CMTDA president and Megatel senior partner Marc Hasrouny addresses metalworking’s most pressing challenge
Shop: You mentioned in your speech to the CMTDA Annual General Meeting that the biggest challenge the metalworking industry will face over the next 10 years will be people. The industry is facing a lot of challenges — from supply chain disruptions to new technologies and high material costs. Why do you see people being the industry’s biggest challenge?
Hasrouny: We have been facing this challenge of finding high-skilled service technicians for the last 20 years. Less and less skilled trades people are available and the ones that are good are often not available. It’s the same for all companies in the industry. Literally, we are stealing each other’s guys. You can interview a guy in our industry and he’s probably worked at two other companies similar to where he is working now. We see the same people over and over again. We rarely see new faces. On the manufacturer side the number one question our customers ask us every time we are presenting new equipment to them – before asking about price or financing – is does it come with an operator? It may be said tongue-in-check but there is definitely a weight to it. We are delivering machines to customers within a few months who may not have yet found operators to run these machines. Sometimes projects have to be put on hold because customers can’t find operators. All the machine dealers are seeing situations like this. People are going to be the biggest challenge in this industry for the next 10 years and maybe beyond that. We are at a crossroads where we could lose a chunk of manufacturing over the next few years because we won’t be competitive enough due to the shortage of skilled people.
Shop: In your speech you outlined several solutions. One of them is better training and retention of the workforce. What is problematic with the current methods of training and retention and how can they be improved?
Hasrouny: Developing loyalty among younger employees in particular is a tough challenge. The problem with retaining employees today is that they’re easily enticed by a little bit more in terms of money and benefits. There is no more loyalty. We may have enjoyed low turnover in the past by creating a family atmosphere and providing good pay and benefits but I’m not sure today that’s enough. There are definitely more innovative things we need to do to retain people.
Shop: You also mention the need to promote the manufacturing sector as a good place for a career. What needs to be done to better appeal to millennials?
Hasrouny: It needs to start at home. We need to make sure that we as parents are encouraging our kids to consider working in the trades. It used to be that you learned a trade, found a job and built a family and career. Now we are advising our kids to become doctors and lawyers and engineers. We’ve ended up with multitudes of engineers who are underpaid because there are so many of them but there aren’t enough machinists or programmers or any of these kinds of skilled tradespeople. Our children can make a good living in the trades and if they’re skilled they can climb the company ladder very fast.
This is also a message that needs to be reinforced in the classroom. We as industry leaders should be able to visit schools to promote manufacturing – what historically we as Canadians manufactured, what we manufacture now, and what we can be manufacturing in the future. We should be visiting not only the schools that offer machining-related courses but any school. We need to reach out to schools and to students because I don’t think they’re hearing this message. We need to reach them at a young age – maybe three years before they graduate. We also need more women in manufacturing. There are more today than before but we need to attract more.
Shop: Another of the solutions you presented was greater access to foreign workers. How can this best be done?
Hasrouny: The best and most successful way I know of, and we went through this process ourselves, is to hire a firm which specializes in recruiting foreign workers. Such firms take charge of everything, and though there is a cost to this service, I think it’s worth it over the course of time the foreign worker will be with you. If you treat your foreign workers well and they get their permanent residence then they can continue to work for you. We have many customers in the eastern townships of Quebec where this approach is very popular. They bring in a lot of skilled workers from the Philippines and it has been working well for them for at least seven years now. To improve the current system, one of the things to consider is to shorten the time it takes to get someone here. Right now it can take over a year to two years to find the right candidate and have them working here. We shouldn’t be waiting two years. There has to be something done to speed up that process.
Shop: What role do you see government playing in all this? From what you’ve seen so far, do you think it’s an issue they’re committed to helping solve?
Hasrouny: Government is key. You can’t bring anyone here to work if the government is not going to be supportive with the work permit, place of residence, etc. I think they’ve recognized there is a problem and they’ve already started to look into finding ways to get workers here faster. Let’s streamline the program so that it’s much easier – maybe create a government program that assists employers through the process so they won’t need to go through a foreign worker placement firm.
Shop: The final solution you mentioned was increased financial support and technical coaching for automation and robotization. It makes for an interesting initiative because it may also capture the imagination of the technology-savvy millennials and get them to consider metalworking as a technology-progressive industry worth looking into. But is there not also the danger of creating the perception that a heavily automated industry doesn’t really need people?
Hasrouny: Yes, there is some danger in that, to be honest. Every time you introduce technology people get scared about losing jobs and they forget that adoption of new technology creates the same amount of jobs that are lost, if not more. Keep in mind that when you automate you still need people who are capable of building the robots, programming the robots, and maintaining the robots. Look at all the technology we already have today and yet we are still looking for employees in every sector of our economy. We need more people today than we ever did. The real threat to jobs is that manufacturing will no longer be viewed as a desirable profession in the western world and we end up shipping more manufacturing jobs to other countries. What’s important is to believe in manufacturing, promote manufacturing and understand that as long as there is manufacturing – even if it includes automation – there is always going to be work for people. You can’t be a first world country if you don’t have strong manufacturing. SMT