MONCTON – Avenir Centre’s event room next to the skating rink was buzzing with dozens of people exchanging business cards and handing in resumes earlier this month. There was a job fair going on, and Thelma Folkins, the human resources administrator of Sussex-based Mrs. Dunster’s, took some of those resumes and spoke to dozens of people – mostly newcomers and international students.
“We have been having a hard time finding people…we’ve had many job postings and we’re not getting a lot of local people applying. So that’s why we’ve broadened our reach,” she said.
Mrs. Dunster’s, which also owns McBuns in Moncton, is a designated employer under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) program. It’s currently looking for bakery workers, the pizzeria, other operators and customer service representatives.
Folkins said the company is willing to train workers, though ideally, the company wants applicants to have some baker backgrounds and enough English to take safety instructions.
“Because we work with machinery and there’s a noise level in the bakery, that’s our only issue with language – for safety [reasons],” she said.
Mrs. Dunster’s isn’t the only one having a tough time filling job vacancies. You’ve probably read many times that New Brunswick needs newcomers to fill labour gaps. The job fair at the Avenir Centre earlier in March, targeted at newcomers and international students, was one of the ways the Greater Moncton municipal governments help employers connect with talent.
There were approximately 40 employers with a booth there, from banks to hotels to farms. Malley Industries, which makes and sells ambulances and custom components across Canada and the U.S. and also converts vehicles to make them accessible to wheelchair users, was one of them.
Vice President Kathy Malley said she was looking for people who can fill production-related roles like vehicle electrical technicians and metal fabrication.
“We have tons of work ahead, so I know our needs are increasing and I’m looking for future hires,” said Malley. “And I know it’s going to take months to get somebody anyway, to go through this process. At least six to eight months, maybe a year,” she said. “A job fair like this is useful for is making connections for other people or refer people. It’s making the connections with other employers and the people that support the system, to get to know who to call when you need a friend.”
Malley Industries is also a designated employer under the AIP, which means it won’t need a Labour Market Impact Assessment to hire an eligible foreign worker, an additional step non-designated employers have to fulfill. Still, hiring immigrants is a”very long and onerous process,” Malley said.
“The provincial government is out there encouraging people to come to Canada, and they hit a wall when they reach the federal government requirements. There’s such a disconnect and it’s a shame,” she said.
“The challenge is the federal government seems to have a bias towards highly educated and skilled people, and I hate to see those people underemployed. And I’m not going to underemploy them. The tradespeople, I think, [aren’t] sexy enough for the federal government and it doesn’t seem to be a priority.”
While she supports both levels of governments’ efforts to ensure security, she wants the process to be easier. The documentation and criteria newcomers have to fulfill before the federal government would consider them eligible for immigration are “almost punitive,” she said.
The latest newcomer Malley hired through the pilot program is still in the process of getting permanent residency status, though he has been able to work under a work permit since after Christmas. But Malley isn’t deterred.
“I will go through the process again, as we find it harder and harder to find technically skilled people,” she said. “A lot of the trades jobs, the roles, they’re just not being taught in school now. So we have to look at a broader base of potential employees.”
Like Malley, Maryse St. Onge, a recruitment manager for Tech Mahindra, is also looking for people with specific skills.
Tech Mahindra opened its Riverview facility last summer. It has 160 employees and is looking to hire 50 more. It’s looking for people with good customer service skills and doesn’t require higher education credentials.
“One of the skills we’re looking for at this time is French…We actually have bilingual, English and French queues,” she said.
“The only thing with the French-speaking only [queue] is it limits them in that queue because all the other queues are either bilingual or English. So hopefully, while working with us, they’re going to work on their English…because it’s a challenge for them to find work in Moncton if they’re not bilingual.”
While St. Onge has made one hire from a job fair, she said in general, the process of hiring newcomers is slow. Many require employer sponsorship for their immigration applications, and Tech Mahindra doesn’t provide those at this time. Other times, applicants would have higher education credentials but don’t speak English or French well enough to serve customers over the phone.
St. Onge said she attended the fair not only to look for possible hires, but also to raise awareness about the company. This was her third newcomer job fair.
“We’re coming back [to the fairs] because I need to do publicity. We’re new. We’re not known like Blue Cross. I need to make people aware we’re here and we’re a great place to work,” she said.
The Job Seekers
Immigrants and international students of various backgrounds attended the job fair. Some have been in Canada for years, others for months, and still others, for just a few days.
Idalia Huerta Martinez came to Canada from Mexico two years ago. She had married a Canadian eight years before that and the couple now live in New Brunswick. She’s not working because she’s still waiting for her permanent residency to be finalized, but as the process is nearing completion, she’s beginning to look for opportunities.
“I want to take advantage [of the fair] and know what companies can hire me, and I saw lots of good companies,” she said.
She’s looking for jobs in the financial sector because that’s her background back in Mexico. Some employers at the fair gave her pointers, while others asked for her resume.
“I was working at a bank, at Santander Bank in Mexico, but also I was working for Dr. [Pepper] Snapple Group company, in the financial department.”
There were also students like Nigerians Babatunde Ijiwoye and Oreofe Ajayi. Both came to Moncton for a one-year business analysis program at the New Brunswick Community College. Now their program is nearing its end.
Ajayi enrolled at NBCC for career development. Her dream job would be to become a business analyst or a project manager, she said.
“I currently work with a call centre, hoping to get more challenging roles, so that’s why I’m trying to develop myself. I’m [at the fair] to get an opportunity. And yeah, network,” she said. “I found a lot of interesting places. Hopefully, I get called.”
Ijiwoye is looking for internships, but that’s proven to be difficult.
“It’s actually challenging to get that because everybody wants a full-time position to be filled,” Ijiwoye said. “In my field, more experience [are needed for full-time jobs]. But since we are not experienced yet, we are looking for an internship opportunity, but it’s hard to find.”
He’s currently working part-time at Asurion, but his field is different. Ijiwoye already has permanent residency, but because he got it through the Provincial Nominee Program, he has to stay in the province for three years.
Ijiwoye will be free to live and work anywhere in Canada once he becomes a citizen. But he’s not expecting to move from Moncton any time soon.
“If I get a job, sure [I’ll stay in Moncton]. I’m bound to New Brunswick actually. I need to be here for – even if I want to leave – two, three years. But I’m building my ties already so I’m actually going to be in Moncton for a long time,” he said. “But you never know. Maybe a job will take me out.”
And then there were people like Rachid Rahmouni and Yassine Lahbil, who have only been in Canada less than a week. The Morocco-natives were in New Brunswick for their exploratory visits as part of the process to apply for the Provincial Nominee Program. This means they’ll return to Morocco after a few weeks and process their papers to come to Canada from there.
“We are looking for a job and we are under the exploration visit to the area to look for opportunities,” Rahmouni said.
Both Rahmouni and Lahbil are receptionists in the hotel and hospitality industry. On Friday they met a lot of employers, including Crowne Plaza and Delta Beausejour.
“I meet a lot of employers and I hope that it will be good for us. Because the facilities and the opportunities are a lot in this area,” Rahmouni said.
“We’ve also knocked some doors directly here in the city and they were like, they need people. They actually need people for part-time, full-time jobs, they really need people to work,” Lahbil said.
They want to come to New Brunswick because life is less stressful here. It’s easier to access information and the commute isn’t long, Rahmouni said.
“[New Brunswick] is the easier way to work and to live at the same time. People are very helpful,” Rahmouni said.
“I think it’s an easy life in here. Less stressful. You can find many opportunities. People here are welcoming. And I think, if you look to build a new life, it will be easier to do it here than to do it in another part of the world,” Lahbil added. “It’s less [competition] in here. As you can see [this job fair] now…here they are bringing the opportunities to you.”
They’re not sure where in New Brunswick they’d settle if their immigration process works out, as they’re exploring Fredericton and Saint John as well.
“We still need to discover the other areas. Maybe they can offer better things, but for sure, we will come back [to New Brunswick],” Lahbil said.