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By Mary Scianna

Paul Ellery, owner of Ellery Manufacturing, a 34-year-old Surrey, BC, machine shop has had so much trouble finding good skilled machinists for his CNC shop that he’s hired head hunting companies in Toronto, the UK and the Philippines.

“The talent pool at home just isn’t here…we need to have people brought in. We have brand new machines turned off because we don’t have the qualified people we need to run them.”

Ellery Manufacturing’s dilemma, as most of us know, is not unique. The skilled trades worker shortage in manufacturing persists. And the sad irony is that many people in manufacturing are looking for work. So what gives? What gives is the poor quality of skilled trades people, according to some job shops who discussed the issue at Shop Metalworking Technology’s Job Shops Roundtable last December.

If indeed the quality of education for machinists and the like is so poor, the obvious long-term goal is to improve it through collaborative partnerships between industry suppliers and educational institutions. Short term though, the problem still persists; where can you find qualified skilled trades people to work in manufacturing shops?

 One untapped market is immigrants. The government, aware of the skilled workers shortage, introduced the “Canadian Experience Class” in 2008 to fast track permanent residency applications for skilled foreign workers who are
already in Canada and for international students who have graduated from
Canadian colleges and universities. Last February, the Federal government
announced its plan to overhaul its immigration system and place more emphasis on skilled trades, as well as language ability and youth. In 2010, close to 85,000 people arrived in Canada under the Federal skilled worker program.

Immigration is good for the economy. History shows that immigrants are more likely to become entrepreneurs, create jobs and often spawn other
entrepreneurs - think Austrian-born Frank Stronach and Magna or Hungarian native Frank Hasenfratz and Linamar. Both came from countries with strong
apprenticeship programs for the trades. Or just look at some of your local
machine shops and chances are at least one of those shops is owned by a
foreign-born individual who immigrated to Canada for a better life.

This may not be the complete panacea Canada needs to address the shortage of skilled trades workers, but it’s a start and one way that Paul Ellery of Ellery Manufacturing can start running his machines again. SMT

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