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Industry laments lack of skilled-trades workers

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES
Chris Edwards, president of Weber Manufacturing Technologies in Midland, spoke Wednesday about the lack of skilled trades during a manufacturers forum at Horseshoe Resort hosted by the County of Simcoe.

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES Chris Edwards, president of Weber Manufacturing Technologies in Midland, spoke Wednesday about the lack of skilled trades during a manufacturers forum at Horseshoe Resort hosted by the County of Simcoe.

The lack of skilled trades personnel in Simcoe County is a major barrier to progress for local manufacturers, according to a business owner.

 

“It is the leading topic for today on everyone’s minds,” said Chris Edwards, president of Weber Manufacturing Technologies in Midland, who was at a Simcoe County economic development committee manufacturers forum Thursday at Horseshoe Resort. “Skilled trades is one of the barriers companies have to growth. They’re either struggling to grow because they don’t have the people to run the machines or they don’t have the skill set to do the services to build the product they need.”

Speaking at the event, he said youth are not entering the trades as often and instead are focusing on other fields.

“Weber has come together and made partnerships with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) and Georgian College and townships and the county to develop skilled trades as a pool in our area,” Edwards said, emphasizing the importance of partnerships for the creation of a pool of skilled trades workers.

“Skilled trades is something that’s reared its head for the last 10 years and continues to do so,” said Jason Dillman, senior manager of human resources at Kubota Materials Canada Corporation in Orillia. “The amount of people entering the skilled trades isn’t sufficient to replace those going out, and the interests in the skilled trades need to grow in order to grow the manufacturing sector in our area and Ontario in general.”

OYAP is one way manufacturers can go about getting youth to be trained in the skilled trades.

“An employer can bring on a student through the co-operative education program,” said Sarah Kekewich, the Simcoe County District School Board’s OYAP co-ordinator. “If that student demonstrates the motivation, skill set, interest and ability, the company can register them as an apprentice. Essentially, the student is beginning an apprenticeship program while also completing the requirements of a high-school diploma.”

Each year in Simcoe County, she said, close to 150 students sign up for a variety of apprenticeship programs, and in the past three years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students – up to 30 from four – who are signing up for manufacturing trades specifically.

Another hindrance in helping local businesses grow has to do with what happens south of the border, said Adam Smith, operations manager with Barrie Welding.

“The U.S. election has an impact on us,” he said. “In terms of our customers, a lot of them have been holding off large investments in Canada because of the uncertainty of where the dollar is going to end up. A lot of our customers are multinationals with U.S.-based parent companies and, obviously, a dollar on par is harder to compete with U.S.-based companies.”

And while it’s still pretty early for investors to decide their course of action, Smith hopes matters will settle in the months to come.

“(U.S. president-elect Donald) Trump is a businessman, so it could be good for manufacturers, (but) the only real worry is the protectionism sentiment of bringing all the work back to America,” he said.

That is one reason it is important for local businesses to be aware of each other to help promote services and growth, said Basil Clarke, mayor of Ramara Township and chair of the county’s economic development committee.

“We want to help the manufacturer in the area, but we don’t want to be that top-down where we’re trying to tell the industry what they need,” he said. “We need them steering us. We need them telling us what we can do to help.”

mshahid@postmedia.com

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