow” and bureaucratic.
“The federal government needs to open the doors for immigrants with skills to settle in Northern Ontario...in weeks, not months.”
Finding sources of immigrants should not be a problem, Newell says, with more than 100 unsolicited applications on his desk from skilled workers from the United Kingdom and South Africa looking for work in Northern Ontario as plumbers, pipefitters, auto and diesel mechanics, and shaft miners.
Last year, the federal government announced it was abandoning its plan to distribute new immigrants in smaller remote communities and away from crowded ‘gateway’ cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Instead, they are looking at a wider regionalization strategy and how they can find ways to populating parts of the country people don’t know about.