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Retraining key to reviving manufacturing


Here’s news: the Conference Board of Canada says Canada’s manufacturing labour force is critical to the  future prosperity of this sector. Well, duh, to quote a famous “blue collar” character.

But wait a minute. There are some interesting findings in the conference board’s report, Key Economic and Labour Force Issues Facing Canada’s Manufacturing Sector, particularly in its recommendation that manufacturers must improve on the current skills of their two million workers by tapping into education and training programs. The report also says the sector needs to keep its aging workers in the labour force longer, through more flexible scheduling and changes in work processes. Finally, the sector has to restore

its image as a rewarding career option for under-represented groups - such as young workers and women - that have other employment options.

There’s no doubt that economic times are tough in Central Canada’s manufacturing sector, but the report indicates that it’s not all gloom and doom. In the future, Canadian manufacturers are anticipating a shift, away from doing final assembly, to building specialized components that fit into the overall production process,

and to providing products and services that accompany the finished good, such as logistics and supply-chain-management services.

“This shift in production means the skill requirements for manufacturing employees will continue to rise, and firms will increasingly compete for skilled workers with other sectors of the economy,” says Douglas Watt, associate director, organizational learning and development, for the Conference Board. “At present, the manufacturing sector needs to do more to take full advantage of its current workforce through training and learning programs, and do more to successfully recruit younger workers.”

The research project that forms the basis of this report, conducted for the government of Canada’s Sector Council Program, highlights four innovative programs that are addressing the key human resource issues facing the manufacturing sector:

• The Wood Manufacturing Council’s WoodLINKS program: a school-to-work transition-and-certification program, establishing partnerships between high schools and local manufacturers.

• The Textiles Human Resources Council’s Skills and Learning Sites and Portal: a flexible, cost-effective learning infrastructure for Canadian textile manufacturers and their employees.

• The Canadian Plastics Sector Council’s Virtual HR Department (VHRD) program: an online one-stop shop for human resources tools.

• The Apparel Human Resources Council’s Management Competencies Project: a structured, step-by-step strategic-planning and human-resources-development process.

It’s good news that the government and sector is looking at refocusing the manufacturing sector, and at retraining the workers within it. We found this same emphasis on training and development in the responses to our Innovation Awards nominations, with nominations in that category outstripping the other categories by

five to one. 

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