City Furniture and Appliances Vernon employees (left to right) Manpreet Singh Sidhu, Alexander Schoepp and Justin Sharma in their Vernon store. (Submitted photo)

City Furniture and Appliances Vernon employees (left to right) Manpreet Singh Sidhu, Alexander Schoepp and Justin Sharma in their Vernon store. (Submitted photo)

Vernon business makes the most of immigration pilot program

City Furniture and Appliances Vernon used the RNIP program to hire three immigrant employees

Submitted article

Justin Sharma has an easy response when asked why businesses should utilize the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program: Why wouldn’t you?

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) aims to help smaller communities benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residence. Vernon is one of two communities in BC and one of 11 in Canada to participate in the pilot.

Through the pilot program, Sharma, whose family owns and operates City Furniture and Appliances Vernon, has welcomed three skilled employees to the team.

“The RNIP program is about finding experienced candidates who can apply their expertise in helping a business operate and grow,” said Sharma. He’s worked in other countries himself and appreciates what it means to be an inclusive employer who helps new team members integrate in the work family and the community.

“There’s now another way to connect with very skilled individuals who bring unique perspectives and create positive impact. In our case, these individuals have become part of our family.”

Germany native Alexander Schoepp joined the City Furniture Vernon team in August 2021. Schoepp says he first heard about the position while researching the RNIP program online, found a contact number, and cold-called Sharma. He and his family happened to be in Canada at the time.

“I heard about the program and called Justin. We were spending time in Canmore, so we got the family into the car and drove,” says Schoepp.

It was the perfect match. Schoepp and his family returned to Germany to pack up and move to the Okanagan. After a few short months, Schoepp is now a team leader in his role, bringing 15 years of retail management experience to City Furniture Vernon.

In the Vernon – North Okanagan area and funded by the Government of Canada through Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and the province, RNIP empowers participants to integrate into their communities. After receiving a recommendation from the community, permanent residence status may be available within 12 months after applying through Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.

“As soon as we have permanent residency, we will start to look for a house. Permanent residency allows you to build your life and not just wait for clarity,” said Schoepp. “If it was just my wife and me, we’d be OK waiting. But, with two kids, you need that safety. I’m just happy.”

Manpreet Singh Sidhu’s journey with RNIP looked quite different.

Now the operations manager, Sidhu worked at City Furniture Vernon while studying business at university. After graduation, he sought a way to solidify his place in the community. Having had success with the RNIP program in the past, Sharma approached Ward Mercer, RNIP regional coordinator, to see if Sidhu’s unique situation would qualify for the program.

Sidhu was accepted through the program and recently became a permanent resident.

“I was on the edge at one point applying to extend my work permit, but now I’m feeling stress-free,” Sidhu smiles. “I’m at peace.”

Sidhu started working in the warehouse. Empowered by his business education, Sharma and RNIP, Sidhu worked his way through every department of City Furniture before becoming a pillar of the company.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. Everyone is so helpful here. If you would have talked to me a few years ago, you would see the difference,” Sidhu says. “I’ve gained my confidence here. I’ve gained everything.”

As businesses struggle to hire skilled workers during the ongoing labour shortage, Sharma encourages other Vernon and North Okanagan business owners to reach out to Mercer and the RNIP.

“The RNIP empowers businesses to find that person who not only fulfils a need within the business, but can also positively impact the community as well,” says Sharma. He says City Furniture, co-founded by his father 45 years ago, was built on this ideal. “I guess the question is, why wouldn’t you use the RNIP program?”

For more information about the RNIP program, visit rnip-vernon-northok.ca or phone 250-938-1066.

READ MORE: Pilot project aims to fill labour gaps in Vernon with skilled foreign workers

READ MORE: COVID-19 might have lasting impacts on the way Canada handles immigration: Minister


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