Like others in the construction and manufacturing industry, Kingfisher Boats was facing a common struggle: As demand for recreational boats soared, a skilled labour shortage threatened to impact production.
The Vernon boat manufacturer turned to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) project for help and Kingfisher was so successful, it has now filled eight positions this way — from assembly technicians to welders.
“This program has allowed us to look beyond Canada to see who is skilled and who can help us build our boats,” said Sarah Gregory, Kingfisher’s chief HR officer.
Among the technicians building boats in the facility just off Highway 97 is Sandro Araujo, an assembly technician originally from Brazil who was already working in the South Okanagan when he heard about RNIP, saw the Kingfisher job and applied.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap is one of two B.C. regions and 11 in Canada participating in the pilot, which connects employers with skilled immigrants and creates a faster path to permanent residency. RNIP is open to all employers, but with the region seeing a critical shortage of skilled labour, trades employers are being encouraged to take advantage of the program and even faster processing as a priority industry.
“We can help these small trades businesses and even major employers of tradespeople tap into a market of skilled, experienced workers that they just can’t find locally right now,” said Leigha Horsfield, executive director, Community Futures North Okanagan, which stewards RNIP. “We want to help them understand that this program is easy to apply for, offers local faces here to guide them, and that it delivers the skill set they need from very engaged newcomers.”
Cory Petty, owner of Cory Petty Construction, has also filled multiple positions through RNIP, including a carpenter originally from Brazil. Like some of his peers, Petty had the chance to meet the candidate, who was already working in Calgary on a temporary work permit and hoping to stay, ahead of hiring.
“They work hard and prove that they deserve to be here,” said Petty, whose team is currently framing a commercial building near Kelowna. He said the process is “actually pretty easy.”
Employers in construction, health care and early childcare are eligible for priority processing due to high demand for employees in these sectors. Going from posting a job to the first day on the job usually takes about three to six months. The first step for employers is checking their business eligibility and joining an employer training session, held bi-monthly by local RNIP coordinator Ward Mercer.
Since 2020, RNIP has helped 229 local businesses fill more than 300 vacant jobs in the region. Last fall, RNIP expanded beyond the North Okanagan to include the Shuswap.