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Diversifying Canada's Skilled Trades

Diversity and Advanced Manufacturing

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The times, they are a changin’

Manufacturing is a cornerstone of Canada’s and Ontario’s prosperity. That prosperity is what made people from around the world want to call this region their home. Making things here has given us a global reputation for advanced manufacturing that provides innovative products, processes, and solutions to customers world-wide. In turn, the sector has provided satisfying careers and a solid tax base.

However, this prosperity is at risk of eroding. As we progress into the 21st century, manufacturers are struggling to replace the aging and retiring workforce that helped establish this region as a global leader in advanced manufacturing. This is being caused by a reduction in the total number of young people (and new Canadians) entering the workforce, and the sector’s historic challenges attracting a more diverse workforce. This has led to staffing shortages and declines in productivity for many companies.

A history of prosperity for Canadians (new and current)

The relationship between new Canadians and manufacturing in Canada is well established. Companies like Magna, Linamar, and even a humble Windsor mold maker called Circle 5 were all founded by new Canadians who turned their passions into profitable businesses. Today, if you walk the floor at Circle 5, you’ll see people from many cultural backgrounds. Through smart stewardship and prudent growth strategies, they avoided layoffs during both the 2020 pandemic and the 2008 economic downturn. The job stability Circle 5 created for its employees (and they’re not the only ones) is indicative of the kind of stability a job in advanced manufacturing can provide.

Since the costs of living are going up fast, one would expect young people to be flocking to careers in advanced manufacturing. However, according to Statistics Canada, this is not the case.

Diversity in manufacturing

The high cost of living in Canada (southern Ontario and the GTA in specific) has led to new Canadians (who once helped fill these positions) looking elsewhere for opportunities. Plus, the aforementioned reduction of young people entering the job market, and perceptions of careers in manufacturing being dirty, dark, and dangerous, is forcing manufacturers to find talent in a much smaller applicant pool. The sad truth is that those long-held perceptions are no longer the truth, and haven’t been for quite some time.

The point is, diversity is good for advanced manufacturing! Having a visibly diverse workforce (in terms of culture, age, and gender) provides an advantage over other companies who do not. And therein lies the challenge: Companies need to figure out how to better recruit from traditionally under-represented groups (like women and racialized people) to fill their talent pipelines AND existing job vacancies. Doing this requires adjusting hiring practices to better communicate the realities of a career in advanced manufacturing – stability, fair compensation, and job satisfaction. New Canadians and young Canadians alike can still realize their dreams of a great life for themselves. It’s up to advanced manufacturing employers to better get this message out.

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