The manufacturing talent crunch

Matthew Bradford

It’s a seller’s market – assuming you have the resources to meet today’s demand. And if struggling to secure materials wasn’t enough of a challenge for the woodworking industry, manufacturers are also pining for skilled professionals who can get the job done.

Woodworkers are not alone in their hunt for talent. According to Statistics Canada, the manufacturing sector experienced 65,900 vacancies in the second quarter of 2021, the highest amount since 2015. The labour crunch is also spotlighted in Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ October 2021 report, CME Business Outlook and Labour and Skills Surveywherein 77% of 445 manufacturing industry survey respondents say their biggest challenge is attracting and retaining a quality workforce.

“Our survey confirmed what we’ve been hearing from manufacturers on the ground for a long time,” says Dennis Darby, President and CEO of CME. “Demand for manufactured goods is strong, but we are increasingly unable to keep up, let alone take advantage of this boom. Labour shortages, supply chain challenges, and higher input costs are big problems.” 

The impacts of the labour shortage are hard to absorb. In the same CME study, nearly half of respondents report losing opportunities or paying penalties due to labour shortages over the last two years. More alarming is that one out of five manufacturers is exploring the idea of moving production outside of Canada’s borders.

“If we don’t address these,” he warns, “Canada’s economy will suffer.”

Replenishing the labour pool

The global talent crunch is a complex challenge with no single solution. That said, one of the most agreed-upon strategies is simply engaging more youth in the manufacturing field. Recognizing this, the CME joins many manufacturing employers in calling for a stronger promotion of manufacturing careers among youth and more efforts to dispel unfavourable industry misconceptions and support pathways to employment. At the same time, there is growing consensus that enhancing worker training and easing talent mobility – either within Canada or across international borders – can also make an impact.  

Connecting with underutilized demographics is also a win-win for Canadians and the manufacturing sector alike. To that end, there are also calls to expand efforts to attract more women, Canadian newcomers, Indigenous community members, and other less-represented individuals to the field.

Easing cross-border and interprovincial mobility is also an oft-cited solution, as is driving more investment for worker training. When it comes to what can make the most difference in the short to medium-term, however, there is a consensus among the industry that more can be done to welcome foreign talent into Canada’s shops.

“We need the federal government to step up and set bold economic class immigration targets,” said Darby. “CME believes we should aim for 500,000 economic class immigrants per year as of 2030, which is more than double of our current intake of this specific immigration class. We must also streamline the temporary foreign worker program so that it can act as a release valve on labour shortages in the short term.”

“Bottom line,” he continues, “We need a lot more people coming into Canada in order to grow.”

While this recent study considers all Canadian manufacturers, the talent shortage obstacles and solutions are undoubtedly relatable to woodworkers. And as the available workforce continues to dwindle, all ideas are on the table.

Read the full CME 2021 report here.

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