Is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program Dead?

Town Hall panel from left: Dave Kaiser, AHLA; Ralph Troschke, Olds College; Celia Koehler, AHLA and Perry Wilford, past chair, AHLA.

Town Hall panel from left: Dave Kaiser, AHLA; Ralph Troschke, Olds College; Celia Koehler, AHLA and Perry Wilford, past chair, AHLA.

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BANFF, Alta. — While Dave Kaiser of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association says the Temporary Foreign Worker Program still has a heartbeat, some of his hotel members aren't so sure.

A year ago at the AHLA annual conference, the federal government announced a moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the food service sector. At this year's conference Town Hall session, Kaiser updated members on the events of the past year, detailing the sweeping reforms announced by the Feds last July. 

Kaiser pointed out that Alberta's hotel industry foreign workers number about 3,000 compared to the 380,000 TFWs in the federal program before the reforms. The need for TFWs varies greatly across the province with resort communities such as Banff and Canmore and remote resource communities impacted the most. 

Asked if the TFW program was dead, Kaiser replied that one of the most promising options he has talked about with the federal government is a program specific to the hotel and lodging industry modelled after the seasonal agricultural workers' program, which was not affected by the reforms.

But some members of the audience said the program is almost dead, with one hotelier noting that the declining caps of 30 per cent on foreign workers this year, 20 per cent next year and 10 per cent the following year are based on a property's current percentage of foreign workers. In other words, if you had 15 per cent TFWs, you can't raise that to 30 per cent.

Another hotelier was more blunt. “I'm sorry — it's dead,” he said.

The AHLA has other options, and is spending $500,000 to help fund an innovative new hospitality program at Olds College in Olds, Alberta, north of Calgary. Ralph Troschke of Olds College outlined the benefits of the mobile-focused program which will feature YouTube videos delivered to high school and college students, and those in the industry requiring additional training, on their smartphones or tablets. 

The length of the program has been reduced to 14 months including three months of practical work experience. It also features dual credits, where students can earn credits that count towards both high school and college diplomas, in a bid to attract younger students to the hospitality industry.

Other possible ways to alleviate the labour shortage were explored at the conference, including the Canada-Alberta Jobs Program, AHLA's Employer of Choice program, a targetted employment website called TourismWorks.ca and hiring more Aboriginal workers, as Aboriginal youth are the fastest growing demographic group in the province.