Facing an aging workforce and heightened competition for talent, a growing number of Cornwall employers and institutions are increasing their international recruiting efforts to fuel the Seaway city’s economic growth.
Dozens of foreign nationals now work alongside their Canadian counterparts at major food processors, tech firms and manufacturers. Many have come into Canada under the federal temporary foreign worker program. Others have been international students at St. Lawrence College and are looking to establish careers in Canada.
It’s a collective effort that employers say they expect to pay long-term dividends for Cornwall’s economy.
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“Employers are going to have to increasingly rely on foreign workers,” says Paula Fontaine, director of human resources at SigmaPoint Technologies. “Immigrants are the only future for Canada. And if we don’t allow more in, industries won’t be able to meet their customers’ demands and businesses will falter and close.”
In 2020, the company – which produces electronics for medical, aerospace and defence applications – hired five foreign workers, including one from Russia, and two each from Nigeria and India.
“They’re all working out tremendously for us in roles from project management to product engineering,” Fontaine says. In 2021, SigmaPoint’s foreign hiring continued with the addition of two additional employees from India and one from Nigeria.
“They are knowledgeable, well educated and committed to excellence – total keepers … (and) amazing additions to the company,” Fontaine added.
Two-year contracts often renewed
At Olymel’s plant in Cornwall, which produces pork and bacon products, the use of foreign workers has been “a great success for the company,” according to spokesperson Richard Vigneault.
Olymel currently has 49 temporary foreign workers — including 39 from the Philippines and 10 from Mauritius.
“The people we’ve brought in have been very motivated,” Vigneault says. “I would say they come here to improve their future – and most plan, if things work out, to bring their families to join them after two years working in Canada.”
Olymel has found their employers through agencies working abroad that help identify good candidates. Vignealt is at pains to point out that Olymel resorts to foreign recruitment only after efforts to find Canadian workers come up short.
Canada’s temporary foreign worker program only allows employers to hire 10 per cent of their staff from other countries. Individuals accepted to the program are expected to work for at least two years with their initial employer, although in Olymel’s case, many stay longer.
“Most of them stay with us, because they become well integrated into the company and appreciate what we’ve done for them,” Vignealt says.
That’s also been the experience of food processor Leclerc, which manufactures cookies, snack bars and crackers.
The company hopes to welcome five workers from the Philippines to its Cornwall site in November, building on the successful employment of foreign workers at its other sites, says Catherine Potvin, Leclerc’s recruitment and retention advisor for international talents.
Most come in on two-year work permits, but the company has found nearly all of its foreign workers want to renew their contracts after that period. And those coming to Cornwall should have favourable odds of becoming permanent residents, given that they typically arrive with strong English language skills, Potvin says, though she notes that eligibility depends on immigration program requirements.
“We’ve found them very compatible with the Canadian work culture in general and we’re optimistic that the new arrivals will integrate very well into our team,” she adds.
It’s a similar story at Ridgewood Industries, which makes ready-to-assemble furniture and has hired approximately 10 foreign workers since January, according to human resources manager Hugo St. Pierre.
“We take all the help we can,” St. Pierre added. “We are happy to give them their first job in Canada, which can be a real turning point in their lives.”
While employers are frequently recruiting foreign workers directly, one of the region’s leading post-secondary institutions is also helping to train the next generation of employees.
St. Lawrence College has welcomed foreign students for some two decades and plans to accelerate its recruitment efforts in the coming years, says Shelley Aylesworth-Spink, the school’s vice-president of international education.
She says international students enhance campus life and raise awareness of global issues and intercultural knowledge – necessary, Aylesworth-Spink says, for “successful careers in a rapidly changing global environment.”
But the college is also aware that a high complement of foreign students may help Canadian companies find the employees they need.
“Many workplaces need talented and motivated new graduates to enter the workforce of their communities.”
Indeed, she says the potential of becoming an immigrant to Canada is a strong motivation for many of the international students who come.
Bob Peters, division manager of economic development at the City of Cornwall, says it’s part of a wider effort to enable local companies to continue to expand.
“Over the past year, I would conservatively say my office has received over 500 inquiries relating to immigration. People want to come to Canada, and want to find work that will allow them to apply to become permanent residents,” he says.
“We don’t have enough people to meet our business needs. And the best way to solve that problem is to welcome newcomers – from other parts of Ontario and Canada, certainly, but also from the wider world.”