Leaders: CTMA’s Robert Cattle on appreciating apprenticeships

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 Robert Cattle

CTMA executive director Robert Cattle explains the importance of getting our education system to embrace apprenticeships in an exclusive interview.

SHOP: What is the state of the Canadian machining and tooling industry after two years of dealing with all the pandemic-related challenges? From your conversations, how
would you describe the state of mind of the typical CEO in this industry? 

CATTLE: All our members are deemed essential, so no one was forced to stop working. I visit many of our members, mainly through participation in our Career-Ready program, and most of them are quite busy. There are some shops that are slow, and some that are over capacity and looking to outsource — a lot depends on which markets the companies are servicing. As for the ‘state of mind of the typical CEO,’ that’s a tough one. Their jobs were already very stressful what with running their own businesses, quoting jobs, meeting deadlines, supplier problems, etc. Now throw in COVID labour issues, supply chain delays, material shortages, the list goes on and on. I have always admired the tenacity and strength of company owners and CEOs, and there are many great ones out there.  I believe many times, issues like this make people stronger and more resilient, and I see evidence of this within our membership.

SHOP: The talent shortage has been top-of-mind for many industry CEOs of late. How much of a threat does the shortage of skilled tradespeople pose to the continued growth of metal manufacturing in Canada? 

CATTLE: Big. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “I would expand more, buy more machines, but I can’t find skilled people to run them.”

SHOP: The talent shortage isn’t an issue that just suddenly appeared. How did we get to this point? Looking back,
were there clear signals we should have heeded? 

CATTLE: You will need a chapter alone on this one. Many factors have added to this: The unwillingness to change our school system to one that supports and values apprenticeships like European countries do, Switzerland and Germany for example. We have let good manufacturing programs that were set up in high schools flounder and fall by the wayside. Historically, Canada relied on foreign countries to train skilled workers and then attracted them through immigration to come here and start their lives. This has changed, and we now seem to focus on ‘temporary foreign workers.’ Perhaps we should go back to the system that built this country, which immigration officials used to find people that would bring skills to us. 

SHOP: The talent shortage is not an issue manufacturing faces alone. Many industries are finding it difficult to find workers. Keeping in mind there is competition from other industries for the best talent, what must metal manufacturing do to ensure it is considered a top choice for a career? 

CATTLE: If there is one “silver lining” to this pandemic, people can now see that manufacturing is essential for a country to survive. We cannot rely on other countries to produce products for us, and that “Made in Canada” actually means something. We must show people that careers within our manufacturing area offer well-paying, steady jobs, that offer many paths of opportunity. How we elevate our trade is by making sure students are exposed to those career paths and trying to get equipment into the schools that enable them to see machining equipment firsthand. But, when you look at machining, trying to capture a student’s attention with a CNC machine or an additive manufacturing printer, is not cheap.

SHOP: If cost is a barrier to bringing machining equipment into the classroom, is this an opportunity for industry to get involved?

CATTLE: Historically, industry has done this, mainly with colleges and some high schools, but they’ve tended to donate 10 or 15-year-old machines they’re replacing. That’s OK, but it’s not the latest or greatest. It’s very difficult to get companies to purchase new or relatively new equipment and donate it to a high school. In our Career-Ready program, we are buying new equipment and installing it in high schools. But, I am learning that there are school boards who say they don’t have the teachers to run that kind of equipment. They may just want a standard mill and a lathe. This has been an issue for decades and the education system is not an easy fix.

SHOP: What role should government play in this? 

CATTLE: Our Ontario provincial government has been extremely supportive of initiatives that the CTMA has brought forward, like our existing Career-Ready with CTMA: Expanding Opportunities program. This proven approach helps bring people directly from graduating high school into the workplace, where they can work alongside experienced people who will transfer skills to them. It also provides support to co-op students, (both high school and post secondary), along with upskilling existing employees and helping find people who have lost their job due to the pandemic, start new career paths. Federally, we should be concentrating on an immigration policy that focuses on bringing skilled people into Canada, to help address this issue.

SHOP: Let’s look specifically at government programs. The Support Ontario Youth program provides administration and support for apprentices in the general machinist, tool & die maker, and mould maker categories. Why does CTMA consider this an important program to support? 

CATTLE: The CTMA has always felt that supporting apprentices and the development of skilled trades persons has been core to the future sustainability of our industry. Over the years, our various projects and partnerships have included our decades-long apprenticeship awards, Skilled Development Fund initiatives providing supports to our employers (through financial incentives), new equipment and upgraded technologies into school boards across the province, and support for the Specialist High Skills Major and Ontario Youth Apprenticeships Program initiatives through the cooperative education stream. The partnership with Support Ontario Youth (SOY) was the missing link – SOY’s recruitment processes are data-driven, assessing each candidate’s fit for their trade, so CTMA members know they are getting quality candidates.  Most importantly, SOY alleviates the administrative burden so our member companies can just hire, train and leave the navigation of a sometimes-confusing pathway, to the experts. If you’re a smaller company and you’re looking to hire an apprentice it’s often a maze working through the system and that’s a stumbling block. Well, SOY will do all that for you. Most of our members are smaller companies and that’s a huge benefit to them. 

SHOP: The Support Ontario Youth program connects with apprentices throughout their journey. Can you explain what that entails and why it’s important? 

CATTLE: SOY’s mission is to support apprentices, employers, and all stakeholders in the skilled trades industry by streamlining and simplifying the apprenticeship journey. Their goal is to modernize the apprenticeship pathway by becoming a complete and transparent resource for those looking to enter the skilled trades. They have positioned themselves to act like an extension of the business by recruiting, screening and registering apprentices and then pro-actively managing the apprentice’s journey with ongoing wrap-around supports.  Program managers manage the relationship with the ministry and the new crown agency, Skilled Trades Ontario, and offer ongoing coaching regarding the pathway and steps to C of Q, while mentors who are licensed journeypersons, support and coach apprentices through their levelled schooling and ensure they are taking responsibility for their on-the-job learning through regular logbook/competency development check-ins. SOY supports the apprentice at every step, ensuring more apprentices follow through to completion. SMT

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