Mary SciannaClick image to enlargeThe Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is a sensitive topic for many people involved in the manufacturing sector. And no wonder.

 

Manufacturers can't find skilled trades people in this country. The reasons, according to many Shop Metalworking Technology has spoken to over the years are varied, from people who are poorly educated to those with poor attitudes. And when they do find potential candidates, the cost and time involved in training can sometimes be a deterrent, especially when these same people leave after they've had the training because of better pay or other incentives at another business.

So manufacturers reach out to foreign workers, qualified, machine operators, welders and the like to fill their needs. It seems like a win/win situation; employers fill their skilled jobs gap for a period of time and foreign workers get to expand their work experience in another country.

The recent overhaul of the TFW program in June by the Federal government has made it more difficult and more costly for manufacturers to hire skilled, foreign workers.

The Federal government's intent is a good one: Canadians should hire Canadians first. The problem though is that Canadian manufacturers are having trouble finding Canadians with the right skills mix to run their operations. And they're having trouble finding people because fewer youth are entering the trades via technical colleges. Declining registration for manufacturing programs has resulted in the cancellation of some of them. And, as many in the industry know, technical schools and colleges often struggle to obtain funding for leading-edge manufacturing equipment and technologies now being used in the field. For many youth who graduate from technical schools, their first encounter with machining and fabricating processes such as five axis machining, automation, and fiber laser cutting, for example, is often when they begin work in a shop.

The Federal government should focus less on the TFW program and more on figuring out how to improve skilled trades training in this country and encourage more people to enter the trades. Manufacturers, industry suppliers and some industry associations have taken steps to fill the gap–the Canadian Tooling and Machining Association's Training & Development Centre initiative in this issue's lead news story is one example–but without support from government, they're simply temporary bandaid solutions.

We need a new generation of skilled trades people to support and grow Canada's manufacturing industry. Until we do, manufacturers will continue to rely, in part, on foreign workers to fill the skilled trades gap in their operations. SMT

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