BARRHEAD - Barrhead is now one of the province's Rural Renewal Stream communities.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun told councillors during their Dec. 6 that they were successful in their bid to receive their Rural Renewal Stream.
The Rural Renewal Stream enables rural communities with less than 100,000 people to attract and retain immigrants by working with local employers and settlement-providing organizations to offer employment and support services, including housing, language training, health care, and education.
The stream requires that communities apply for designation through the provincial government. About 15 communities currently have the designation.
The program is part of the province's Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP). The AAIP is part of the province's effort to combat the province's labour shortage. It does this by helping employers recruit foreign nationals to apply for jobs.
The county's Economic and Community Development Committee (ECDC) recommended that the county apply for the designation after multiple employers urged them to do so due to their difficulties in filling job vacancies. Council instructed administration to apply for the designation at their Sept. 20 meeting. A week later, Town of Barrhead councillors decided to add their support to the county's application to get the designation for the entire community allowing employers in both the town and county to access the program.
Developer and communication coordinator Adam Vanderwekken noted that for a Barrhead employer to qualify for the program, they must have at least one full-time vacancy (a minimum of 30 hours a week that is not seasonal) available.
He also noted that wages and benefits must meet the "lowest starting wage for the occupation."
"They must also show what they've done to promote or to fill the (job vacancy)," Vanderwekken said.
To access the program, eligible employers need to fill out an application form via the county's website. After approval, prospective applicants would contact employers and go through the business' typical employee evaluation process.
"They can be foreign nationals living in or outside Canada," Vanderwekken said.
Once an employer and employee have tentatively come to an agreement, they will provide a copy of the job offer to the county, which will review the application.
If deemed acceptable, the county would then forward the application, including its endorsement, to the AAIP.
At the same time, Vanderwekken said the prospective employee would have to apply for permanent residency status through the AAIP.
"Once approved, they would then come to the community which would provide supports (through community resettlement groups) so they could start their new job and life," he said.
To receive the Rural Renewal Stream designation, Oyarzun said, they had to prove the community had at least one organization that would be able to help the foreign nationals acclimate and settle in the community. in this case, that organization is FCSS.
It is worth mentioning that although FCSS does offer limited advocacy and support, helping people apply for government programs such as Alberta Works, Assured Income for Severely Handicapped (AISH), and Alberta Health Services (health insurance), it does not have specific programs to help people from other countries or regions relocate or acclimatize to their new community.
"During the (Rural Renewal Stream) application process, we identified other agencies and support networks available locally to us as well as provincially and federally that can provide those support services," Oyarzun said. "And they don't have to be super formal. There are some church groups in the community that fit the bill."
Vanderwekken added prospective employees also must meet certain criteria, such as having a reasonable level of proficiency in English and meet defined educational and job experience requirements.
Coun. Walter Preugschas asked if an employer based in Barrhead could access the program for a business in another community. At the Sept. 20 meeting, Preugschas, a Pembina West Co-op director, noted they would be interested in accessing the program for its Mayerthorpe location.
Oyarzun said no, stating the prospective employee must live and work in the community with the Rural Renewal Stream designation.
Reeve Doug Drozd asked who is responsible for advertising the job vacancies that program eligible job seekers will see.
Oyarzun said they do not know the answer but are working with the province to help spread the word among foreign nationals that the "county and these job opportunities exist".
"We are also going to work with our other stakeholders, such as Community Futures, the Barrhead Business Support Network, to work with employers to make sure their job postings can attract attention and that their salary is good enough to entice potential job seekers to apply," she said.
Oyarzun added there are specific organizations that target workers in other countries, in specific industries, such as agriculture.
The problem, she said, is that those organizations charge for their service, which the municipality is not ready to pay for.
"It would be up to the employers to utilize those tools," Oyarzun said, adding a grant is available that would help employers pay for those types of services. "I see the county's role as being more of a facilitator, getting the information together and by working with our community groups welcome the workers who come."
Deputy reeve Marvin Schatz was excited to learn that they had received the designation.
"This is what municipalities should be doing for economic development, our businesses and our residents," he said.