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THE FOREIGN WORKER DILEMMA: BAND-AID SOLUTION OR LONG-TERM INVESTMENT?

May 5, 2015

By Sharaz Khan, Globe and Mail |

For nearly two decades, Woodcraft Kitchen Cabinets has been building and installing high-end kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The Calgary-based company, prides itself on delivering quality craftsmanship, with customer engagement being an integral part of their success.

A stable workforce is important, particularly during periods of high demand. But a staff that reflects the population is also important to the company, which is why 10 per cent of its 50-person workforce are foreign workers from Europe, South Asia and Africa.

“We have had dozens of Canadians apply, go through interviews and offers with us. We train them, further their education in the industry and offer them competitive industry wages,” says founder Rana Ullah. “But find we have had minimal impact due to a rise in the supply of jobs available in this market segment. They leave as quickly as they arrive.”

In an increasingly competitive industry, how does a kitchen cabinet manufacturing company increase and diversify its employee base, meet rising customer demand and balance the requirements of the old and new Canadian foreign worker program?

THE BACKGROUND

With its modern, 45,000-square-foot production and manufacturing facility, Woodcraft has been serving Calgary and area home builders and homeowners with quality crafted kitchen cabinet products. With a combined industry experience stretching 75 years, the management team of Nizar Sunderji, Rana Ullah and Idrees Ahmed have focused on maintaining value through cost-efficient manufacturing processes. Maintaining a steady, stable work-force to meet consistent growth has always been a key quality of the management to stay ahead of the curve.

Given staffing challenges, Woodcraft embarked on the government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which, between 2006 and 2014, has brought more than 500,000 workers into Canada. The Woodcraft team had several great experiences including gaining work permits and labour market impact assessments relatively quickly with low processing fees. The workers displayed solid work ethic, were committed to learning their roles, the English language and were consistently present and dedicated to becoming part of the company and community at large.

The TFWP program helped Woodcraft achieve its goal of creating a diverse employee base, but it also helped them increase productivity levels and meet rising demands in the market.

But it seemed all too good to be true. Random employer audits started to take place and the TFWP rules changed. On April 1, foreign workers who were in Canada for at least four years had to leave, and a mass exodus took place.

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