A three-year pilot project aimed at bringing skilled immigrants to Timmins to help fill labour shortages hit a bump in the road during its first year of implementation.
In 2019, Timmins was selected as one of 11 communities from across Canada to participate in the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP). The pilot is designed to spread the benefits of economic immigration to smaller communities by creating a path to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers who want to work and live in Timmins.
“There was some impact due to COVID. It did delay the launch of RNIP here in Timmins,” said Madison Mizzau, community development consultant with the Timmins Economic Development Corporation which is the lead local agency for the program.
“We wanted to launch earlier last year in January or February. But we delayed the start of accepting applications until the beginning of May (2020).”
Despite the delay and challenges posed by an ongoing pandemic, Mizzau said the program did generate a lot of interest, particularly from outside of the community.
The Timmins pilot received nearly 3,000 inquiries from people around the world interested in finding a job and settling in Timmins.
“There is definitely a lot of interest from the applicants’ side,” said Mizzau. “We receive 50 to 100 inquiries each week from people wanting to use the program.”
One of the eligibility requirements calls for applicants to have a job in Timmins lined up.
“We received over 60 applications last year that were complete with a job offer, and we issued 41 recommendations” for approval.
Mizzau said there are a variety of reasons why some of the applications did not get approved.
“Either the job offer didn’t meet the requirements, the applicant themselves didn’t meet the requirements or the employer eligibility didn’t check out.”
One of the eligibility requirements for employers is they have to have been in business for at least two years.
Also immigrants applying into the program must have a certain amount of related work experience, a job offer on the table, and must pass a language test.
“One of the federal requirements of RNIP is that they have one year of work experience within the past three years,” explained Mizzau. “The IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) set this at 1,560 hours.
“So that’s either one year full-time or it can be part-time hours accumulated over three years.”
In the second year of the pilot, the TEDC has a total of 150 recommendations that can be issued in 2021. The community criteria has also been updated in order to better identify candidates who fit the community’s needs and intend to reside in Timmins long term.
While the TEDC has received a lot of interest from people outside of the community, Mizzau said the program’s usage is dependent on employers being aware and taking advantage of this opportunity.
That’s why the TEDC is planning to ramp up its promotion of RNIP to local employers.
She said one of the benefits, in addition to helping fill job positions, is the fact there is no cost to employers to use the program.
“We do know within Timmins there are some labour gaps that exist within the trades or even in early childhood education,” said Mizzau. “So this is definitely a way to connect with international talents who have those skills and have those abilities.
“It’s really to address those tough-to-fill jobs, the ones that employers are constantly posting for. This program can be used to help fill those occupations.
“And this is where the TEDC comes in: We have staff to provide support to employers to use the program, so employers don’t need to go through it alone, because the immigration process in general can be somewhat overwhelming for some, so we are here to help them through the process and answer any questions or provide any help that they need.”
Several Timmins businesses and organizations have taken advantage of the program.
“The RNIP program has been very beneficial for the YMCA of Timmins,” said Courtney Berlinghoff, regional manager of the YMCA of Timmins, acknowledging the organization has struggled to find qualified employees in the past. “Through this program we have been able to hire employees with their Early Childhood Education diplomas and who are registered with the College of ECEs. This has allowed us to continue to serve the child-care needs in our community and continue to offer high quality care to families. Our international staff continue to positively contribute to our organization.”
Isabelle Godmaire, manager of grocery retailer Pick of the Crop, said, “Hiring foreign employees has allowed us to fill some key positions that we had struggled to fill, and in turn has helped us to grow our business.”
Mizzau said the TEDC did a couple of presentations to employers last fall and will be launching a campaign directed to employers, encouraging them to learn about the program, to reach out to the TEDC, as well as putting a survey out to employers to find out if they’ve heard of the program and if they have any concerns.
The survey is being conducted to gather feedback on RNIP and what supports employers may need in order to participate in the program. The survey can be accessed online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/employersurveyonRNIP.
If people are interested getting more information as either employers or applicants, they can reach out to the TEDC, call the main number and they will be connected with someone involved with the program.
Or they can visit the TEDC website at timminsedc.com “where we list the requirements as well as the community criteria and the application process, what forms are required,” said Mizzau.
The three-year pilot project is scheduled to run until the end of December 2022.