The Canadian Auto Manufacturing Workforce’s Evolution
- The electric vehicle revolution has dramatically changed the kind of skills and jobs needed in the automotive industry.
- The automotive industry must find new ways to attract, retain and train talent as accessibility to training may be a barrier for many workers.
- For the automotive industry to attract a more diverse workforce, students will need to be exposed to the potential of the industry from a young age.
With a strong workforce, Canada’s automotive industry can successfully set up its own local supply chain. Emerging trends have necessitated the acquisition of new skills and different kinds of jobs, meaning the sector will need to pivot accordingly to successfully compete.
What are the forces and trends shaping the Canadian automotive industry, particularly in terms of its workforce?
The automotive sector, not just in Canada but worldwide, is facing one of the biggest industrial shifts we have seen in a hundred years since Henry Ford rolled out the production line. The auto industry is on the cusp of moving towards mobility and technology, with a lot of zero-emission targets to meet across the globe. There are also a lot more electric vehicles (EVs) now.
These are disruptive forces to the sector, and they are shaping many of the decisions being made here. At the same time, they are also paving the way to a cleaner future and part of that is affecting the workforce. There is an entire generation of workers who will need to upskill and train as we move from cars as we know them to electric vehicles. We will also need to look at how we attract talent from other jurisdictions to come to our workforce and expand the talent pool. Right now, the sector is a bit like the Wild West but that presents an opportunity for us to shape the future of what it can look like here in Canada.
What is the APMA’s Digital Learning Program and how will it benefit workers and companies in Canada?
We are launching the Digital Learning Program as the first industry-wide, industry-recognized training program. A lot of training can happen at the ground level in some of the larger organizations but there is a gap in accessing affordable and easy-to-use training among production line workers. The program is about how we can put all the needed training into a program that can be accessed by anyone.
We will be offering certifications and micro-credentials through this program, which will focus on things like remanufacturing, auto 101 and health and safety. It is also focused on small and medium-sized businesses that might be resource-strapped and not sure where to go for this type of education and training.
If our workforce does not adjust, Canada will be playing catch-up or lose a lot of its SMEs.
We know that there will be a lot of changes happening in the sector and so we do not want to play catch-up. We want to put something out there that invests in the workers on the production line and puts learning directly in their hands on a completely digital level. It will be available through their tablet or on their cell phone or computer at work. This really launches us into the space to remain globally competitive. If our workforce does not adjust, Canada will be playing catch-up or lose a lot of its SMEs. This should not be a burden that the workers have to undertake.
We are seeing this war for talent happen not just across Canada but in other jurisdictions in the world and we want to make sure that we are at the forefront of that, creating solutions to immediate problems and looking at long-term strategies as well.
How are Canada’s academic institutions preparing workers to succeed in the future of the auto sector?
We are in a real place of privilege here in Canada where our colleges and universities are part of a publicly funded system that allows anyone to access them and seek post-secondary education. Colleges and universities advance our economic, social, and cultural wellbeing, and collaboration between academia and industry is vital. The automotive sector as well as other sectors across Canada have also been really important in creating innovation and a network of clusters coast to coast, creating a lot of talent.
Thanks to all of these resources available to our post-secondary institutions, industry has been really active in looking for partnerships with academia. I probably have one call a week where companies are looking for opportunities about how to better partner with academia. While academics operate in their own space, they also want to hear about what is happening on the frontlines as we shift into the zero-emission EV future.
Colleges and universities have been good at pivoting to new ways of learning.
Colleges and universities have been good at pivoting to new ways of learning. This has helped us look at micro-credentials or certifications for that continuing education piece. With our Digital Learning Program, we are looking to have offshoots. For instance, if a participant is taking a certification in one thing but decides they are interested in a specific thing and want to dive deeper, APMA has partnerships with colleges and universities across Canada to help formalize further education for workers who are interested. This allows participants to seek something more formal. Our goal is to cast a wide net and bring more people back into the sector. We want to invest in people so that they stay in the sector and find the kind of long-term, meaningful work that we want to see in the automotive sector.
We are seeing a lot of diversity in the automotive industry not just in people but in thoughts and ideas. We have seen this through casting a wide net and working closely with students graduating from post-secondary studies.
What is being done to diversify the auto industry’s workforce?
Throughout the past decade, we have heard a lot of conversations in the automotive sector about the number of retirements taking place and will continue to take place over the next 10 years. In Ontario, 25% of workers currently in the workforce will have retired in the next 10 years. We are seeing a massive shift and with that also comes a loss of knowledge and the inability to transition that knowledge to the next generation of workers.
One of our programs here at APMA is called the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Fund. It is an opportunity to work with employers who identified a massive labour shortage and want to find new talent. We look at different groups like racialized communities, women, youth and people with disabilities and try to figure out how to create access for them to come into this sector. Part of that discussion includes supporting employers in that ramp-up period. If someone has not had a job in manufacturing before, it can be a real shock to walk into a state-of-the-art plant floor with robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). It can be an overwhelming experience.
There are many open jobs in manufacturing and not enough people to fill them, with so much talent worldwide that we are not leveraging.
Through the EDI Fund, we provide supports for the attraction, retention and training of workers. We also look at mentorship on the job and skills upgrading, as well as support things like purchasing hard hats, steel-toe boots and other personal protective equipment (PPE). All of those little pieces can be difficult for companies to invest in outside of the production line. That is why we want to help offset some of that burden for when people who have never been in the sector come into it.
Human talent is the new currency, and it is valuable across every sector. We need to take a step back and figure out how to invest in people upfront. That way, they can see that it is not just a job but that there are pathways to very meaningful careers in the automotive sector, and that exposure to the industry was key. Programs like the EDI Fund are part of a strategic plan to look at the talent we already have and fill in the gaps. We want to work with governments at all levels to talk about what immigration looks like for these jobs as well because there are many open jobs in manufacturing and not enough people to fill them, with so much talent worldwide that we are not leveraging.
What excites you most about the future of Canada’s automotive sector, particularly in terms of its workforce?
The potential for the sector now and where it has already come is huge. With robotics, automation and AI, there will be more highly paid and high-quality jobs in the automotive sector that will be in high demand. People will be able to find a career here that will continue to change, as opposed to jumping into the same job for the next 25 years.
People entering the manufacturing workforce can be a part of the industry’s evolving legacy, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
There needs to be more exposure to the auto sector. We need to talk to the next generation about what jobs here look like. From kindergarten to grade 12, education can sometimes be really focused on looking at the university pathway, but the potential in our sector looks beyond that. How can we drive more people into the skilled trades while training people with more soft skills like critical thinking and problem-solving? Everyone is so taken with cellphones right now and we all want to have the latest iPhone, but the automotive sector will actually give us more connectivity through our vehicles than our cellphones will. The future of that is really huge and will have more impact than cellphones. The idea of electric vehicles, self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles is a totally new space. People entering the manufacturing workforce can be a part of the industry’s evolving legacy, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
What are Canada’s top competitive advantages in the battery and EV production space?
There are many countries that produce quality vehicles and they may do it cheaper than we do, but Canada has one of the most highly skilled and productive workforces in the world. We continue to invest and adapt to the new skills that are required, not just in the next couple of years but in terms of a longer-term stretch.
Canada also has one of the world’s top five reserves of critical minerals that will be needed for battery production. Nickel, lithium, cobalt and graphite all exist right here in Canada. We need to keep pushing our governments to be forward-thinking about that and be globally competitive. Canada needs to invest in information technology clusters across the country so that they become active partners and help continue that public-private partnership.
With all these major pieces in mind, Canada has what it takes to compete and build a foundation for a local electric vehicle supply chain.