For Susan Yaeger, Senior Manager of the Human Resources International Recruitment Office at Maple Leaf Foods, it’s important for employers to give workers the tools and supports they need to do their job. If one of those tools is to speak English at a certain proficiency level, she says employers should help them.
The Canadian meat processing industry regularly suffer chronic worker shortages and turnover. They have depended on recruiting foreign workers for many years. However, many temporary jobs are really a permanent human resource need.
It’s an important distinction for employers. Like any employer, Maple Leaf Foods is looking for a stable workforce. The province of Manitoba recognizes this reality, where Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) are really Transitional Foreign Workers. TFWs have a pathway to permanent status as early as six months after they arrive.
Yaeger, says “We don’t want temporary workers, we want permanent. When we select Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), we select people who will qualify for Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) as well. This is a pathway to permanency, in Manitoba, which has been very successful. We provide them with the supports they need.”
Maple Leaf Foods has built recruitment and onboarding supports to ensure that workers are oriented, welcomed into the company, and community. As they transition to hiring more newcomers who already have permanent status, those supports continue to be crucial.
English Training on Site
Palliser’s Art DeFehr has said that cities need to focus on people who don’t just immigrate, but rather, those who can integrate. Employers should create a plan focused on people who would be likely to succeed in their local economy and community.
For Maple Leaf Foods, English is crucial to that plan. Yaeger says that because their workforce is quite diverse, the common language of communication is English.
The extensive pre and post-arrival supports provided for transitional workers ensure their success moving into permanent status and continuing on at the company. Supports start during overseas recruitment, and after landing. Before they arrive in Canada, workers have received up to 160 hours of English language training. They also received an orientation package about Canadian culture, community and settlement information.
After the workers arrive, support continues, including additional ESL support. In Maple Leaf Foods’ Brandon, Manitoba plant, English classes are run after hours and on weekends in an on-site training facility. Funded by the union and by Maple Leaf Foods, classes are free for workers.
Classes aim to get workers to Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) 4, to ensure they can communicate adequately on the job. Yaeger mentions that CLB 4 is also the level required for Canadian citizenship. Maple Leaf Foods want these transitional foreign workers to become permanent workers, and Canadian citizens. They are providing supports to make that happen.
During workplace orientation, translation and interpretation is also provided. All important written communication, such as health and safety information, is translated into workers’ native language. As some workers develop adequate language skills, they also act as interpreters in the workplace. Importantly, the language program at Maple Leaf Foods is open to any new employee hired within Canada. Anyone who needs ESL training can attend classes.
Yaeger recognizes that the jobs are stepping stones for some newcomers. It’s in their best interest to take advantage of the English training available to them. Even with this turnover, Maple Leaf Foods is relying less on overseas recruitment for unskilled labour jobs. They haven’t hired an unskilled TFW in their Brandon plant for almost 4 years.
Looking Locally for Global Talent
Canada’s recent immigrant arrivals are an essential part of Maple Leaf Foods strategy to grow their workforce. Yaeger recognizes that there are challenges to attracting and settling newcomers in small communities and rural areas. Newcomers tend to land in more urban centres, such as Winnipeg. Maple Leaf provides relocation packages, up to $5000 to relocate to Brandon. They’re making progress: “we’re getting enough workers through working with local newcomer associations that we’ve been connecting with. We’ve brought in a lot of workers who are newcomers to Canada.”
Working with immigrant service providers in those urban centres is important. Yaeger has made direct connections with community groups. She works with them to ensure they know about job opportunities, and what Maple Leaf Foods is looking for. When newcomers are looking for work, she wants them to understand what’s available at Maple Leaf Foods.
Maple Leaf Foods also indicated interest in hiring from the pool of available Syrian refugees landing in Manitoba and Alberta. The success of integrating diverse newcomers into their workforce suggests that, for those interested, they will provide a useful employment starting point for Syrian refugees.
Working with community and employment organizations to build a bigger pipeline of workers is a work in progress. They still rely on some highly skilled transitional foreign workers for specific skilled labour they can’t find in Canada. As they raise their profile among immigrant groups, they’re hoping to help reach and support more newcomers with jobs.
Tips for Employers
- If English classes offered near you are not accessible to your workforce, work with internal resources (such as unions, worker groups, etc.) to create and offer classes that fit with your workforce schedule.
- When you hire new employees from other places or other cities and town, provide them with the type of welcome and orientation package to the new community you would want.
- Connect. Community centres outside your city can provide you with the needed talent pipeline.
Magnet, Ryerson University in partnership with Hire Immigrants produced this article. The article is made possible with the funding from the Government of Ontario.