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How can we make manufacturing sexy?: Addressing the impending skilled trades shortage


Have you ever wondered if we are doing everything it takes to keep manufacturing in North America? Have you ever wondered how we can give manufacturing the recognition and attention it deserves? Have you ever wondered if we’re doing everything we can to attract the next generation of skilled workers to the manufacturing industry?

These questions should be on the top of your mind if you want to see the manufacturing industry in Canada survive and thrive.

The assumption of many people is that manufacturing is laborious, monotonous and that it is a dead-end job that only requires a low level of education. Some people are still stuck in the early days of the industrial revolution; the original assembly lines with dirty and unsafe work areas. Nothing could be further from the truth. A large portion of our population is devoted to this vital sector, and we can no longer afford to stand by and watch the talent, skills and abilities dwindle away.

We have to start shifting the perception from offshore sweatshops to modern operations with high-tech machinery and equipment, where people can create something of value. It is this reality that is going to attract more people to manufacturing.

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Manufacturing is interesting, challenging, motivational and an excellent place to learn and grow. It is all about mindset, attitude, innovation and creativity, and making a quality product. But manufacturing has to do a better job of marketing itself. We have to talk more about the importance of this industry and work on increasing people’s awareness, so that we can attract young people to this field.

How many teenagers graduate from high school today with the goal to work in a manufacturing plant? Not many. Today’s society seems to favour academic education over skilled trades training, and that’s why many people in plants feel like second-class citizens. Why do we push our kids to go to college or university if they have the talent and interest to learn a trade? There’s a great German saying: "People with a trade have a golden foundation."

Many people believe that today’s youth don’t want to work hard. As I recall, the same thing was said about my generation when I was a teenager. Can it be that our youth needs to be managed differently, that they are motivated by different things, and expect more freedom in how they do their jobs? Kids today are no better or worse than we used to be, they are just a different generation.

Our youth today are interested in high profile, attractive jobs, and we haven’t done a great job of selling manufacturing in that context. The leading-edge technology used in manufacturing will certainly attract young people if they are made aware of it.

Schools and universities play a critical role in working closely together with manufacturing organizations to educate, not only the students, but also the parents and teachers about the many career opportunities in this industry. Some examples could be field trips to manufacturing plants; manufacturing leaders going into schools to give presentations and answer any questions students may have; and co-op positions or internships in the manufacturing sector. As a manufacturer, it is your responsibility to go out and initiate these collaborations with academia. Some companies do this very well, but not enough manufacturers are collaborating in this manner.

The government also has a serious role to play in supporting Canadian manufacturers. They have to stop the economic shift from a service-oriented industry to a manufacturing industry, remove trade barriers, offer tax incentives to companies that manufacture locally, and give tax credits for investments, capitalization, technology and payroll.

But we cannot just look to the government to create change, because there are many things that we can start doing now. If organizations return to the basics of hiring talent and listening to that talent, efficiency, effectiveness and profitability will be the end result. 

It is having a passion for what you do that makes a job sexy. We cannot manufacture passion, but we can educate, inspire, lead and succeed.

We are the subject matter experts. We are the teachers. We are the ones who lead by example. We are the ones who need to be dissatisfied with the current status quo, take on the challenge and make improvements. We have to create change. This change will start with every single one of us, because if we don’t get better, someone else will. And if we don’t make manufacturing in Canada more attractive to today’s youth, we will lose this potential pool of labour to another sector or another country.

Karin Lindner is the founder of Karico Performance Solutions (www.karicosolutions.com), a company specializing in employee engagement and motivation in the manufacturing sector. Besides writing a book entitled "How Can We Make Manufacturing Sexy?", Lindner is also in the process of creating a youth award to encourage high school students to come up with new ways and ideas to make manufacturing in North America more attractive. For more information, she can be reached at (647) 401-5274 or karin@karicosolutions.com.