Immigrant Mentorship Program Offers Solution to Skills Gap

Connecting skilled immigrants with experienced professionals provides experiential guidance on how to find employment in Sarnia.

By Liz Bernier, Sarnia Observer

It may seem counterintuitive after years of economic downturn and high unemployment — but Sarnia-Lambton is actually facing a looming shortage of skilled workers.

Stagnant population growth, combined with an aging population, will soon create a critical lack of skilled workers.

The most recent Labour Market Plan from the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board states that Sarnia-Lambton’s population only grew 0.9% between 2006 and 2011, compared with growth of 5.7% in the rest of Ontario.

Vicky Ducharme, Executive Director of the SLWDB said that the trend will cause serious gaps in skilled labour.

“We’ve done studies that show that in the (near future) we are not going to be able to fill all of the jobs with the populations we have here locally, so one of (our) goals is to present a welcoming community so that more people will come here — and more people will stay here,” she said.

One of their solutions is attracting skilled immigrants.

The Immigrant Mentorship Program — launched this spring as a collaborative project between the SLWDB, the Local Immigration Partnership and the YMCA — is one of the ways Sarnia-Lambton is looking to do that.

Julie Allen, who’s the co-ordinator with the program — funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation — said it aims to match new immigrants with a career mentor in the local community.

“The purpose is to connect skilled immigrants with experienced professionals in the same or a similar career field,” she said. “That way, the immigrant can get some experiential guidance about how to find work in a Canadian work culture.”

The program is still quite new, but Allen said organizers have already seen mentors and mentees from fields as diverse as engineering, healthcare, administration and human resources.

“There’s a good mix of different fields,” she said. “It’s really a community project.”

Ducharme said the program, which takes 12 weeks to complete, isn’t just to provide employment skills for new immigrants — it’s also to help them integrate into the Sarnia community long-term.

“Some people will come here, but it’s another thing to get them to actually call (Sarnia) home,” she said.

An in-depth study released by the SLWDB in 2010 found that Sarnia-Lambton needs to attract 2,000 workers by 2016 to meet projected labour demands.

To find out more about becoming a mentor or mentee, contact the SLWDB at 519-332-0000.

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