- Folu Oloyede – Maven Lane
- Nancy Mittathanickal – Interior Homecare Solutions
- Gerey Villaester – Predator Ridge
- Petro Stryiski – STR Okanagan Taping
- Luiz Fernando de Paula – Cory Petty Construction
- Jorel Aguiluz – SysGen Solutions
- Jess Chitty – Vernon Christian School
- Manpreet Singh Sidhu & Alexander Schoepp – City Furniture & Appliances
- Silver Star Mountain Resort Employer Video
- Interior Homecare Solutions Employer Video
- Kingfisher Boats Employer Video
'It's my purpose': Teacher turned ECE assistant on his new life in Vernon
Folu Oloyede had always dreamed of visiting Canada.
So, when his sister invited him to Lethbridge to meet his new nephew, it was an easy decision to make. What Folu didn’t imagine then—what he couldn’t have imagined—is how quickly his life would change forever.
He booked a round-trip flight out of Nigeria, hugged his son and kissed his wife goodbye, and said he’ll see them in a few months.
More than three years passed before he finally saw them again.
Sitting comfortably in a grey t-shirt embroidered with the Maven Lane logo above his heart, Folu’s wide smile masks the years of uncertainty that once weighed on his shoulders. Now an early childhood education (ECE) assistant, he’s just happy to be reunited with family and surrounded by friends in his new home.
“It’s a total coincidence that I’m here,” Folu laughs. “The plan was to meet my nephew, spend a few months in Canada and go back home to my four-year-old son and my wife.”
His return flight was scheduled for April 2020. But, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the start of the pandemic. Flights were cancelled, borders were closed, and before he knew it, Folu was stuck.
“Nigeria shut down its air space. I was stuck—I was stuck and all I had was a visitor’s permit. I couldn’t work, and I couldn’t bear not being with my family,” Folu says.
Thankfully, he was able to stay with his sister, her husband and his nephew during the lockdown.
“I was thinking, maybe I can just see if there’s a plane, a way to get out of here. I thought maybe it would open up again in June or July,” Folu recalls. “And then, in June, a new policy came out, and everything changed.”
Travellers stuck in Canada on a visitor’s visa could apply for a closed work permit without having to leave the country.
Folu went online and soon found a Nigerian family in Fort McMurray. They were looking for someone to take care of their two-year-old and put their seven-year-old through online schooling. As a high school biology and chemistry teacher, Folu was a great fit for the job, but he knew it would be temporary.
“I was travelling back and forth between Lethbridge and Fort McMurray for about a year, and then my sister’s husband got a job at the university in Kelowna,” Folu says. “When they moved to the Okanagan, they asked me if I was going be OK in Fort McMurray on my own. I wasn’t, really, so they started helping me look for other job opportunities.
Finding the RNIP program
Folu’s closed work permit meant he could only work with the family in Alberta, but there was a new immigration path for skilled professionals debuting in the North Okanagan: the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program.
Launched in 2020, RNIP helps communities and businesses benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residency. The North Okanagan was selected as one of two communities in B.C., and one of 11 in Canada, to participate.
After reaching out to Maven Lane about an open position in September 2021, the team quickly connected Folu with RNIP coordinator Ward Mercer.
“I assumed it was just going to be another work permit. I had no idea that the program would be a fast track to permanent residency,” says Folu. “I thought it would be another four years before I could bring my family to Canada.”
Then, on Dec. 6, 2022, just over one year after first hearing about the RNIP program and nearly three years after getting stuck in Canada, Folu became a permanent resident. Four days later, his wife and son arrived in Vancouver.
“When I was waiting to see my family again, I was just working on adrenaline. My mind was divided, but I had to be professional. I’m working with young kids, and they can tell when you aren’t totally focused,” says Folu. “When my wife and son came here, my whole outlook on life changed. I felt whole again.”
Finding his calling
Surrounded by young smiling faces every day, Folu says he’s found his calling at Maven Lane. In the fall, he plans on going back to school to become an early childhood educator.
“After university, I worked in the hospital with the state agency in Nigeria to help control HIV, but I always loved teaching and I eventually found myself teaching high school science,” says Folu. “Coming to Canada and going back into education felt like a natural progression.”
Only now, instead of teaching 17-year-olds about living organisms, he helps kids under three thrive.
“I’ve found my niche in being part of the development of children, shaping and moulding them and being a big part of their everyday lives. This isn’t something I’m doing to survive, it’s my purpose,” says Folu. “It’s so rewarding when you see the light in their faces and they come to give you a hug first thing in the morning. I look forward to seeing them every day.”
The RNIP program is made possible through funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.
Skilled care aide helps Vernon seniors - thanks to RNIP
A warm spring breeze blows through the screen door of the two-storey rowhouse. Inside, Sabu Thomas rolls up the sleeves of his denim shirt and takes a seat at the kitchen table. He smiles and gestures to his daughter, Alphonsa Sabu, sitting on the couch in the living room.
She’s in Grade 9 at Seaton, and she’s getting good grades, Sabu beams.
His wife, Nancy Mittathanickal, smiles as she enters the room and takes a seat next to Sabu. She’s still wearing her blue scrubs and cardigan from her shift as a care aide at Interior Home Care Solutions.
“I was a nurse in India,” Nancy says, relaxing in her chair. “Before I can be a nurse here, I need to take more exams and English proficiency tests. I’m still working towards that, but for now, I’m a care aide. It’s a really good job. I get to help seniors with their daily routines.”
Nancy arrived in Canada from India five years ago, she says. She studied to be a care aide in Vancouver before doing a practicum in Penticton. Three years ago, when her work permit was about to expire, she had to find a new way to stay in the community and bring her family to Canada.
“My friends from school in Vancouver Akshaya Cyriac and Sajini Salam came to Vernon to work as care aides for Interior HomeCare Solutions,” Nancy says, politely folding her hands on the table. “There was a lot of news about a new program at that time. I talked to Akshaya and she said I should also come to Vernon.”
Initially launched in 2020 as a two-year pilot, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program helps communities and businesses benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residency. The North Okanagan was selected as one of two communities in B.C., and one of 11 in Canada, to participate. The RNIP program expanded to the Shuswap in October 2022 and was extended until August 2024.
That’s when Nancy met the person who would be her biggest supporter through the program: Interior HomeCare Solutions’ human resources manager Carol Odagiri. A supporter of the program since its launch, Odagiri says RNIP has played a critical role in connecting skilled healthcare workers with vacant positions.
“We were in a shortage of health care aides. Not just us, but everyone in town was fishing from the same pond. I was thinking, ‘How am I going to cover these shifts?’ No one is answering the advert,” says Odagiri.
''Hit the jackpot": Accountant lands dream job at Predator Ridge through RNIP
The stage lights flash and paint Gerey Villaester in shades of red, blue and purple. Wielding a microphone and dressed in a smart gray suit, he steps forward. And then the music starts.
Months after his performance opening the Filipino Association Vernon’s first ever Okanagan Pinoy Music Festival, Villaester still beams about the opportunity to bring his passion, and a taste of his culture, to his new home.
“I think I hit the jackpot in coming to Vernon. In my four months here in Canada, I was able to visit Vancouver and Calgary, and I realized that this is the perfect place for me,” Villaester smiles as he and a co-worker chat in the office. “This is where I would want to work and maybe even stay for the rest of my life.”
A financial accountant at Predator Ridge, Villaester found his way to the Okanagan almost by chance. While working as a financial analyst in Saudi Arabia, Villaester started sending his resume out through LinkedIn whenever he saw a finance job opportunity in Canada and had immigration sponsorship support.
Krista Frasz, Director of HR, Predator Ridge, still remembers the day Villaester’s resume came across her desk. The position, advertised with the support of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program, received far more qualified applications than Frasz anticipated, but Villaester’s stood out.
“There are certain pieces you need to have, like the right skill set and training, but what we really try to do here is look at the candidate from a culture standpoint,” says Frasz. “He’s just such a charismatic and intelligent person, and the team noticed that right when they did the first interview.”
“After a few weeks of working here, there was an ‘aha’ moment. I realized how my skill set and work experience exactly fit what the team needed,” Villaester says, noting his work as a chartered professional accountant (CPA) in the Philipines and background in real estate, construction, the food industry and financial analysis.
“My first impression of Predator Ridge was it’s like a piece of paradise, and I still get amazed when I drive to work. I think it’s one of the best places in Vernon and the whole Okanagan. They really support their people. It’s like a family.”
And, Villaester says, it’s a family that truly made him feel welcome when he arrived in April 2022. From Frasz helping him secure an apartment to his coworkers offering rides to and from work before he got his license, Villaester is humbled by the support he’s seen from the community.
“I’m just so thankful for Predator Ridge and the RNIP for being instrumental in bringing me to Canada,” says Villaester. “Not many people have the opportunity, especially those who are coming from a developing country, to come and work here in their same profession. I wouldn’t have had that privilege had I done it any other way.”
While Villaester studies business English and Canadian taxation laws to further his career at Predator Ridge, he says he plans on getting a Canadian CPA in the future.
“This is just the perfect place for me,” says Villaester. “I’m so happy that, with the vastness of Canada, this is where I landed.”
The RNIP program is made possible through funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.
Experienced tile setter brings family to Canada through RNIP
Petro Stryiskyi still vividly remembers the day five years ago when he decided to leave his country and his construction business behind for a chance at a better life for his family. With more than 20 years of experience, he took a job as a tile setter and dreamed of the day his family would join him in Canada.
Then, in September of 2021, Petro says the family was finally reunited, and it’s all thanks to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.
Immigrating to Canada as a skilled worker
After graduating from college in 2001, Petro worked for a construction company in Ukraine before starting his own interior renovation company. Alongside his business partner and five employees, Petro’s crew became renowned for their craftsmanship and had a waitlist that reached several months into the future.
“It wasn’t only tile setting,” Petro says. “We did everything inside. Taping, painting, tiles, flooring, everything. Construction in Ukraine is very different from Canada. Usually, our customers wanted to find one company that could do everything inside.”
One day, Petro says, his business partner hopped on a plane to visit a friend in the Okanagan.
“After he returned, he told me that we had a chance to get to Canada. His friend was doing some big project downtown and was looking for some tile setters,” Petro says. “From that moment, we both went back to school to start learning English.”
RNIP helps bring the family together
In 2018, Petro arrived in the Okanagan with a work permit and started working with a local construction company. After 18 months in Canada, Petro knew he wanted to stay and bring his family. But, with a looming expiration on his work visa and no clear path to extend his stay, he didn’t know how.
And then his employer heard about the RNIP program, and Petro had an ember of hope. In September 2021, shortly after he received his permanent residency, his wife, Kateryna Stryiska and their two kids joined him, and the Okanagan immediately felt like home.
“I was born in Crimea and spent all my childhood there, but after the annexation, I couldn’t be there anymore,” says Kateryna. “Here, all the nature, it’s so close to Crimea. It reminds me of my childhood back home.”
Setting roots in the Okanagan
Now living in Lake Country and running his own company STR Okanagan Taping, Petro keeps busy as a contractor and still does regular work for his former employer.
Their son will soon graduate from high school and has applied to university to study business and finance, while their daughter is settling into their new neighbourhood.
“At first, our son was a bit confused about what we were going to do here,” says Petro. “Now he understand the opportunity he has and says he doesn’t ever want to go back to Ukraine.”
“Because of this program, our family is now in a safe place, together.”
Want to learn more about how the RNIP program can help bring skilled trades workers to the North Okanagan? Head to the link below for more information.
RNIP helps Vernon construction company hire three qualified workers
There’s an untapped market for North Okanagan and Shuswap trades employers looking for skilled workers. And, with the help of a pilot program that bridges the gap between local businesses and experienced candidates, it’s a market that’s within reach.
Just ask Cory Petty, owner of Cory Petty Construction, about his experience with the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program.
“Lots of other businesses I talk to are short staffed or they’re just way too busy. They need more people, and they can’t find them. You hear that a lot these days,” says Petty. “All of the people that I’ve had go through the program, they’re here because they want to work. They work hard and prove that they deserve to be here.”
Fast track to permanent residency
Initially launched as a three year pilot in Stage 1 communities in 2019, and in Stage 2 communities like the North Okanagan in 2020, the RNIP program helps communities and businesses benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residency. The North Okanagan was selected as one of the two communities in B.C., and one of 11 in Canada, and the program was extended until August 2024 with the last Letter of Recommendation to be issued to candidates by the end of February 2024.
For Petty, his long-time employee and friend Luiz Fernando de Paula is a perfect example of what’s possible with the program. The pair met more than six years ago during de Paula’s first week in the country. A skilled carpenter visiting Canada from Brazil on a work permit, de Paula was brought on board to support a two-year construction project in Calgary.
“After the project, Cory said he’d be glad to have me working with him forever, but they were moving back to Vernon. I stayed in Calgary for a year and Cory promised to call when he had a good project,” says de Paula, now a supervisor with Cory Petty Construction. “One day, I was with my friend, and we were talking about my options to stay in the country. I was running out of time to immigrate. He told me about the RNIP program. In the same week the program launched, Cory gave me a call and asked if I would want to move to Vernon.”
Petty and de Paula met Ward Mercer, RNIP regional coordinator for the North Okanagan, and de Paula soon became one of the first applicants to pass through the program and receive permanent residency.
“It felt awesome. This was the goal when I moved to Canada. My wife and I love the countryside and the outdoor activities here. The Okanagan has been amazing for us,” says de Paula. “I’m reaching my goals thanks to Cory and the RNIP program.”
Simple and smooth hiring process
After their first meeting with Mercer, Petty says he attended an employer training session that taught him more about the program and how it works. With Mercer acting as his guide every step of the way, Petty made quick work of the paperwork before Mercer double-checked everything was in order.
“It seems like Ward did a lot of the work,” Petty says. “It was really easy.”
RNIP job board helps find good people
Inspired by de Paula’s success with the program, Petty decided to advertise a job through the RNIP job board. He hired de Paula’s wife, also a carpenter, and then used the program again to bring one other carpenter and a receptionist on board. Why? Because each time Petty used the RNIP program, he was able to hire good, qualified people to help him grow his company.
“When you put your job ad on the RNIP website, you’re going to get hundreds of qualified applicants. I wanted to physically meet people before I offered them a job through the program because I wasn’t as open to meeting over the phone,” says Petty. “All of the people I’ve considered through the program happened to already be in Canada on work permits. Now, they’re part of our family. They’re friends as well as coworkers, and they all deserved the chance to be able to stay here.”
Since launching in our community in 2020, the RNIP program has supported more than 200 local businesses like Petty’s, welcoming more than 300 skilled workers into the North Okanagan and Shuswap.
With three successful hires through the program and plans for a fourth this year, Petty has a message for other trades businesses struggling to hire good people during the worker shortage.
“Trades business owners should be open to trying out the RNIP program. They’d be surprised at how much good it can do for them.”
Learn more about the RNIP program, eligibility requirements for employers and how RNIP can help grow your trades business at the link below:
'We can stay here': RNIP helps skilled IT worker bring family to Vernon
A smile flashes across Jorel Aguiluz’s face. Vernon is home, he says, and he and his wife can’t wait to start a family here.
Warm light illuminates Aguiluz’s office at Community Futures North Okanagan. It’s a sunny afternoon in the late Okanagan summer, and it’s the couple’s favourite time of year to explore the Valley and vineyards they love.
But if you had asked Aguiluz about his plans for the future a year ago, his answer might have been quite different. Aguiluz, a technical account executive at SysGen Solutions Group with more than 10 years of experience in IT, had reached a crossroads.
After studying at Okanagan College in Kelowna and working in construction, he had landed a good job at SysGen – a managed IT services provider that also offers solutions in network administration and design, virtualization, IT infrastructure, cloud computing and data management. But, with only a post-graduation work permit in his name, his wife was still stuck in the Philippines.
“I heard about the RNIP (Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot) program through my client, Community Futures North Okanagan. They asked me if I wanted to apply, but I didn’t accept their offer at first,” says Aguiluz. “My wife had been applying for work and tourist permits, but we couldn’t get her here.”
So, in November 2020, after more than a year of working in IT in the Okanagan, Aguiluz made the difficult decision to leave his new home behind and return to the Philippines. But, by May 2021, Aguiluz knew he wanted to bring his family back to Canada. And this time, he had the right avenue to do it.
After submitting the RNIP paperwork in June 2021, Aguiluz received authorization from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in September 2021. And his wife came with him.
Sitting in his SysGen office at Community Futures North Okanagan more than a year after getting approved by the IRCC and six months after the couple got permanent residency status, Aguiluz is finally at ease.
“It feels so much better. I can work and do anything I want to now,” Aguiluz beams. “We can stay here. We’re not worried anymore.”
For Aguiluz, that means continuing to work at SysGen and using his decade of experience in IT to help non-profits, entrepreneurs and local organizations of all sizes strengthen their business with managed IT services.
“Clients who had worked with Jorel previously were very happy to have him back and new clients love his very personable approach to IT support,” says Ben Mihailescu, field services manager, SysGen.
“Jorel is as genuine as they come and gets along with everyone he meets. We really appreciate him as an employee because he can connect with our clients in the Okanagan and solve complex technology problems in plain language for everyone to understand.”
When he isn’t using his love of tech to help fill the growing demand for IT workers in Canada, Aguiluz and his wife love enjoying the Okanagan lifestyle.
“It’s really nice here with all the vineyards, the beautiful nature and lakes. And we have several outdoor activities we like during the summer. Sometimes we go biking or go to wineries, but my wife loves apple picking, cherry picking and any sort of fruit picking,” Aguiluz says.
As the couple settles down and enjoys life in the Okanagan, Aguiluz says they plan on applying for citizenship and are trying to save up to buy their first house so they can grow their family.
But, before that, Aguiluz says they have one more goal they want to achieve.
“We’re planning on bringing my sister and my parents here, even just as tourists, so they can see how beautiful the Okanagan is,” Aguiluz smiles.
The RNIP is made possible through funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.
‘It’s a huge relief’: Gifted teacher gets permanent residency through RNIP
It’s a community unlike any other.
That’s why, when Jess Chitty first arrived in the Okanagan and started working at Vernon Christian School, she knew she had to stay.
A teacher for more than seven years, Chitty heard about the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia (SCSBC) while studying in Australia. Fast forward five years and with a two-year working holiday visa in hand, Chitty boarded a plane bound for Canada in March 2020, the day the international borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had a summer job lined up, but because of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether or not I would be able to do that job,” says Chitty.
Thankfully, a friend in Manitoba had a place for her to stay. Within a few short months and an application to the SCSBC, Chitty lined up a job at Vernon Christian School, headed west and never looked back.
“The Society inspired me to want to teach and grow here. The community I’m in at Vernon Christian School is phenomenal; it’s unlike any community I’ve ever been in,” says Chitty. “To me, there’s nothing more purposeful or rewarding than investing in someone else’s life. The privilege of working alongside children and families, I don’t think anything else compares.”
Inspired by her rewarding career, newfound sense of community and the natural, four-season beauty of the Okanagan, Chitty decided to turn her two-year visa into a permanent move.
“I was seeking ways to apply for permanent residency and found that the online system was challenging to navigate,” says Chitty. “Trying to find avenues that I could take in my situation was difficult on my own.”
Chitty reached out to an immigration consultant in the summer of 2021 and soon learned about the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program. Then, at the start of her third school year at Vernon Christian School, Chitty learned she would be able to stay.
“The IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) informed me that my application has been approved. I’m just waiting for my permanent residency card to come in the mail,” Chitty beams. “It feels amazing. It honestly is a huge relief to know that I can stay here long-term.”
Matt Driediger, principal at Vernon Christian School, couldn’t agree more.
“Jess is a passionate and gifted teacher. Students and colleagues thrive around her, impacted by her care and expertise. We are so grateful to have her in our school community,” says Driediger. “The RNIP program benefited us tremendously. It supported us in the process of demonstrating Jess’s value to our school and to Canada, and ultimately helped her achieve permanent residency so that she can continue serving on our staff and in the Vernon community.”
The RNIP program, Chitty says, has helped her to continue doing the work she loves in a community she’s proud to call her home.
Local Employer Video Stories
‘Part of our family’: RNIP empowers Vernon business to hire skilled workers
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.” says 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 of British Columbia, 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,” says 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?”