A potential program to bring in skilled workers from outside of Canada aims to keep them in the area permanently, not temporarily, the City of Fort St. John says.

The city released preliminary details of its Immigration Pilot Project last week, as it braces for a massive influx of industrial development slated for the North Peace.

“It is a program to address a demonstrated need for specific skilled workers as our community prepares for historically high economic growth,” Mayor Lori Ackerman said in a release.

“This project is not the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.”

Under the proposed program, the city wants to attract permanent residents to the region with specific skills “as identified in consultation with business, industry, and the community.”

“There are specific skilled workers that are in high demand in our region and this project is proposed to assist in the recruitment and, just as importantly, retention of those workers and their families,” stated Moira Green, the city’s director of strategic services.

Details of the program are still few, as the city says it’s still in the research and drafting stage of the project, which would require city council approval.

It’s still unclear if this work will be done in conjunction with efforts to bring in workers from elsewhere or B.C. in Canada, who will pay for the project, and what types of incentives will be used for this program.

It’s also unclear if the consultation about these workers has been done, or will be done in the future.

It’s also unclear if this would be done for private business or the public sector, or both, and if workers would be paid the prevailing rates.

The Alaska Highway News posed these questions, and others, to the city.

“The proposal for the project is just being researched now so none of those details have been determined,” Julie Rogers, the city’s communications co-ordinator said.

The city met with the B.C Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training about the project in July. Last week, Mayor Lori Ackerman told various businesses about the initiative at the opening of STEP Energy Services new office Aug. 18, where multiple energy service companies were gathered to celebrate.

On social media, the city has stated the project would ensure that jobs are advertised and filled locally and from Canada first.

The program would fall under the Provincial Nominee Program to address what labour shortages remain, and focus on the “attraction, settlement, retention and integration of immigrant families to Fort St. John,” the city said in a release.

In its release, the city points to northeastern B.C.’s low immigration and unemployment rates as a need for the program.

The city is bracing for 57 major industrial projects – Site C and LNG projects among them – in the region that the city says will need more than 5,000 permanent resident workers and up to 18,000 provisional workers.

However, the city says the regional economic development office has tracked some $200 million in investments that have not moved forward because of a skilled worker shortage. This figure could not be immediately verified.

In 2014, the northeastern region had an estimated population of just over 72,000 people, according to B.C. Stats. In 2013-14, there were just 127 people from outside of Canada to come into the area. B.C.’s net international immigration for the year was 35,639.

The city also noted northeastern B.C.’s low unemployment rate.

Last March, the Alaska Highway News reported the unemployment rate for the Northeast had been listed as “not available” by BC Stats since October 2014, because Canada’s national statistical agency would not release the data due to a “confidentiality threshold” set at 1,500 unemployed people to prevent “direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data,” according to the agency’s website.

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