Mind the gap

Three innovators in higher learning answer the question: 

How will education evolve over the next decade to advance the world-class manufacturing workforce of tomorrow?

Dr. Deborah Hurst, Dean, Faculty of Business, Athabasca University

For the last five years, the skilled labour gap has received plenty of public attention in Canada, but not for the reason you probably think. The biggest challenge facing the industry today is not a lack of skilled labour, but a lack of experienced management.

Manufacturing has traditionally been considered the process that turns raw materials into physical products. But the business of manufacturing has changed. This extremely diverse, constantly accelerating industry faces intense challenges, such as: Strengthening efficiencies while maximizing cost effectiveness; incorporating analytics and big data into processes; shortening time to market; and, at the same time, increasing accuracy — all while enhancing strategic positioning. The manufacturing sector has massive reach, bolstering exports and global trade, and is the second largest contributor to Canadian GDP.

With the continual evolution and increases in complexity of the manufacturing industry, managers need to be deliberate leaders who understand intricacies from all aspects of their business.

In a sector where skilled staff often rise from the shop floor to management, without any formal business training, are employees equipped to deal with the many challenges faced in the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow?

To address this need, Athabasca University and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters partnered to create the Manufacturing Management Certificate (MMC) of completion program, designed to provide manufacturing professionals with not only management skills but also a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the business side of the sector.

Take it from Brad Zerr, MMC graduate and shop superintendent at JNE Welding:

“Understanding and communicating the reasons behind our actions is a key component of effective leadership. The MMC program has been instrumental in building my understanding of why effective leaders do what they do. I now have a solid theoretical foundation upon which to ground my practices on-the-job.”

Paul Holden, President & CEO, Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology

Employers in today’s manufacturing sector demand advanced competencies in broad skill areas, and a workforce committed to — and capable of — continuous improvement.

Today’s worker, meanwhile, has the desire and motivation to enhance his or her skills and competencies, and expects employers to support continuous learning. This presents a rich opportunity for leaders in industry and education to cultivate a world-class manufacturing workforce through strategic alliances that strengthen the skills of workers.

Over the next decade, Manitoba’s manufacturing workforce will be expected to meet the skill demands of a rapidly growing and highly competitive global economy. Educational institutions, business, industry, and sector associations all need to work together to develop innovative approaches to training that align curriculum and outcomes with industry needs.

Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT) is an excellent example of an institution that is proactively working with a broad swath of industry groups to determine labour gaps and opportunities, and develop programming that precisely addresses employers’ needs.

Institutions like MITT play a major role in attracting the next generation of workers to careers in manufacturing through experiential learning opportunities such as practicum placements in the workplace. Accessible training that leads directly to employment in manufacturing will help to attract new target audiences such as women, Indigenous people, new immigrants to Canada, and people with disabilities.

To realize a world-class manufacturing workforce, we must create world-class training and education for the young people who are the future of Manitoba’s manufacturing industry.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, featuring technologies such as 3D printing, model-based definitions and supply chain digitalization — just to name a few. A highly skilled, educated workforce of technicians, trades workers, and engineers, who are equipped with strong technical and essential skills, will guarantee Manitoba’s competitive advantage in the workforce of tomorrow.

Janet Uchacz-Hart, Executive Director, Saskatoon Industry Education Council

We can all agree that there is no issue more vital to the future of Canadian manufacturing than workforce development. If we strive for a world-class industry, we require leading-edge employees and the very best entrepreneurs.

Yet, Canada’s approach to enriching this talent pool has been piecemeal at best. Interprovincial labour mobility remains stagnant, the average age of an indentured apprentice still hovers in the late-20s (resulting in nearly a decade of lost productivity), and immigration? We won’t even get into that.

Instead, our shared prosperity hinges on the ability to better nurture our workforce from within. And, to get there, we need a comprehensive, national youth-industry education strategy.

This strategy must encompass ambitious targets for the provision of hands-on, experiential learning opportunities (at an increasingly younger age), and a benchmarked plan to bolster the awareness of industrial career pathways. It must also emphasize enhanced soft skills, such as reading, math, comprehension, and language disciplines.

Groups like the Saskatoon Industry Education Council (SIEC) — a partnership between three area school divisions, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and the local business community — can serve as a blueprint for what that strategy could look like. This year alone, the SIEC has connected more than 12,000 youth and 800 teachers to innovative programming and technologies, from virtual welders to hovercraft assembly lines. All with only four full-time staff.

But this is not the sole responsibility of government, either. Employers, too, must take command of their our own future.

Reach out to your school divisions, industry education councils, and associations. Invest in them your time. Take on summer students. Open your doors.

We need you. Your business planning for tomorrow starts today.