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Diversifying the Manufacturing Work Force is Key to the Sector’s Future


David MacLean.

Every two years Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) surveys it’s members across Canada to take the pulse of the manufacturing sector.  The survey results provide valuable insight into the mindset and concerns of manufacturers – both in terms of their day-to-day struggles as well as their longer-term strategic goals.

In each and every survey year in recent history, one common concern has come through loud and clear: the long-term availability of skilled labour is a major challenge for Canadian manufacturers. In our most recent survey, 69 per cent of respondents said they face immediate labour shortages and 75 per cent expect shortages in the next five years.

The manufacturing workforce is old and getting older, and there aren’t enough students graduating with the right skills to replace retirees.

Making matters worse, on-the-job training can be prohibitively expensive for many businesses and differences in provincial standards can make out-of-province recruitment for skilled trades more difficult. This has a knock-on effect on necessary technology adoption – if you don’t have workers with the right skills, it’s difficult to incorporate new technology that can help make your business more globally competitive.

Attraction and retention of skilled labour is not a new challenge and there are no quick fixes. CME has been working with various levels of government (and making some progress) on supporting work-integrated learning programs and improving the Canada Job Grant.

Perhaps the biggest difference we can make is simply making the manufacturing and oil and gas workforce more diverse. Women account for only 28 per cent of the manufacturing workforce across Canada. Female under-representation is especially a problem in production-related occupations, with women holding less than 5 per cent of all skilled trades jobs across Canada.

Studies show that gender diversity in any industry adds value to a modern workplace. Technology is driving rapid change in the modern-day business world in ways that play to women’s strengths of collaboration, creativity, communication, and relationship building.

Today manufacturing jobs often involve highly innovative, clean and collaborative environments. This is an attractive environment for anyone to work. Industry needs to do a better job to promote the modern image of manufacturing and the career options to young people. These highly skilled jobs provide innovative, higher-wage career paths that are also stepping-stones to management opportunities.

To do this, CME has been rolling out a Women in Manufacturing initiative across the country. Our next stop is right here in Alberta. In the coming months we will be working to elevate and shine a light on female role models in manufacturing and STEM. We will be touring young women through manufacturing operations across the province to perhaps change perceptions about what manufacturing work really looks like.

Keep an eye out for tours and events around Edmonton. Success in diversifying the workforce helps manufacturers innovate and compete in the future.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.