Newcomers to Canada have skills that could help fill employment gaps in places like northern Ontario, and now a provincial agency is working to make that happen.

Oliver Pryce, coordinator of the Rural Employment Initiative (REI) at the Newcomer Centre of Peel in southern Ontario, said he has a large database of clients willing to move north for work.

"The skills that newcomers have, they can use in so many ways," said Pryce, who made a special presentation on the program to Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association members in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

Newcomers to Canada need employment to fully settle in the new country, he said. But many can only find work outside their training and specific skill set.

"When newcomers come, there's this expectation that ... when you come, you'll get a job directly in your field," Pryce said. "The reality is, it doesn't happen so quickly, or it doesn't happen for some persons."

Pryce said "for it [the move to Canada] to really work for them, they want to go somewhere where they can work directly in their field, or a related field."

People willing to move

Many of those newcomers are willing to relocate outside of major centres if it means they'll find work in their field, Pryce said.

He used a recent example of a family that the REI helped relocate to Thunder Bay. The father isn't working in his field, yet, but the mother is — she's a nurse by trade, and now has a job as a sleep technologist, Pryce said.

It's a struggle Pryce himself knows well. He immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in 2009, and wasn't able to find work as a teacher; he was a professor in his home country.

"I was hoping that that's where I would be now," he said, adding that he was able to use his skills to transfer to a new field.

"I'm no longer teaching, I'm doing training. I'm no longer advising students, I'm doing employment counselling."

The REI is working with the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association, and the city's Community Economic Development Commission, to bring more newcomers to the region to fill the employment gap, he said.

"This partnership allows us to connect to employment opportunities," Pryce said. "We're hoping that while we're here, we can continue the conversation, because in the north there is an employment gap."