A growing number of Irish workers in Vancouver are going into the construction industry to beef up missing company muscle, prompting local employers to rethink international recruitment strategies and the future of employment in the sector.
A total of 5,885 immigrants from Ireland were living in B.C. as of 2016 – 3,835 of them in the Metro Vancouver area, said Lori Cascaden, communications manager at the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology.
Cascaden credits steady Irish immigration rates to consistent employment demand in trades and the appeal of Canada as a livable country.
According to a recent survey by ManpowerGroup, 41% of Canadian employers report difficulty filling jobs, with skilled trades being the toughest sector in the country.
Additionally, 28% of employers are changing existing work models by offering flexible work arrangements to attract and retain talent.
William Donnellan, owner of Vancouver-based building company IRL Construction, is a native Irish citizen who has been living in B.C. for over 15 years.
He said nearly half of his workforce is Irish and, even with recruitment efforts, the industry is still desperate for workers.
“The skilled workforce is just not there,” Donnellan said. “There are so many large-scale construction projects and simply just not enough workers, simple as that.
“We do help a lot of those Irish ... immigrate to Canada because there is just a huge labour force shortage in Vancouver and B.C. at the moment.”
Donnellan does most of his recruiting in Ireland and other parts of Europe, marketing through a range of media including radio, social media, hiring websites and universities – including the Irish university Donnellan graduated from as a young adult.
In addition to his construction company, Donnellan also owns the Donnellan’s Irish Pub on Granville Street. The popular Irish hangout serves as a good place to post construction industry job openings.
“[Irish workers] are very steady for a number of reasons,” said Chris Atchison, president of the British Columbia Construction Association. “One of the factors is the type of visa they can manage to get a hold of from country of origin. Ireland has a unique situation with Canada in that the International Experience Visa for young folks from 18 to 35 can get a two-year visa.”
Many international visas allow only one year in which to find work – ideally with an employer that will sponsor the worker’s continued presence in that country. The added year for Irish workers in Canada allows them more time to lay down roots, expand networks and gain experience.
“When you go into factories or you go into job sites, [Irish workers] are very present,” Atchison said. “Canada truly is a very multicultural country.… The Irish absolutely add value to that.”