Watt & Stewart Commodities runs its trucking business out of Claresholm and for years, has struggled to recruit and retain skilled workers.
“Starting in about 2005, we’ve had trouble hiring enough people to allow for company growth,” said Todd Heggie, controller at Watt & Stewart Commodities.
Although the situation is unfortunate, Claresholm town officials said it isn’t exactly unique.
“In the summer of 2018, I visited about 40 small, medium and large enterprises in Claresholm and we saw a consistent theme that they’re understaffed,” said Brady Schnell, the town’s economic development officer.
The low worker rate, Schnell added, is causing some businesses to operate at a less-than-optimal capacity.
In 2018, a Business Visitation Program (BVP) conducted by Schnell showed results of a concerning number of employers reporting long–term difficulty in finding and retaining staff.
The BVP also showed many existing employers in the town have used and continue to use temporary foreign worker programs in order to maintain operations.
In light of recognizing this trend, the Claresholm Economic Development Committee submitted an application to the federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP). The RNIP is a program that helps rural communities like Claresholm attract skilled foreign workers to meet their market demand.
“What will be important is that these opportunities meet a specific set of criteria to ensure that they’re full time, long-term and that they’ve gone unfilled for a… length of time before we decide to bring a newcomer in to fill that job,” Schnell said.
The application was successfully approved, meaning the town of Claresholm will be part of the second-phase launch of the program.
Qualified applicants will be able to get jobs across several industries, including restaurant, hotel management, health care and trucking.
“If they are qualified, we definitely have a place for them to work. We do have some training programs that will allow us to train people to get into a standard where they can work with us,” said Heggie.
“We definitely don’t have enough people in Claresholm to fill the jobs we need and as a community — not just as a company, as a community — we need those people to help us out.”
With such high demand for more workers, town officials hope to be accepting applications from foreign workers as early as January 2020.