Marjorie Jones runs the Second Nature Childcare Centre and Nature’s Way Childcare Centre in the Sunshine Coast community, and says she has 28 licensed spaces for kids she can’t fill because she doesn’t have enough early childhood educators.
“It’s very hard to find them. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to hire an immigration lawyer, and we received five positive (federal permits for foreign workers) on March 22 of this year,” she said.
“With that, I had over 300 foreign applicants, 100 of whom were fully qualified, and I had zero Canadian applicants.”
Jones said she’s selected people to fill those jobs, who have done all of the required paperwork, but their work permits have been caught in a federal backlog for months.
“These spots are critical. Our hospital has a shortage of nurses as well as other professions,” she said, noting front-line workers rely on her to care for their children so they can do their jobs.
“I have police officers on our list, I have paramedics on our list, I have six nurses due to go back (from maternity) leave in October that are on my wait list – all depending on me, but I can’t service our community.”
Asked about Jones’ concerns Wednesday, federal Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser said there is “no magic bullet.”
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But he pointed to funding in 2021 and 2022 aimed at clearing the backlog.
He also pointed to a policy change this spring that will allow officials to target specific economic sectors in specific jurisdictions when approving permits.
“We’ll be able to do a targeted draw during the express entry system that meets local labour demands in the communities where they are most needed,” he said.
In January, Fraser pledged to eliminate immigration backlogs that built up during two years of the pandemic, but says a flood of refugees from the Ukraine war has slowed that plan down.
As of the end of July, about 1.3 million immigration applications in the system have taken longer to process than the government’s service standards dictate they should. That’s about 54 per cent of all the pending applications in the system.
Fraser said the immigration department was in the middle of hiring about 1,250 new employees, and hoped to have processing times back to normal by the end of the year.
Emily Galick, executive director for Early Child Educators of B.C., said the shortage of qualified child-care workers is not a new problem.
“We’ve been in a crisis for generations, but the pandemic has really highlighted how critical the shortage of qualified early child educators is,” she said.
She said getting qualified workers from overseas could help, but that it would likely be a stopgap measure and one the province shouldn’t rely on long-term.
Instead, she said B.C. needs to focus on recruitment and retention through strategies like more robust wages.
“Government has to look at other initiatives to support the long line of neglect for this sector, and particularly to ensure we have those qualified professionals doing this important work, we need to have multiple strategies in place,” she said.
In the meantime, Jones is left with two classrooms she must keep empty as she competes with four other child-care operators in the community for elusive hires.
“I knew one of (my clients) was pregnant before her husband (did), because the first thing she did was call me and get on our wait list.”
“It’s time now … We need help to service our isolated community.”
– with files from The Canadian Press