Groundbreaking partnership to address labour shortage

Community Featured

CAMBRIDGE, MA — Two local groups have joined forces with a humanitarian organization to address labour shortages.

Glen Haven Manor and the Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network have joined forces with RefugePoint, an international non-profit that serves at-risk refugees to form a groundbreaking partnership with the potential to help Canadian employers facing significant labour shortages and create labour mobility opportunities for qualified refugees. The partnership is positioned to have a significant positive impact on staffing shortages in the local health care sector.

Multiple skilled refugees in Kenya have already received job offers to work as continuing care assistants at Glen Haven Manor, the third-largest long-term care facility in Nova Scotia, serving 202 residents.

The opportunity to connect qualified refugees to employers facing specific skilled labour gaps has come to fruition through the Economic Mobility Pathways Project (EMPP). The EMPP is a research project administered by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), in collaboration with RefugePoint, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Nova Scotia Office of Immigration and four Canadian provinces and territories. The EMPP tests whether skilled refugees can access immigration to Canada through existing economic migration programs. Implementing partners support the identification of qualified and experienced refugees and connect them with employers in Canada facing labour market shortages. To relocate to Canada, all refugee applicants need to meet pre-existing immigration requirements at both the federal and provincial levels. Through this pathway, refugees will gain the opportunity to rebuild their lives while communities throughout Canada will benefit and grow by filling critical gaps in employment. The project is designed to complement Canada’s traditional refugee resettlement programs.

Pictou County is one of many non-urban communities in Canada that struggles with a shortage of skilled labour, particularly within health care. Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman, CEO of PCREN, responsible for economic development within the region, says her organization recognized the need for innovative solutions to address this challenge. After learning about the EMPP, MacIntosh-Wiseman invited RefugePoint, TBB, and other partners to Pictou County in May 2019 to present a new strategic idea to local employers: in addition to local hiring efforts, also consider hiring skilled refugees.

Glen Haven Manor was one of the first employers to sign on to this pioneering partnership. They expressed an interest in connecting with qualified candidates to fill vacancies for Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) positions. While the nursing home continues to actively invest in local recruitment and retention, they have also started investing in international recruitment to address immediate needs to prevent the very real potential of a staffing crisis.

RefugePoint identified refugee candidates in Kenya and TBB identified refugee candidates in Jordan and Lebanon that met the qualifications and set up interviews with Glen Haven via Skype in July 2019. Several job offers resulted. After seeing a sample of the high calibre of applicants, Glen Haven Manor CEO Lisa M. Smith, and employee relations specialist, Janice Jorden, along with MacIntosh-Wiseman travelled to Kenya with RefugePoint to interview additional candidates. The candidates, who were interviewed in person in November 2019, included urban refugees from Nairobi as well as refugees from Dadaab Refugee Camp who were interviewed with the assistance of UNHCR Kenya.

“Glen Haven is proud to be part of this extraordinary global collaboration that has the capacity to positively change the lives of refugees and their families by offering a pathway to permanent residence in Canada. However, the primary goal for being an active partner in this international project is to address our recruitment needs for the benefit of our residents,” explains Glen Haven Manor CEO Smith.

“Typically, when refugees are being interviewed, the conversation is focused on their vulnerabilities, the things they desperately need, and the horrifying experiences they have had. Here, the tone of the conversation was completely different. Refugees were being asked about their skills and professional experience,” shared Simar Singh, senior program manager at RefugePoint. “Immediately after the interviews, candidates told us that they deeply appreciated the conversations, and the chance to interview with an employer. One candidate said, ‘Thank you for giving me my dignity back by being able to present a more accurate reflection of who I am as a person’.”

The candidates are now in the process of compiling the necessary documents to apply to immigrate to Canada.

“Despite hiring many local employees and actively continuing to do so, there have not been enough qualified candidates to fill all of our needs,” Smith explained. “Our search led us to Kenya because of the qualified candidates that we had the opportunity to interview previously and the knowledge that there were many more. Meeting the candidates in person enabled us to gain a greater understanding of their qualifications and skills. If this is an effective way to hire amazingly qualified candidates in these times where brave new solutions are needed, then yes, we are delighted and ready to be involved.”

An important aspect of the EMPP is demonstrating that qualified refugees can make it through regular economic immigration pathways while meeting the same requirements and criteria that are in place for all other economic immigrants. All refugee candidates that receive job offers will be required to undergo the same vetting and verification procedures as part of the immigration process as other prospective economic immigrants. Candidates will need to pass English language tests, a Canadian immigration requirement, and ensure that their immigration paperwork is filed, accepted, and ultimately approved by both the provincial and the federal governments.

Having an international employer visit Kenya to recruit from the refugee community has been a milestone in the global community’s exploration of complementary pathways and a boost to everyone involved in the process. However, several steps must be completed before any of the candidates will be ready to fly to Canada.

According to MacIntosh-Wiseman, “We have the right partners at every level working together to make this happen. I’m optimistic that by testing this project in Pictou County we will address chronic job vacancies locally, particularly in the health sector, and will build a model that would work for other areas across Nova Scotia and Canada facing labour shortages.”

Representatives from Glen Haven Manor, Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network and RefugePoint discuss the partnership in Nairobi. From the left are: Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman, CEO of Pictou County REN; Janice Jorden, Glen Haven Manor Employee Relations specialist; Lisa M. Smith, Glen Haven Manor CEO; Jacob Bonyo, Country Director of the RefugePoint Kenya office; and Janet Ouma, Resettlement Program co-ordinator for RefugePoint. (Submitted photo)