Work

Brandon , Canada

Industry Leaders Connect to Recruit Newcomers

Maple Leaf Foods

November 6, 2019

Recruitment and onboarding supports in the meatpacking industry help temporary foreign workers find long-term employment and a welcoming home in small town Manitoba

The meatpacking industry once provided thousands of Canadian workers with a decent living wage. Today, the industry, like many others in Canada, has turned to immigration to fill demand for workers.

In Brandon, Manitoba (pop. 49,000), Maple Leaf Consumer Foods’ hog processing plant is the largest such plant in Canada, and the leading employer and primary economic driver for the booming “Wheat City.”

Maple Leaf’s opened its Brandon facility in 1999 as a world-class processing plant. Despite its impressive size and modernity, facility struggled to retain workers for jobs that were hard, repetitive and undesirable for many. Maple Leaf turned to overseas recruitment to satisfy its workforce needs and to reduce turnover. Today Maple Leaf’s Brandon facility employs around 2,000 hourly, unionized workers, the majority of whom are either temporary foreign workers or new residents who have passed through the foreign worker program.

Collective Action

“The turnover was really high… in the early stages of the plant,” explains Blake Caruthers, Communications Officer with UFCW Local 832, representing the workers at Maple Leaf. “Once they started using the temporary foreign worker program, people were staying and making Brandon their home.”

To qualify for fast-tracked landed immigrant status, temporary foreign workers must agree to extend their six month contracts for another two years at Maple Leaf. To accommodate the new workers, UFCW Local 832 pushed to have the collective bargaining agreement and workplace information available to workers in four languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Ukrainian.

“It was the first of its kind in Canada,” Caruthers says of the collective agreement. “You’ve got to give Maple Leaf credit for that…. They understand the value of keeping their employees, our members, informed of their rights, and they realized that the better everybody understands the collective agreement, the better the workforce.”

From Temporary to Transitional

Like any employer, Maple Leaf Foods is looking for a stable workforce.  While they depend on recruiting foreign workers, many temporary jobs are really a permanent human resource need.

According to Susan Yaeger, Senior Manager, Human Resources International Recruitment Office at Maple Leaf Foods: “We don’t want temporary workers, we want permanent. When we select Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), we select people who will qualify for Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) as well. This is a pathway to permanency, in Manitoba, which has been very successful. We provide them with the supports they need.”

Maple Leaf Foods has built recruitment and onboarding supports to ensure that workers are oriented and welcomed into the company and community. As workers transition from temporary to permanent status, those supports continue to be crucial

English Training on Site

For Yaeger, it’s important for employers to give workers the tools and supports they need to do their job. If one of those tools is to speak English at a certain proficiency level employers should help them.

Employers should create a plan focused on people who would be likely to succeed in their local economy and community. At Maple Leaf Foods, English is crucial to that plan. Yaeger says that because their workforce is quite diverse, the common language of communication is English.

The company provides extensive pre and post-arrival supports to their workers. Before they arrive in Canada, they have received up to 160 hours of English language training. They also received an orientation package about Canadian culture, community and settlement information.

After the workers arrive, support continues, including additional ESL support. In Maple Leaf Foods’ Brandon, Manitoba plant, English classes are run after hours and on weekends in an on-site training facility. Funded by the union and by Maple Leaf Foods, classes are free for workers.

Classes aim to get workers to Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) 4, to ensure they can communicate adequately on the job. During workplace orientation, translation and interpretation is also provided. All important written communication, such as health and safety information, is translated into workers’ native language. As some workers develop adequate language skills, they also act as interpreters in the workplace. Anyone who needs ESL training can attend classes.

Looking Locally for Global Talent

Canada’s recent immigrant arrivals are an essential part of Maple Leaf Foods strategy to grow their workforce. Yaeger recognizes that there are challenges to attracting and settling newcomers in small communities and rural areas. Newcomers tend to land in more urban centres, such as Winnipeg. Maple Leaf provides relocation packages, up to $5000 to relocate to Brandon. They’re making progress: “we’re getting enough workers through working with local newcomer associations that we’ve been connecting with. We’ve brought in a lot of workers who are newcomers to Canada.”

Yaeger has made direct connections with community groups. She works with them to ensure they know about job opportunities, and what Maple Leaf Foods is looking for. When newcomers are looking for work, she wants them to understand what’s available at Maple Leaf Foods.

The company still relies on some highly skilled transitional foreign workers for specific skilled labour they can’t find in Canada. As they raise their profile among immigrant groups, they’re hoping to help reach and support more newcomers with jobs.

Success

The City of Brandon’s population in the 2016 Census was 48,859, just over a 6% increase from the 2011 Census. Brandon’s growth has kept pace with the fastest growing cities in Canada and demonstrates the opportunities available for individuals, families, and businesses to grow and succeed.

For the first time in years, Brandon’s schools are filling up, houses are being built and new businesses are opening their doors. New comer attraction and retention strategies at the Maple Leaf Commercial Foods’ Brandon plant have positively increased local population growth, spurring the economy forward at a rate unseen for decades. In 2012, the vacancy rate in Brandon was less than 0.5 per cent and the unemployment rate sitting at a comfortable 2.8 per cent.

Source: Hire Immigrants

 

Making it Work for You:

  • If English classes offered near you are not accessible to your workforce, work with internal resources (such as unions, worker groups, etc.) to create and offer classes that fit with your workforce schedule.
  • When you hire new employees from other places or other cities and town, provide them with the type of welcome and orientation package to the new community you would want.
  • Stabilizing your workforce means providing the right supports and making long-term plans to integrate and welcome newcomers.



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