Breaking the Mould

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by Michael Ouellette

Introducing Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, the first ever president of CAMM, and how she sees CAMM and Automate Canada’s role in helping the mould, tool and die sector bounce back from an incredibly tough two years.

In the late 1980’s, Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund was just starting her first job as a mould maker. Fresh out of the pre-apprentice program at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., she was one of the first female mouldmakers in the city, and some of the companies she worked for are still in operation today. 

It was a difficult time for a woman to break into the manufacturing industry. In that era, the career choices were limited, and if you weren’t keen on the title of “homemaker” the options often included jobs such as teacher, nurse and secretary—working in industry wasn’t on usually the menu.

“Back then, I was young and naïve and saw this as an opportunity to put food on the table,” says Lassaline-Berglund. “I wasn’t thinking it was going to be pioneering and I remember my dad being a little irritated, but to look back at it now, it’s pretty cool.”

She was simply eager to go to work every day and have fun cutting metal, letting the odd joke or comment roll off her back. The attitude was a winning one, as she quickly advanced, landing jobs at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford with roles starting from floor supervision and growing through various levels of responsibility.

Fast forward a few years and she finds herself in what is likely the most challenging role of her career, and one she thinks may have the biggest impact.

“Being the first president of CAMM is really for all the people that have come before me, to build on the incredible work they have done so far,” she says, noting that CAMM has been in existence for 40 years and its nascent sister organization, Automate Canada has been active for about three years.

Defining the role
As the association’s first president, one of the first tasks is to define what the role should entail, and the outcomes that will help move the industry along its path of continuous improvement in a globally competitive sector.

“It wouldn’t be doing the job any justice if I weren’t here to grow both organizations. They both represent national clusters but because of the concentration of activity (especially in mould making) in the Southwestern Ontario region, a lot of our activity happens here,” she says. “We need to kick that up a notch for advanced manufacturing across all sectors and regions.” Advanced manufacturing is primarily thought of as mostly an automotive methodology, but it extends far beyond that. 

The goal here is to for both groups to transition into organizations that make some recognizable contributions, not only in advocacy for manufacturing but also for the member companies themselves, and Lassaline-Berglund has outlined four strategic goals for both organizations to bring these ideas to fruition.

The first goal is branding­—realign both associations as recognizable brands that have influence and impact. To achieve this, she is looking to collaborate with like-minded organizations, trade industries and individuals who truly see value in the mission. The reason branding is the first goal is because she believes collaboration will bring them closer to satisfying the three other areas of interest.

Next up is skill and talent development. It’s been very clear for a long time that skilled trades are not very popular as careers in the minds of young people. “I think in the last 10 years, as partners in many initiatives, we have helped to move that forward,” she says. “But we want to take it a step further. How do we get people who are underrepresented in these industries closer to being key contributors, employees and great thought partners to be able to sustain the industry going forward?” 

The third tenet of CAMM’s strategy is to expose organizations and industries which are not yet familiar with industry 4.0 (which is quickly turning into Industry 5.0) to the idea that they can use this technology to improve their business. “We want to connect industries that have been behind the curve in taking advantage of it and expose our members to the know-how and problem-solving capabilities inherent in the methodology of Industry 4.0.”

The final area of focus is member retention. Lassaline-Berglund believes that success in the other areas of this strategy will help identify key and significant areas in the member companies’ operations they tend to struggle with and allow the association to build tools that can help members improve their own business practices.  

Skills: Industry’s Achilles heel
Perhaps the biggest issue facing all industrial sectors is the skilled trades issue—it’s been a problem for a long time and the gap continues to exist. Much is made of the fact that parents want their children to get university educations to ensure a chance at a high salary and a good life. But Lassaline-Berglund says a main factor is the cyclical nature of manufacturing, especially in Canada.

“I think many people have had family members or friends with industrial jobs who have been affected by the cyclical nature of downsizing,” she notes. “It happens probably once every 10 years, the economy lags, there isn’t work, employees get laid off and it has a huge impact on everyone’s lives, and people remember it,” she says, adding that when workers consider skilled trades, they look back at this and think maybe manufacturing isn’t the most stable career. And who can blame them? 

But the skill sets needed in manufacturing are transitioning and many of the relatively low skilled jobs have already been replaced by automation. As industry 4.0 starts to make an impact, the next level of skilled workers will take care of all this new automation and equipment. They
are needed to program it and continue to work on the evolution and innovation on how we use this technology. And that’s where Lassaline-Berglund sees a huge gap. 

“It’s not just about students or young people, it’s about experienced workers who are retraining,” she says. “Maybe they have been downsized out of other industries and are looking at a second career. That, to me, is the largest gap and that’s where we want to be able to make a difference, and we have a number of projects coming up before the end of the year to help address that.” 

Implementing 4.0
Industry 4.0 has had a long run as the next ‘killer app’ in terms of manufacturing competitiveness. But the biggest challenge for Canadian companies when trying to implement these methodologies is scale. Canadian tool and die shops, which successfully compete in a global marketplace, tend to be on the smaller side. This is a major barrier to accessing the game-changing results from a properly implemented system. And this is one of the biggest areas CAMM and Automate Canada can make their mark.

“Understanding how to integrate this and phase it into your environment can be daunting,” says Lassaline-Berglund. Certainly, these companies want to be better, but are busy in the moment and don’t have time to think about tomorrow—something that tends to be the experience of many small and medium-sized shops. Indeed, the people leading these companies are very involved in the operation of the business as opposed to working on developing the business. While many see this as a roadblock, Lassaline-Berglund sees it as an opportunity for CAMM and Automate Canada to partner with willing companies that can’t wrap their heads around how to do it. She sees it as a chance to come up with customized solutions that make it easy for smaller companies to adopt the latest tech. 

“We are at a unique point in history for this because the next level of business leaders and thought leaders coming up are very familiar with technology in their personal lives,” she says.  “They have gadgets everywhere in their lives, and we want that generation to look at that as a way to run their business. The young people coming into employment are very comfortable with technology. We must take advantage of how their brains are wired and I think a smart employer will look at how they connect the dots for this next generation.” 

Growing globally
While the idea of reshoring is a hot topic right now, Lassaline-Berglund thinks there are frankly limited opportunities to leverage this for many Canadian manufacturers—the fact is our market is small and most of our customers are elsewhere. Instead of simply growing the number of products we export, she sees the export of Canada’s expertise and thought leadership as the next step
in the evolution of our mould, tool and die sector. 

She points out that Canada is widely recognized as a market that does very well with new ideas and innovation—our mould, tool and die industry is second to none and most other markets have been chasing Canada for some time. 

“With Canada being recognized as a leader in this industry, is it better for us to continue to supply bits and pieces, or is it better to become thought leaders? One of the interesting things that came out of our most recent trade mission to India—where there’s opportunity for Canadian mould tool and die to take advantage of business opportunities in the far east—is that can we lend our knowledge on how to get things done in regions where there isn’t a critical mass of technical ability,” she says, suggesting that Canadians export expertise by building up industry in another country. “There is much opportunity that comes from that. It’s an interesting question and would be an interesting project.” 

She cites the greenhouse sector as an example. The Windsor-Essex and Kingsville-Leamington areas have one of the largest concentrations of commercial enterprises “under glass” in North America. They are constantly being asked for ways they can help companies overseas improve. “It’s a little easier because when you talk about helping growers of fresh vegetables in other countries, you aren’t directly competing with them. However, there’s a connection there. Can we transition the mould and die industry from being doers to being creators?”

With about four months on the job, Lassaline-Berglund is just getting started, but with her experience and four-part strategy to help grow the mould and die sector here in Canada, the future for CAMM and Automate Canada looks strong, and with an economic rebound on the way, the timing for this strategic shift in both organizations couldn’t be better. SMT

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