Executive director Robert Cattle explains how CTMA weathered the pandemic and lays out the path forward in an exclusive interview.
SHOP: For two years now, CTMA hasn’t been able to hold the usual number of physical events it normally does, due to Covid restrictions. You’ve had to rely on virtual meetings and presentations. What are the most important lessons learned about running an association under such circumstances and how do you see that affecting how you reach out to members post pandemic?
CATTLE: I believe that supplying members with pertinent information is the key and this was most evident during the early days of the pandemic, when we were all trying to live with COVID-19 and keep our employees safe. I believe the CTMA did this, sending updated information to all our members during this time when things changed so rapidly. In April 2020, in the midst of the first wave, we hired Sarah Grandy as our Marketing and Communications Specialist. Having someone with her skills on our team enabled us to ensure that we were still providing value to our membership without being able to host in-person events. We ramped up our marketing initiatives, most of which are free to CTMA members, and began our Virtual Vibes events. We know members’ needs vary, so we try and provide benefits that meet the needs of all members, such as hybrid events, until everyone feels safe meeting in-person again; marketing opportunities; our machine outsourcing portal; industry surveys, and much more.
SHOP: Do you envision virtual presentations and tradeshows becoming something you run alongside physical events as a way for CTMA to expand its industry footprint?
CATTLE: Yes, I believe that our series of Virtual Vibes presentations allow people to attend and gain information, but they in no way replace an in-person chapter meeting/networking opportunity. Post pandemic we will continue to offer these benefits and continue to listen to feedback from our members on how to provide even more value to membership in the CTMA.
SHOP: CTMA had anticipated a 25 per cent reduction in membership due to pandemic issues in 2021, yet you managed to actually grow your membership income over what was budgeted. What helped you achieve this and what do you think it means for the future of the organization?
CATTLE: I believe that during these difficult times, our members came to rely on us to provide them with up to date, reliable, information. It took me weeks, but I phoned every one of our members to see how they were doing and how we could help, and quite often, these were not quick conversations. Non-member companies were able to see this support and perhaps this influenced their decision to join. Also, during these times, our Career-Ready with CTMA program was instrumental in helping companies hire new employees and re-train existing ones, with financial help coming directly from the CTMA. Our successful submission to Ontario’s Skilled Development fund, allowed the CTMA to create, develop and administer this program where companies can receive a financial benefit for providing training on their shop or office floors. This really grabbed a lot of attention. Also, ensuring benefits for members by having online events provided networking opportunities during these trying times. Free marketing for members, administering surveys, and relaying industry news were activities that showcased our association to non-members. Our machine outsourcing portal was also active with postings for work that many of our members took advantage of.
SHOP: Part of CTMA’s mandate is to promote innovation in manufacturing technology and to promote the sale of Canadian manufacturing tooling in domestic and international markets. How would you say Canadian solutions are viewed on international markets?
CATTLE: The CTMA is Canada’s representative in the International Special Tooling & Machining Association (ISTMA) and has been a member of this association for decades. Throughout these years (before COVID), CTMA member companies have visited many countries attending ISTMA meetings and World Tooling conferences, where they network with other country members. These World Tooling Conferences are held every three years and the CTMA were hosts to this event in 2010. This was held in Windsor, Ont., and during the three-day event plant tours, B2B meetings and other networking events were held, which showcased Canada’s strength in the tooling industry.
SHOP: The Ontario government’s Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation program is providing $40 million (over two years) to support manufacturing invest in the equipment, technologies and skilled workforce required to improve competitiveness. Is this enough to make a significant difference? What are your thoughts on the program and what has been the uptake from your members so far?
CATTLE: We have sent the information about this program to our members so that they are aware of this opportunity. The positives are that up to 15 per cent of funding to a maximum of $5 million is interest free during the project period (up to four years). Another positive is that if you achieve your investment and job or upskilling targets, up to 30% of the loan (to a maximum of $500,000) may be forgiven. The negatives are that it is a very short time frame to apply, and that major purchases or expansions are usually part of long-term plans that may not fit this schedule. The other negative is that $40 million may sound like a lot of money, but that can easily be used up quickly.
SHOP: The CTMA also has an advocacy role. Aside from the talent shortage and pandemic restrictions, which issues do you see as the most important for CTMA, and the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition it is a member of, to lobby government on for action and change in 2022?
CATTLE: Focusing on a new immigration policy that is focussed on targeting people with the skilled trades. Making the application process simpler and quicker not only for the participants, but for the companies that are willing to sponsor them. I have heard of companies that are investing in housing so their newly immigrated employees will have a place to live.