The last two years have served as a major wakeup call for manufacturers around the world. With significant supply chain risks, labour market inefficiencies and heightened geopolitical tensions, the tightenedglobal operating environment has hastened the transition towards smart manufacturing and uptake of Industry 4.0 technologies.
In a global economy that is already experiencing a drive towards automation to meet productivity targets, the pressures resulting from the pandemic have accelerated the pace at which business must adopt new technologies to continue along their growth trajectories.
In the Canadian manufacturing sector, we see several opportunities ripe for disruption. One example, the automotive industry must transition from an internal combustion engine product mix to an electric vehicle (EV) product mix. With only ten suppliers accounting for 49 per cent of powertrain revenues, the need to transition to more flexible manufacturing is essential for two reasons: the ability to pivot and meet customer needs, and to become a more cost-competitive jurisdiction.
EV powertrains are approximately 20 per cent more expensive than internal combustion engine powertrains, and this increase in cost means vehicle manufacturers will push some of these additional costs back down onto the supply base. Investing in automation to meet the new product mix, initially lower volumes, and higher cost pressures will be essential to retaining jobs within the industry.
The shifting powertrain mix may also see vehicle manufacturers producing powertrain components themselves. The type of assembly for an EV powertrain may also reduce the number of individual robots involved in the assembly, rather replacing them with larger, more complex robotic assemblies.
As new opportunities emerge in the Canadian manufacturing sector, employers need to ensure they are prepared with a labour force that is equipped with the right digital skills and training to capitalize.
Demographic shifts bring significant challenges
The labour transition out of the baby-boom era has been a predictable one, and Canada is not alone in this challenge. Other countries, such as Japan, have experienced significant downturns in the labour market which have presented major economic challenges. One common solution to this challenge is in the form of replacing missing labour with new technologies that can drive productivity.
The issue is not that there is a lack of jobs, but that in an inefficient labour market, workers do not necessarily have the skills that match the industry’s job requirements. Manufacturers and goods producing sectors are the hardest hit by this challenge as they rely on more highly skilled and technical labour.
As of 2026, 20 per cent of Canadian workers will be eligible for retirement. With a large contingent of the workforce exiting the labour market in the coming years, manufacturers will have to turn to new tools and technologies – especially automation and robotics – to boost productivity, remain competitive, and grow their business.
In the face of a mass exodus from the workforce, Canada will be counting on fewer people to grow the economy that will provide income supports to retirees. Manufacturers need to boost productivity by 25 to 30 per cent over the next decade simply to keep output levels where they are today – even more if they are to grow their business. This is not a challenge that can be solved by simply importing more labour – that will only lead to more unintended economic consequences. In addition to retirement, Canada is also seeing a demographic shift away from rural areas and into city centres, representing a new infrastructure and staffing challenge for the manufacturing operations that often employ people outside of the big city limits.
Manufacturers must not only attract younger workers into the workforce, but make sure that they have the skills required to manage the business, processes, and tools that will lead to future business growth. We need a workforce that can step up and work with digital technologies, which is why NGen launched the Careers of the Future campaign, which is designed to attract the next generation of workers into the world of advanced manufacturing.
We encourage more companies to support this campaign and use it as a platform to promote jobs in their businesses. Every company and every Canadian needs to see this as a critical component of the way forward.
Careers of the Future
As the leader of Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, we believe in harnessing the intellectual strength of youth. That’s why we decided to launch Careers of the Future, designed to educate young people about advanced manufacturing and inspire them to pursue fulfilling careers in the sector—careers that are at the forefront of innovation and sustainability.
Traditionally, when you think of manufacturing, an old-school image comes to mind: workers in overalls and work boots standing around a conveyor belt in a steely, dirty factory belching out clouds from smokestacks. That image couldn’t be further from reality.
Today, advanced manufacturing is clean, safe, highly automated, and begging for young people with the creativity and problem-solving capabilities to make things better. It’s about a wide variety of new cutting-edge technologies, but it’s also an industry that depends on a highly skilled and diverse pool of talent.
While most careers require STEM-based courses (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and experiences, there are several career paths one can take that will lead to jobs in advanced manufacturing. The more hands-on careers can include creating, building, designing, and maintaining technologies, machines, computers and other technological innovations, such as robotics and artificial intelligence.
On the scientific side, youth may have the chance to research and develop cleantech and clean energies, as well as developing products like new medical devices and vaccines, and more. Even more surprising to many is that advanced manufacturing can also include work in art and design, marketing and communications, government affairs, business management, writing, publishing, and editing. The opportunities are endless.
Contrary to popular belief, advanced manufacturing is not just about automation and digital technologies. It requires a dedicated group of individuals working together to develop, create, execute, and deploy the multitude of products and processes that are developed within the industry. It’s about ideas and creativity, technique and ingenuity, teamwork and problem-solving, and how technologies are used to make all sorts of customized things and create the career opportunities of the future.
No matter a student’s skills, interests, passions or strengths, there is an opportunity waiting for them within advanced manufacturing.
Why should young people learn about careers in advanced manufacturing?
When you integrate new technology into manufacturing, the potential to help people and solve problems is limitless. That’s what makes a career in advanced manufacturing so fulfilling. New technologies like 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics are improving how we make things and inspiring new products and industries by:
• Delivering product and process innovation toward clean, sustainable, flexible manufacturing
• Solving productivity, health & safety, and sustainability challenges
• Building future supply chains
• Evolving agricultural production
• Solving global challenges such as meeting energy demands through marine renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, oil & gas, defence, shipbuilding, and transportation
The sector offers a wide range of career options, many of which don’t require a high degree of technological skills. Opportunities exist in accounting, marketing, sales, and human resources, all of which contribute to building a bright future for advanced manufacturing in Canada. Jobs are constantly evolving, requiring people to learn new skills and consider new ideas, while helping to make the world a better place. You can choose a path in medicine, healthcare, sports, education, energy, transportation, agriculture, and fishing, to name a few.
At NGen, we are committed to informing young people, their parents, and educators about advanced manufacturing in hopes that today’s bright young minds will be open and interested in pursuing a career in this sector. For us, the Careers of the Future campaign is essential if we are to address skills shortages in manufacturing today and in the future, especially those related to the use of advanced digital and production technologies.