Canadian Manufacturing

CMTS 2013: Manufacturers need to be more transparent to address skills shortage

The manufacturing sector needs to become more transparent if it wants to entice young people into the skilled trades, and ultimately into factory jobs four panelists agreed yesterday morning during at discussion at the 2013 Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS).



MISSISSAUGA, Ont.—The manufacturing sector needs to become more transparent if it wants to entice young people into the skilled trades and ultimately into factory jobs, four panelists agreed yesterday morning during a discussion at the 2013 Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS).

Much of the conversation revolved around finding ways to educate youth about the opportunities in manufacturing.

Gail Smyth, executive director of Skills Ontario, said kids start deciding what they want to be when they grow up as early as kindergarten and grade one.

And while it’s important to make them aware of careers in manufacturing early-on, she says the parents of these children need to be better-informed, lest they discourage their child from pursuing a career in industry.

She also said there needs to be more programs targeting girls and pointed to a summer camp initiative Skills Ontario runs in partnership with Linamar as an example.

Girls in grade 7 and 8 are mentored by successful women working in the firm’s Guelph facility. During high school, former camp participants can take co-op placements at Linamar and after high school are offered apprenticeships at the company.

Panelists also agreed manufacturing industries must expend more effort to educate kids about how the manufacturing industry has changed.

“We also believe it is a question of getting today’s high school students to understand that the automotive industry today is much different. It’s not a smokestack industry—it’s a very clean, high-tech manufacturing environment,” said Steve Rodgers, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA).

He said companies need to open-up their facilities to the public so people can get a better understanding of the nature of the jobs available. Some jobs, such as being crime scene investigator for example, are glamourized in media, so those are the types of jobs people tend to desire, he noted.

“Very few people get to see an assembly plant and get to see what it takes to put together an automobile,” he explained, noting that needs to change.

He says industry has all the programs it needs—there are piles of technical programs at the province’s colleges and universities—and now industry needs to promote itself through a manufacturing day where it opens up the plants for public viewing.

Brian Lewis, president and CEO of Medec, the association for the Canadian medical technology industry, pointed to a different issue facing his industry: new grads report they cannot get jobs in Canada—instead the head to the U.S. He said there needs to a better way to connect these medical technology manufacturers with new talent emerging from the province’s post-secondary institutions.

Another issue raised by the panel was a lack of communication about the types of skills manufacturers need.

“We don’t spell-out what people need to do in our jobs in our workplace,” said Rod Jones, executive director of the Ontario Aerospace Council. “And shame on us. We have to start to do the job of industrialists, which is to be clear about what we need and the rest will follow.”

By that he means when industry becomes more specific, educational institutions will develop the necessary curricula.

Plus, he said it’s difficult for individuals to make lateral career moves into other areas of manufacturing. If someone wants to change the direction of their career, they generally have to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

The system needs to be changed to allow technicians to bridge into other areas of work, and to apply their skills elsewhere.

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