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Skilled foreign worker project in the works: Fort St. John mayor

A new pilot project to bring skilled immigrants to Fort St. John from outside of Canada is moving forward, according to Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.
Mayor Lori Ackerman (right) stands with Fort St. John Chamber of Commerce President Tony Zabinsky at the grand opening of STEP Energy Services' new office on Tuesday.

A new pilot project to bring  skilled immigrants to Fort St. John from outside of Canada is moving forward, according to Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.

Ackerman told various businesses about the initiative at the opening of STEP Energy Services new office Tuesday, where multiple energy service companies were gathered to celebrate.

These skilled workers would come from outside the country for skilled positions such as electrician and welders, "and whatever else is needed,” Ackerman said.

"We've received the nod from the province and the federal government to do this pilot project," Ackerman said.

"It'll be for Fort St. John... We're looking forward to modernizing local government, bringing in the skilled workers, and growing our businesses.”

Thursday afternoon, the city issued a press release saying its Immigration Pilot Project would fall under the Provincial Nominee Program to address labour shortages.

"The project focuses on the attraction, settlement, retention and integration of immigrant families to Fort St. John," the release states.

The city is bracing for 57 major industrial projects - Site C and LNG projects among them - that the city says will need more than 5,000 permanent resident workers and up to 18,000 provisional workers.

However, the city says the regional economic development office has tracked some $200 million in investments that have not moved forward because of a skilled worker shortage.

In a statement, Ackerman made clear the project is not a temporary foreign worker program, instead aiming to bring in permanent residents to the region.

“It is a program to address a demonstrated need for specific skilled workers as our community prepares for historically high economic growth," Ackerman said.

The plan is still in draft stage and will need to be debated and approved by city council.

The city met with the B.C  Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training about the project in July.

"We are always looking at ways to help communities meet their skilled labour needs in our strong and growing economy," a ministry spokesperson said.

"We are want to look at innovative ways to meet labour demands while always ensuring British Columbians are first in line for jobs. A key part of the work that will need to be done is securing support from the federal government since they will be key partners in any pilot program."

Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm said that it was "a project that the B.C. government is trying to put together."

"(Fort St. John) is one of the communities to be selected to look at this... skilled foreign workers program," he said. "If there's an opportunity to reach out and be able to bring in some of these foreign workers... I'm certainly 100 per cent in favour of it. I hope we can get it off the ground."

The foreign workers would go towards "all of our industry in our region," Pimm said.

In 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced a pilot project for Alberta that would allow foreign nationals to come to Canada to work temporarily in specific occupations — such as welding, heavy-duty equipment mechanic, and carpentry — and move freely between employers, under certain conditions. This program was discontinued last year.

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