Calgary

Faced with labour shortage, this southern Alberta town turns to rural immigration program

Whether they’ve been in business for decades or just a few weeks, employers in Taber, Alta., say they’re struggling to hire staff. The town was recently approved to take part in a rural immigration program that some hope will help with the labour shortage.

Provincial program recruits newcomers to live and work permanently in small towns

Monika (left) and Vivek Kapil (right) say it's been tough to recruit staff at their newly opened restaurant, Indian Pan Flame, in Taber, Alta. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Whether they've been in business for decades or just a few weeks, employers in the southern Alberta town of Taber say they're struggling to hire the staff they need.

Vivek Kapil opened an Indian restaurant in town last month and is still trying to hire a dishwasher and cook. In the meantime, he's filling in the gaps himself. 

"Right now, me and other staff, we are working morning to close every day," said Kapil, who's now trying to coax friends in B.C. to move to Taber to work for him. 

Brad Martin, whose furniture and appliance store has been in the family since 1987, is in the same predicament. Martin needs a delivery driver, repair technician and sales associate — but for now, he said, he's been personally "demoted."

"Today, all morning, I was doing deliveries," Martin, president of Peter's Home Harmony Centre, told CBC News on Thursday. 

Brad Martin says business is going strong at Peter's Home Harmony, a furniture and appliance store in Taber. The problem is he needs help making deliveries. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The Town of Taber's economic development officer, Amy Allred, said businesses have tried to recruit staff locally. But amid a deepening labour shortage, they're casting a wider net. 

This summer, the town was approved to take part in a provincial immigration program that aims to help rural communities in Alberta fill job shortages by recruiting newcomers.

'Help wanted' signs are a common sight these days in the Town of Taber. This one was posted outside Peter's Home Harmony on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The idea is to attract people to settle permanently in small communities. 

Through the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program, employers recruit foreign nationals to apply for jobs. Once they have an offer in hand, successful candidates also need approval from both the community and the province. Once those boxes are checked, they can apply right away for permanent residency (though the federal government makes the ultimate decision).

The City of Brooks, Grande Prairie and the Town of Whitecourt are also taking part in the program, according to the province.

'We want them to stay long-term'

For its part in the immigration program, the Town of Taber had to demonstrate it had an economic development plan in place and settlement services in the area to help newcomers get situated, said Allred. 

"If the worker comes, we want them to not just stay for the year, but we want them to get settled and we want them to stay here long-term," she said.

Amy Allred is economic development officer for the Town of Taber. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Allred said it was a group of businesses that initially encouraged the town to apply for the program. So far, she said around eight have signed up to take part. 

Mukesh Patel, a manager at A-1 Pizza in Taber, is a permanent resident himself and hopes to volunteer with any newcomers who arrive through the program.

Mukesh Patel, a manager at A-1 Pizza in Taber, says the town is a good place to settle down. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Patel, who moved to Taber from India (with a brief stop in Brampton, Ont. in between), said it can be tough adjusting to the snow in southern Alberta, but that Taber is a good place to settle down. 

"It is a very quiet town, it's a good town," he said. "You can save money, you can earn money." 

Allred said the town hopes to approve its first candidates in the weeks ahead. 

The Town of Taber was recently approved as a designated community under the rural renewal stream of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program. The program aims to help rural communities fill job shortages by recruiting newcomers to live and work permanently. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

As for Kapil and Martin, the two business owners said they hadn't heard of the program before last week — but they think it's a good idea and plan to look into it. 

"Being that there's a lot of jobs available, I really think it couldn't hurt," said Martin.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paula Duhatschek

Reporter/Editor

Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Calgary who previously worked for CBC News in Kitchener and in London, Ont. You can reach her at paula.duhatschek@cbc.ca.

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