A roadmap is needed for Canadian manufacturers who are struggling to find workers with the right skills.
That much is clear, said Scott McNeil-Smith reflecting on this year’s Advantage Through Excellence – Future of Manufacturing conference, held in Vaughan, Ont. (Oct. 8-10).
“The underlying challenge of skills was prevalent in many sessions, including those focused on advanced manufacturing, robotics, automation and technology,” said McNeil-Smith, national director, Projects and Partnerships, Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC).
However, McNeil-Smith was not surprised by delegates’ keen interest in skills shortages. He said that for many years EMC – Canada’s largest non-profit manufacturing consortium – has administered a national study with senior plant managers who invariably determine cost control to be at the top of their list of concerns. But over the last couple of years, skills shortages has proven to be the No. 1 issue.
Skills shortages and gaps break down into two areas, McNeil-Smith said. “The first is the lack of skills or experience in a particular field. The second is the lack of people with any sort of skill to fill vacancies within the manufacturing sector. Looking at how to strategically use technology, how to automate certain processes and overcome some of those skills gaps and vacancies is what delegates were interested in. It’s an interesting conversation on how people skills can incorporate into discussions about plant process and automation.”
EMC’s research has been corroborated by another study conducted by the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), which reported that 69% of manufacturers face immediate labour and/or skills shortages, and that a large cohort of firms (75%) will face shortages within the next five years.
Furthermore, a Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) analysis indicates that a company that is affected by labour shortages is 65% more likely to be a low-growth company.
Making manufacturing attractive
EMC hopes to expand programs related to the skilled labour shortage through discussions with its stakeholders and partnerships with government, said McNeil-Smith. One way would be to expand EMC’s reach beyond what manufacturers would traditionally consider target employees and bring awareness to potential employees who have not considered manufacturing as a career, he said.
“That means expanding to include those underrepresented by population, but also people who wouldn’t necessarily consider manufacturing as an option based on what they’ve been conditioned to think as they’ve gone through high school or college or university,” said McNeil-Smith.
In the interim EMC remains focused on awareness and changing perception, as Canada does not have a “manufacturing is sexy” campaign as they do in the United States, said McNeil-Smith.
Among approaches for expanding the reach of the workforce, McNeil-Smith said manufacturers could tap foreign-trained workers – where it’s appropriate. “Obviously, we’re a Canada first organization. But those moving to Canada are certainly part of that. There is a level of expertise that is immigrating to Canada that is a potential target. We need to address the people issue because if we can’t generate enough people for the manufacturers to employ, they will have to do something else – either completely automate where there’s nothing for our workforce, or move to another jurisdiction. And we don’t want that either.”
In addition to keynotes, workshops and plant tours, delegates at this year’s conference were able choose sessions across five streams, including Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation, Export Development and Growth, Operational Excellence, Future State of Manufacturing, and Plant & Best Practice Tours.
McNeil-Smith said that the conference was purposefully put together to explore competitive advantage, opportunities and success, and that EMC will be able to build on the knowledge garnered at the conference to activate programs related to its advanced manufacturing portfolio.
The conference is billed as a learning conference – “as opposed to a trade show” – fostered an environment for delegates to connect with EMC’s network, he said.
“We have some export-related initiatives that will be rolled out both with partners in the conference and outside as well. And we hope to provide the best opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of this information and grow their business.”