Northwest bound: Filipinos head to the Abitibi to work
Dealing with a major labour crisis, a Rouyn-Noranda company tries to stay afloat by hiring 6 Filipinos
A loud screeching sound fills the air as Manny Suerte Felipe holds a metal disk to the spinning wheel of a grinder in the shop at Tehcnosub.
Based in Rouyn-Noranda, roughly 630 kilometres northwest of Montreal, Technosub is an industrial water pump manufacturer for the mining and oil sectors.
Standing next to Suerte Felipe is Mikel Ileto, who's keeping busy with another piece of shiny metal.
Machinists by trade, both men are from just outside Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
They were hired through the temporary foreign worker program and arrived in Rouyn-Noranda earlier in the fall with four other men from the southeast Asian country.
They had never seen Canada before, or witnessed winter weather.
"Some of the other guys, they've seen snow already," Suerte Felipe said. "I went to Japan but I didn't see snow there."
The Abitibi, and its freezing November temperatures, might be new but moving to another country to work is something the men are used to.
Both have spent most of their professional lives working and living abroad.
"It's difficult to get the job in Philippines," Ileto said.
And the salaries are better overseas, he added.
Ileto has been to job sites in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Korea. Suerte Felipe has worked in Singapore.
But the jobs they grabbed in Rouyn-Noranda hold the promise of something greater.
"If you go in Canada and work, you have the opportunity that you can bring your family and become residents," Ileto explained.
Ileto said other countries he's worked in only offered work visas but no chance of anything permanent.
The men hope they'll be able to bring their wives and children to Rouyn-Noranda in the next few years.
"I think it's the future of Quebec"
Éric Beaupré, Technosub's president, said that before he hired Ileto, Suerte Felipe and the others, he was missing 10 machinists.
"It's really few, the numbers of students who are going out of school being machinists."
That lack of skilled workers in the province is what's putting companies like his in jeopardy, Beaupré said.
He hasn't completed his roster yet. but Beaupré said he's planning to hire internationally again to fill all of his positions.
And if Ileto and Suerte Felipe can bring their families to Rouyn-Noranda, Beaupré sees an opportunity for other businesses in the region that might need help.
"They want to work, you know. We need workers," Beaupré said.
"We have to be open to that. I think it's the future of Quebec."
One of the people working to help newcomers like Suerte Felipe and Ileto integrate in Rouyn-Noranda is Marie-France Beaudry.
She's the general manager of Mosaïque, an organization that helps newcomers with things like French lessons and filling in paperwork.
She says part of her work is to allow locals and newcomers to interact in order to promote tolerance.
One way she and her team do that is to have them share a meal from another country. She said eating together helps create a bond.
"There's a lot of people who are curious about the other culture," she said.
Beaudry said locals make up about half of her membership, and many volunteer to help newcomers with French conversation groups.
"People are very welcoming … but we want to help that. We want to encourage that," Beaudry said.
Greeted with a smile
So far, Suerte Felipe and Ileto can't believe the reception they've received in Rouyn-Noranda.
Ileto said he's never worked in a country where he'd interacted with the locals.
"But here … wherever you go, when you see local people, you talk with them, they will greet you with a smile," Ileto said.
The next step, he said, is to learn more French in order to get rid of the communication barrier.
For now they speak, "un peu," Suerte Felipe said.
But with French lessons every week, they expect to be able to better speak with ease in the coming months.
"I feel overwhelmed. I feel happy," Suerte Felipe said.