by Lou Smyrlis
There’s no way to sugar-coat it, the future of manufacturing in Canada is under threat. This is despite the many positives reported in the pages of this issue of Shop and daily on our website (www.shopmetaltech.com), such as the 22 straight months of manufacturing growth, the blockbuster investments turning Canada into an electric vehicle manufacturing hub, and the return of face-to-face industry events with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
To put it bluntly, chronic labour and skills shortages are not only threatening manufacturing’s ability to continue to reap the benefits of the economic recovery, they’re placing its ability to remain globally competitive into question.
Research conducted by the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) over the past five years, shows just how much the skilled labour shortage has intensified. Back in 2016, CME raised the alarm when respondents to its Management Issues Survey stated that attracting and retaining skilled labour was their top challenge with 40 per cent of respondents reporting they faced labour and/or skills shortages. Nearly 20 per cent of manufacturers said that a lack of workers was hurting their business growth and new product development. More concerning still, 16 per cent of businesses stated they would shift production and investment outside of Canada if these issues were left unaddressed.
Skip ahead five years to the end of 2021, and CME’s survey found that attracting and retaining skilled labour remains the top challenge with now more than 80 per cent of respondents reporting they’re facing shortages. Forty-two per cent of manufacturers stated they have lost business opportunities as a result and now
up to 20 per cent are considering moving some or all of their production outside of Canada.
What’s particularly maddening about this situation is that the solution is right in front of us. There are close to 9 million women working in Canada and make up 48 per cent of the Canadian workforce. But they only represent 28 per cent of the jobs in manufacturing and less than 10 per cent of skilled production workers. Put simply, there is no larger, more relatively untapped source of talent in the country.
Yet manufacturing is losing ground against other industries in attracting women. Over the last 30 years, the share of total jobs held by women across all industries rose from 43 per cent to 48 per cent, but it has stayed flat for manufacturing. Even more concerning is that fewer young women are choosing to work in manufacturing. Whereas in the early 1980s women accounted for 34 per cent of all manufacturing workers under the age of 25, by 2016 that share had fallen to 25 per cent.
Reversing this trend will be critical to Canadian manufacturing’s future. It starts by listening to what women already in manufacturing have to say, as we did with the cover feature in this month’s issue. SMT