Stratford plant helps Ukrainian workers find safe haven in Canada

Stackpole International of Stratford has brought in Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion of their country who previously worked at the auto parts maker’s sister plant in Poland to help fill much-needed local jobs.

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Overwhelmed by Canada’s severe labor shortage, a Stratford auto parts manufacturer takes an innovative approach where pragmatism meets humanitarianism.

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Stackpole International – Stratford’s largest private employer, with more than 600 workers – is filling vacancies at its sprawling factory in the town, providing a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing their country more than five months after Russia invaded. The company hired 10 Ukrainian refugees who worked for its parent company at a factory in Poland, where many of the UN’s estimated 6.4 million Ukrainian refugees in Europe have ended up since the war began in late February. Two more recruits are coming in a few weeks. Not only does the company provide jobs in Stratford for displaced workers, but it also arranges to fly them here and place them in accommodation, and pay some family members to accompany them as they go. begin their new life in southwestern Ontario.

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“To be honest with you, we can’t fill our labor shortage with people from Stratford or the surrounding area,” said Tara Ross, the company’s director of human resources.

Faced with this lack of manpower, Stackpole officials began working on their solution in the spring. Ross started by traveling to Poland, where Stackpole’s parent company, Johnson Electric, has a factory that employs up to 200 Ukrainians.

“I went there to help them with the expedited visa (program) through the Canadian government, so they applied for their visas and as they get approved, the HR team in Poland let me know,” Ross said.

“We pay for their flights here as a business and we pay up to two family members… then we provide them with their temporary accommodation when they get here. They can start working immediately, as soon as they get all their legal documents, and now we are also trying to help them find their permanent accommodation,” she said.

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Nationally, the labor market remains tight, with more than one million unfilled jobs in Canada and its unemployment rate of 4.9%, full employment and the lowest unemployment rate in the country. using comparable data since 1976. In the Greater London area, more than 6,000 jobs advertised with area employment offices are seeking candidates.

So far, Ross and his colleagues have helped 10 Ukrainians – all workers – immigrate to Stratford. Two more who worked at Stackpole’s sister plant in Poland are expected to make the trip in the coming weeks.

Ross said the Ukrainians working at the Polish factory were lucky not to have been drafted into their country’s military. Most, she says, were already working in Poland when war broke out in February. After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law that month, all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 were deemed eligible for military service and banned from leaving the country.

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While living in Poland kept them away from the front lines, the threat of war still loomed as the Russian military pushed west.

“I worked at a Stackpole factory in Poland that communicated with Stackpole (Stratford), and they said to me, if you want, you have a chance (to go to Canada). … In Canada (there is ) safer than in Poland,” said Mykhailo Komeranko, a Ukrainian native who just moved into a new home in Stratford this week with five of his fellow Ukrainians.

As well as providing temporary housing and immediate employment, the local Stackpole team arranged driving lessons, booked medical exams and appointments, helped Ukrainians complete immigration paperwork and found furniture and necessary household supplies.

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Ross said she was even working with the Stratford-area public school board to find English teachers who could come to the plant to teach classes for Ukrainians and other newcomers that Stackpole employs.

Ross said company officials also hoped locals would be willing to help by providing temporary housing for Ukrainian workers or helping out in other ways.

Ross said she hopes this support will encourage some of the other Ukrainians working in Poland to join their former colleagues here in Canada.

“So far they’re loving it here… (and) we love having them here,” Ross said.

Along with some 6.4 million Ukrainians displaced elsewhere in Europe, millions more have been uprooted in their own country since late February, when the conflict with Russia began.

Canada has approved the resettlement of tens of thousands of Ukrainians to this country, where they can work and live for up to three years as temporary residents.

Precise numbers are difficult to determine, but dozens of Ukrainian families are thought to have settled in the immediate London area and more in the wider southwestern Ontario region.

Anyone wanting to help with housing or other supports can call Ross at 519-271-6060 ext. 7213 or email [email protected]

[email protected]

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