Food In Canada

Success factors when hiring newcomers

By Jennefer Griffith   

Business Operations Editor pick Food Processing Skills Canada human resources Immigration

The role of immigration in addressing labour market challenges

Immigrants make up about 30 per cent of the workforce in food and beverage manufacturing. Photo © LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock

I think most of us would agree there are serious labour challenges in Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing industry. Food Processing Skills Canada’s (FPSC’s) labour market information tells us the industry needs to add approximately 50,000 new people between 2020 and 2025. We know that seven in 10 employers are facing recruitment and retention challenges, and 40 per cent of businesses lack a dedicated HR department or staff. 

The workforce is also ageing with one in four people set to retire in the next 10 years. The situation is most dire in Atlantic Canada. Additionally, talent attraction has been a long-term challenge across all of Canada. A survey conducted by Food Processing Skills Canada found that only three in 10 people would consider work in the industry, which is particularly concerning for the meat and poultry sector, given only 16 per cent of their workforce is under the age of 30.

However, the labour shortage is not unique to food and beverage manufacturing. Statistics show Canada’s unemployment is running at an all-time low and there are record high job vacancy numbers. Employers can’t expect employees to simply work more to fill the need, so where are the workers going to come from?

Last year, the Government of Canada launched its biggest ever expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and employers have responded with an increase of applications to fill Ontario jobs. With the Ontario job vacancy rate averaging a very high 5.3 per cent, it is no surprise that there is a sense of urgency.


The job vacancy rate, which expresses the number of job vacancies as a percentage of labour demand, provides insight into sectors and industries that are having difficulty filling job openings. As we know, a high volume of unfilled positions can restrict a company’s output, leading to lost revenues for businesses and the industry.

Assuming a direct relationship between total net revenue and total employment, a single unfilled position in the food and beverage manufacturing industry could cost businesses as much as $190 per day in lost net revenue. A 2020 Food Processing Skills Canada (FPSC) employer survey found food and beverage manufacturers had an average of six vacant positions.

With over 7,600 establishments (excluding those without employees) in food and beverage manufacturing, industry-wide losses from job vacancies could total up to a staggering $8.5 million in net revenue per day. Assuming the level of vacancies is constant throughout the year, the $8.5 million per day becomes $3.1 billion per year.

To help address the worker shortfall, the Government of Canada announced large commitments to immigration in November 2022 with 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025. The plan also brings an increased focus on attracting newcomers to different regions of the country, including small towns and rural communities.

This is positive news for the industry. Newcomers often have the experience to fill vacant positions and the motivation to move to Canada to work, settle, and raise their families.

Currently, immigrants represent about 31 per cent of the sector’s workforce, which is five per cent higher than the overall Canadian labour force. Of the 31 per cent, nine per cent are recent immigrants arriving in Canada within the last five years. 

With increased immigration comes new opportunities for Canadian employers and jobseekers. However, it’s important for employers to be aware there are key success factors for immigrants and employment such as access to settlement services for integration into Canada socially and economically. It’s also important for employers to make a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion principles and to provide training in multiple languages to ensure successful onboarding and essential skills.

FPSC offers online skills training to support employers and new hires, many of which are available in several languages. The organization’s re-launched Canadian Food Safety Readiness program is also helping newcomers prepare for a job in the industry before they arrive in Canada. Our partnership with Focus Humanitarian Assistance will upskill Afghan refugees in Turkey with fundamental food and beverage manufacturing training and then pair them with Canadian employers as part of an integration strategy into Canadian society.

To assist Canadian food and beverage manufacturing employers with a better understanding of immigration streams including the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, FPSC has created a new resource called Immigration Navigation Boot Camp. This five-part interactive webinar series offers important information on Canada’s immigration system, available programs, and foreign recruitment and settlement practices.

There are exciting new opportunities for employers and jobseekers with immigration. Now is the time to become better informed and assess the potential for your organization. 

Jennefer Griffith is the executive director of Food Processing Skills Canada.

This column was originally published in the April/May 2023 issue of Food in Canada.

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