MRO Magazine

Manufacturing workforce critical to future prosperity of the sector

Ottawa, ON -- As Canadian workers mark Labour Day on Monday, Sept. 1, a Conference Board study indicates that Canad...

Human Resources

August 28, 2008
By MRO Magazine

Ottawa, ON — As Canadian workers mark Labour Day on Monday, Sept. 1, a Conference Board study indicates that Canada’s manufacturing labour force is critical to the future prosperity of this sector.

In addition to the relentless competition from developing economies, rapid technological change and the strong Canadian dollar, manufacturers face major human resources challenges: a flood of early retirements, a reduced ability to attract young workers, and a need to keep up with changing skill requirements.

In the future, Canadian manufacturers are anticipating a shift from doing final assembly to building specialized components that fit into the overall production process, and in providing products and services that accompany the finished good, such as logistics and supply-chain management services.

“This shift in production means the skill requirements for manufacturing employees will continue to rise, and firms will increasingly compete for skilled workers with other sectors of the economy,” said Douglas Watt, associate director, Organizational Learning and Development, for the Conference Board. “At present, the manufacturing sector needs to do more to take full advantage of its current workforce through training and learning programs, and do more to successfully recruit younger workers.”


The report, Key Economic and Labour Force Issues Facing Canada’s Manufacturing Sector, recommends that manufacturers must improve on the current skills of their two million workers by tapping into education and training programs. The sector also needs to keep its aging workers in the labour force longer, through more flexible scheduling and changes in work processes. Finally, the sector has to restore its image as a rewarding career option for underrepresented groups such as young workers and women that have other employment options.

The economic analysis as part of the report found that the manufacturing sector’s share of gross domestic product which grew strongly in the 1990s slipped from 18.4% in 2000 to 15.2% in 2007. Since the beginning of this decade, overall growth in the manufacturing sector has stalled, even as the rest of the economy has expanded, and about 300,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

“There is no doubt that some segments are facing structural challenges such as increased import competition which have been further aggravated by the slowdown in the U.S. economy. However, all is not doom and gloom in the sector,” said Michael Burt, associate director, Canadian Industrial Outlook for the board.

“Some segments of manufacturing have garnered gains in employment over the course of this decade. The story is even rosier when one looks at production, where nine of the 21 industries have experienced rising production over the course of this decade, and total production is down only slightly. What is surprising about the sector is not that it has struggled in recent years, but that it has fared so well under these circumstances.”

Industries such as food manufacturing, fabricated metal products and machinery have grown in both employment and production, while others, such as clothing and textiles, and paper products, declined. Canada’s largest manufacturing industry, transportation equipment (which includes motor vehicle and aerospace), declined modestly over this period.

This research project, conducted for the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program, highlights four innovative programs that are addressing the key human resource issues facing the manufacturing sector:

– Wood Manufacturing Council’s WoodLINKS program a school-to-work transition and certification program, establishing partnerships between high schools and local manufacturers.

– Textiles Human Resources Council’s Skills and Learning Sites and Portal a flexible, cost-effective learning infrastructure for Canadian textile manufacturers and their employees.

– Canadian Plastics Sector Council’s Virtual HR Department (VHRD) program an online one-stop shop for human resources tools.

– Apparel Human Resources Council’s Management Competencies project a structured step-by-step strategic planning and human resources development process.

The overview and case study reports are available at A fee may apply.