One year into her presidency, Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund outlines the gains and challenges in shaping the country’s mould makers association in an exclusive interview with SHOP Metalworking Technology magazine.
SHOP: More than a year has passed already with you as president of CAMM and Automate Canada. How would you describe your first year?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: It has been a crazy year I think for everybody. In being a new president of an association that has never had a president, as you can imagine, there’s an awful lot of transition that needs to happen. It’s not only the transition of systems and processes and the mechanics of running an organization under a new leader, but it’s also the culture that lies within the board. These volunteers that have moved this initiative for the last 40 years specifically with CAMM and the last three with Automate Canada have been a working board of volunteers that just believe so passionately in what we’re doing. There have been a few bumps in the road and a bit of bumping into each other, as you can imagine. But I feel like today we’re in so much better shape than we were not only with documented procedures and processes but with how we are all working together. It’s how a team comes together and normalizes and is able to execute.
SHOP: You have worked as a mould maker. Although that was back in the late 1980s that must still provide you with the kind of hands-on insights into the industry you wouldn’t otherwise have?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: My years in the industry prepared me for how industry runs, what purchasing cycles look like, the large contributions of a relatively small sector of people in this advanced manufacturing realm and how they impact the development of products. The inner mechanics of how the business runs I’m very familiar with and having run other businesses and been a small business owner myself I understand the challenges that a lot of these small to medium size enterprises are facing. I’ve been in that seat; I understand the challenges really well. The difference is I’ve also had plenty of opportunities where I’ve been able to exercise contributions and learning in the not-for-profit world by sitting on other boards, by holding senior positions and by volunteering my time and working in my consulting practice with other not-for-profit and non-government agencies, getting a bird’s eye view of how those things run. I am perfectly positioned to be exactly where I am.
SHOP: With Covid, hopefully, behind us, what do you see as the top issue mould makers face right now?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: I think the conversation around skills and talent and recruiting is a large one. We’ve been talking about skilled trades and STEM careers for a very long time. We are at a crisis at this point in time. One of the best outcomes of the recent investments in the automobility sector is that we have these wonderful investments coming to Ontario but the reality that many of us are looking at is where is the talent going to come from? How are we preparing to human resource these organisations, and in the transition to these new jobs how do we not rob ourselves of the talent already working for us?
SHOP: It’s hard not to be impressed by all the announcements over the last year or so aimed at helping either existing companies retool for the EV market or to encourage new players to enter it. Are you saying that despite these investments there’s a possibility that things may not work as planned because although we may have the factories and the tooling required, we may not have the people?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: I don’t know that it’s at a risk point right now, but I do know that we have member companies that could expand. The conditions are right for them for expansion, but they just don’t have the qualified talent they need to get there. How does this exacerbate the whole discussion around careers and skills? There’s been some excellent work being done in the not-for-profit sector with groups that are specifically tied to exposing young people to careers but the timeline to get those folks trained and ready for work will not coincide with the needs that we have today, which are at a crisis level. We need to be creative with how we can take advantage of other systems in order to populate our buildings.
SHOP: On both the federal and provincial level, governments have made investments in encouraging the automotive industry to make Ontario a hub for electric vehicles. Do you see the same kind of urgency and commitment on the human resource side?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: It’s a titanic problem that’s not going to be turned around on a dime. The frustrating part of this is that we’ve been collecting information and data about this potential crisis with the exodus of baby boomers and the changes in technology for a long time. There are many complications: the speed with which curriculum gets developed; the method in which the data analysis from employers reaches academic institutions; the freedom and competition that exist within our academic institutions for funding which can drive development of course materials not in keeping with what kind of job market there’s going to be for the future; trade and economic development agencies not aligned with the workforce agencies and the immigration policies to sustain a dwindling population. Part of our solution to all this will be a well-developed immigration strategy which entices those who have the education, skills, and work experience to come to this country and really contribute.
SHOP: Manufacturing tends to be cyclical. People who got laid off during the last recession remember it and maybe don’t encourage their children to enter the industry. How does the industry get around that?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: That is an issue, but I think if we take a look at the adoption of innovation and technology what we’re going to see is a transition. The manufacturing industry has for a long time been known to have good paying jobs for relatively low skilled workers. That is changing and the impact of technology is that maybe those jobs will be less plentiful but more skilled jobs will be more plentiful and provide career opportunities. When there is an economic downturn and plants downsize, we may not see hundreds or thousands of people lose their jobs because they will have skills that could be absorbed into other opportunities because of the impact of technology.
SHOP: When you first took over the role of president you said part of your job was to grow both organizations. They’re both national in scope but the reality is the concentration of activity in mould making is in Southwestern Ontario. How can you grow these organizations nationally?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: It requires knowing exactly what challenges businesses in this sector face and being able to build programming inside the association that will help offset those challenges, whether through building programs that lead to better business practices and expertise, or matchmaking tools to help with things such as the current recruitment challenge. We have some announcements coming that are exactly geared in those directions. Being able to provide value that either helps somebody grow a business or solve a problem is really the way to recruit people to an initiative. When we look at the programming and the strategic initiatives that we want to embark on it’s always within that practical and relevant frame of mind. In addition, it requires strong marketing and branding activity and hundreds of conversations with people who need to know who we are and what we do.
SHOP: Branding the organizations was one of your stated goals. A year later what has been achieved towards this end and what are you still working on?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: CAMM has been a known entity for some time, but I think the misnomer with CAMM is that the “A” in CAMM stood for automotive and that’s not the case. I think the other thing is that there is a cluster of activity largely in southwestern Ontario but there are pockets of expertise elsewhere that are contributing to other sectors we need to hang on to. This is really done through collaboration with like-minded agencies and finding who they are and introducing ourselves to them. It’s about linking on the federal level with the global cluster activities and making sure that we’re working closely with those agencies who have hundreds of clients potentially looking for the supports that we offer. On the marketing side of things, it’s building materials and presentations, speaking at conferences, making connections and enabling our board members and membership to help make those connections for us as well. CAMM has a small staff, but this doesn’t have to be a singular effort.
SHOP: Skill and talent development was another of your stated goals. We are seeing the impact of the skills shortage. What has been achieved over the past year and what else are you working on?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: We recognize that there are a number of other partners working in this arena, so our goal has for the last year been to connect with those agencies. Whether it’s the Ontario Centres of Excellence or the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network, we are looking for connections to provincial and federal levels where we can start to have an impact. Specific to skills, there are a couple of exciting things that are coming down the pipeline. The first is the adoption of new membership levels specifically aimed at people who are students, journey persons or want to be an individual member. That’s a first for both CAMM and Automate Canada, which have only had corporate level memberships in the past. We are working to build programming that will fill the gap between those who are looking to have conversations with employers and employers who are searching for people, if for no other reason to help folks really understand what they’re getting into and make a conscious decision that this is for them. We have a tremendous number of organisations looking at reskilling and there’s a couple of projects we are embarking on addressing sectors that are in decline in Canada and how skill sets in those sectors can be transitioned to manufacturing. The most obvious are the oil and gas and the mining sectors. As they downsize there is opportunity for people who have common skills, critical thinking abilities, and project management experience to enter manufacturing. These would be good candidates for reskilling and make for an expedited way to solve the skills shortage.
SHOP: Another of your stated goals was to expose organizations to Industry 4.0 as a way to improve their business. I assume for mould makers, being smaller businesses, this is particularly difficult. What has been achieved to date and what else are you working on?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: If we are doing all the other things right there will be a natural gravitation towards technology. With the smaller firms there are issues such as the lack of available capital. We understand that sometimes being able to adopt automation means capital expenditures that are unaffordable for smaller firms. Through Automate Canada what we’re trying to do is make sure that people understand that an automation expert can also be a partner and a strategic arm for your organization. It doesn’t have to be a one-stop solution provider right now. It can be phased. Where we can make an impact with Automate Canada is to continue, through our growth and branding and collaboration efforts, to let mould makers know they don’t need to be afraid of what’s coming if they’re working with a technology partner who can explain it to them, help them understand the problems technology adoption can solve, and the savings that can be had.
SHOP: Looking a year into the future, what are you most enthusiastic about with CAMM and Automate Canada?
LASSALINE-BERGLUND: That’s a tough question because there’s so many things to be excited about. I continue to be honored to be representing both of these sectors and working with the expertise that exists within these groups. The most exciting thing for me is the adoption of technology the association is looking at, which will have an impact on business and skills development. Those are projects we are working on and which we will have some major announcements about in the coming months. All the hard work that has gone into these things has the potential to create a lot of enthusiasm for where the sector is going and what we can do next. That enthusiasm is something I look forward to. When that spark in someone’s eye flicks on and they get it and want to be a part of it — that’s what keeps me motivated every day.