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Oxford Frozen Foods using immigration pilot program to bring in nine families

Oxford Frozen Foods has grown since its first processing plant opened 50 years ago. The company has expanded a couple of times including an $8.4-million expansion in 1998. - Oxford Frozen Foods photo
Oxford Frozen Foods is using the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program to bring nine families to Oxford from Vietnam and South Korea. File

Processor of wild blueberries thinking outside the box to grow labour pool

OXFORD, N.S. —

Oxford Frozen Foods is thinking outside the box, and Canada’s borders, to solve a labour shortage at the world’s largest process of frozen blueberries.

The company is bringing nine new families to Oxford from Vietnam and South Korea through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program that allows employers to hire skilled workers and international graduates who want to relocate to Atlantic Canada.

“We have been looking at avenues to improve our workforce pool and this was an option that came along and we began exploring just over a year ago,” Jordan Burkhardt, director of administration for the Oxford Food Group, told the Amherst News on Tuesday. “We met with a recruiter and things came together very quickly. We began looking at this so far out so we could ensure the work is there and it’s not going to impact anyone else, especially locally.”

Burkhardt said the new employees from outside Canada will not displace employees from the Oxford area, Cumberland County or Nova Scotia.

“We believe in supporting local first and this will complement it,” Burkhardt said. “We want to create the best workforce possible. The business is about our people and that’s what’s going to make us thrive for years to come. Where we get that talent is based on the options available at the time. Our goal is to find the right people for the right roles.”

Burkhardt said Oxford Frozen Foods, like other employers in Cumberland County, is having a difficult finding enough people locally to fill positions so it has had to look elsewhere and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program is an option.

“It’s something you have to do,” he said. “It’s within our processes, our human resources needs and finding the right fit, that skill set we require. These are skilled workers and we’re very excited to have them.”

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These individuals, who are arriving in January 2020, will be granted permanent residency upon their arrival. As part of the criteria for the program, all applicants have to meet minimum requirements in their level of communication in English, education and work experience.

Oxford Frozen Foods is the first Cumberland County to use the pilot program, but Burkhardt said there are others who are now looking at it as an option to attract workers.

Increasing immigration, he said, is important to the company. Oxford Frozen Foods has previously used the temporary workers program and has imported employees from its other operations and a number of the Syrian refugees, who came to Cumberland County have gone to work there.

To help with the transition, the new employees and their families will be staying in company-owned homes for the first six months. The company is also working with the school system to place 14 school-aged children into the Oxford Regional Education Centre.

Since 2009, Oxford Frozen Foods has assisted its employees that are first-time home owners living in the Oxford’s school catchment area with 20 per cent of the cost of home purchases through interest-free loans over 10 years of up to a maximum of $20,000.

More than 60 people have taken advantage of this program, two of the Syrian families that moved to the community.

Jonathan McClelland of the Cumberland Business Connector is applauding Oxford Frozen Foods for thinking outside the box to attract workers.

“If you look at the profile of our community we have twice as many people in their 60s as we do in their 20s. With retirements and the outmigration we don’t have as many people in their 20s and 30s,” McClelland said. “To keep our employers we need to find more workers. The model that Oxford is using in bringing in 14 adults and 16 children, right away they’ve increased the population of Oxford by three per cent.”

Also by bringing in a cluster of people from the same ethnic background, McClelland believes they’ll also have a support program and be more inclined to stay.

Oxford Frozen Foods’ initiative, he said, is something other companies can follow since the shortage of labour is among the biggest issues he hears of when talking to business.

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