Nova Scotia

International students helping fill Cape Breton labour shortage

Businesses in areas such as Pleasant Bay, Inverness, and Chéticamp are hiring international students to help fill staffing needs, including many from Cape Breton University.

'There are no people to hire locally,' says Jenny Aucoin, manager of Aucoin Bakery

From left, Cape Breton University students Tongrui Weng, Krishna Surendra Babu and Lalithambika Devi. These students are working at Aucoin Bakery in Chéticamp, N.S. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Several international students at Cape Breton University (CBU) are getting a taste of life in some of the island's more remote communities this summer.

Businesses in areas such as Pleasant Bay, Inverness and Chéticamp are turning to students from places such as India and China to help fill staffing needs.

"There are no people to hire locally," said Jenny Aucoin, manager of Aucoin Bakery in Chéticamp. "Our population is much older, so we're struggling. Most businesses are struggling here."

In March, a relative of Aucoin's who owns the Rusty Anchor Restaurant in Pleasant Bay attended a job fair at CBU, along with 20 other businesses, most of them from outside industrial Cape Breton.

The Rusty Anchor hired six international students and then passed a stack of resumés to Aucoin, who hired three students. Tongrui Weng from China is one of them.

Hung Nguyen and Germia Rigby are both studying hospitality at Cape Breton University and working at Cabot Links Resort in Inverness, N.S. (Holly Conners/CBC)

"I think it's very nice because Chéticamp is very different from Sydney and it's a very beautiful view and I can have different experiences here," she said.

Over the past six months, the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration has taken about 100 international students on tours around the island's rural counties in an effort to match their skills to employment needs.

Resort hired 17 international students

At Cabot Links Resort in Inverness, it hired 17 international students to work there this summer. Eight are students from CBU, as well as others from schools such as St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., Dalhousie University in Halifax and Holland College in Charlottetown.

"Working here is so perfect with me," said Hung Nguyen of Vietnam, a hospitality student at CBU. "I have experience in meeting with guests or doing the service in a very fine dining restaurant. It's very good for me to pursue my dream in food and beverage."

For Germia Rigby of the Turks and Caicos, it's her second summer working at Cabot Links. The CBU hospitality student said the place is starting to feel like home.

"I didn't know there could have been a smaller place than Sydney … Inverness is pretty small," she said.

Hopes to grow 'both sides of the island'

The Centre for Immigration's hope is that some of these international students will stay long-term.

"Retention is our No. 1 goal," said retention co-ordinator Deeno Tuggar. "We're hoping that most of them that are working in Inverness and Richmond counties and Baddeck, and all these places, that they would be familiar with that side of the island and tend to stay there, so that we're growing both sides of the island."

Jenny Aucoin manages Aucoin Bakery in Chéticamp, N.S. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The three international students working at Aucoin Bakery say they'd consider that. While life in Chéticamp is different from what Weng, Krishna Surendra Babu and Lalithambika Devi are used to, the three say they're settling in — and they're even trying to learn a little French.

"It's so peaceful here," said Devi, who is from India. "It's so calm. The people are nice. These kind of places are hard to find."

Babu, also from India, shares that sentiment.

"Yeah, I love this place, but we haven't been to Toronto yet," she said with a laugh.

About the Author

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

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