Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Fast-tracked to success: An upskilling program is helping fill smart manufacturing roles

May 10, 2024
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

The advanced manufacturing program participants get the chance to work with a company to help them solve a company problem. (Photo: Humber College)

ACCES Employment is offering a new program, delivered through Humber College, that’s designed to fast-track mid-career workers into a job in manufacturing. The “Connecting to Careers in Advanced Manufacturing” is a 16-week program, funded by Upskill Canada, powered by Palette Skills, and offered free of charge to individuals who qualify for the initiative.

“We’re seeing an upswing in manufacturing in Ontario,” says Dr. Dave Smiderle, associate dean of continuous professional learning within the Faculty of Applied Science and Technology at Humber College. “And in terms of advanced manufacturing, they’re predicting billion-dollar growth.”

While manufacturing is growing in Ontario, the pool of skilled labour isn’t keeping up with industry demand, Smiderle adds. “The biggest problem right now is a lack of skills in this area, at the entry level,” he explains. “When we talked with our industry partners and asked about their challenges, they told us that they hire good people, who are often promoted very quickly, and then they don’t have candidates to fill the entry-level positions left behind.”

The obvious solution is to train individuals who can fill those entry-level manufacturing positions. “However,” Smiderle adds, “manufacturers can’t wait years for us to train someone, which means that the traditional method of schooling where someone studies for a year or two is no longer practical.”


Since time is of the essence for manufacturers, this 16-week program teaches program participants the basics, which allow them to get into the entry-level manufacturing jobs that need to be filled urgently.

Self-paced study

Since this initiative is aimed at mid-career workers who may already have jobs or other responsibilities, the 16-week program was designed with a large self-paced component that allows program participants to complete the theory part of the curriculum online. Then, program participants come to the lab at Humber College on a Saturday or Sunday to cover the practical side of the curriculum. “The program was designed specifically for people who have lives outside of academics,” Smiderle explains. “These individuals are working right now, so we want to get them in and out as quickly as possible.”

Key training topics

This program isn’t designed to turn program participants into experts in the field or prepare them for advanced positions in a smart factory. Rather, it’s designed to help them master a particular set of skills that will allow them to succeed in an entry-level position in manufacturing.

Key topics covered during the 16 weeks include lean manufacturing, mechatronic control systems, program logic controllers, electric motors, actuators, drives, electric pneumatics and hydraulics.

“On top of that,” Smiderle adds, “there’s a work-integrated learning component, which means that they’ll get the chance to work with a company to help them solve a company problem.”

Program participants also benefit from instruction offered by ACCES Employment. “The program offers personalized coaching sessions focusing on personal branding, goal-setting, accountability, and skills development,” explains Robert Tortian, director of bridging services at ACCES Employment.

“Through targeted job search assistance and future-proofing workshops, participants are equipped with the tools and strategies necessary to secure employment and thrive in professional settings,” he adds. “By combining technical training with career preparation and effective communication skills, the program not only addresses current labour shortages but also future-proofs participants for long-term success in the dynamic field of advanced manufacturing.”

The program was designed specifically for people who have lives outside of academics. (Photo: Humber College)

Thorough vetting process

Since the program is free, and space is limited, all candidates are vetted before they’re accepted into the program. Although prior experience in the industry is not a requirement, all candidates need a high-school diploma with Grade 12 English and Math. “Our goal is to take a non-technical person and turn them into a technical, and hireable person in 16 weeks,” Smiderle adds.

“Candidates are evaluated based on their adaptability, critical thinking skills, and motivation to succeed in a dynamic and fast-paced environment,” Tortian adds. “While past academic and professional qualifications are considered, they do not play as significant a role in the selection process as candidates’ potential to thrive in the program and contribute meaningfully to the manufacturing industry. By prioritizing learning ability, commitment, and core skills, we ensure that our program attracts individuals who are not only capable of succeeding academically but also possess the drive and passion to excel in their careers.”

Limited funding

In a perfect world, this program would be able to take on as many new participants as the manufacturing industry would need in order to fill all the entry-level jobs currently available, as well as any future jobs in the coming years. However, since this program relies on outside funding, there’s only room for a total of 120 learners.

With the current funding, a total of four cohorts (30 learners per cohort) will be accepted into the program. The first cohort is already well underway, while the second, third and fourth cohorts are scheduled to begin in May, July and November 2024, respectively.

If additional funding can be secured, then more learners will be able to take the 16-week program in the future. “ACCES remains committed to supporting and sustaining the program’s impact beyond its initial phase of 120 students,” Tortian says. “Recognizing the program’s significance in addressing key challenges facing the manufacturing sector, ACCES is actively exploring avenues for continued funding and expansion.”

Positive feedback

Although the program is still in its initial phase, results have been encouraging. “Feedback from both students and industry stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive, underscoring the program’s effectiveness in addressing critical needs and fostering a culture of innovation within the manufacturing sector,” Tortian says. “Participants commend the program for its comprehensive curriculum, hands-on learning opportunities, and personalized coaching sessions, which have equipped them with the skills and confidence to pursue rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing.”

Not only are the learners happy with the program, but so are the companies that need skilled help. “Industry partners have also lauded the program for its role in bridging the skills gap and supplying the sector with highly skilled and adaptable technicians,” Tortian adds. “They recognize the value of the program in meeting the evolving needs of the industry and ensuring its continued growth and competitiveness on both national and global scales.”

This new program has the potential to make a big impact on manufacturing, and Smiderle says that he is committed to making this a success for all involved.

Speaking of the 120 learners who will ultimately go through this program, Smiderle says that he can see a real win-win situation for everyone. “I want companies to hire these folks, and I want companies to be happy with the quality and the type of person that they’re getting,” he says. “Ultimately, the goal is that we grow business in Ontario.”

ACCES Employment seems to be equally dedicated to the program and to the success of everyone involved. “Building upon the program’s early successes and the positive outcomes it has generated, ACCES is dedicated to securing the necessary resources to scale up its reach and maximize its long-term impact,” Tortian concludes. “By leveraging partnerships, securing government support, and engaging with industry stakeholders, ACCES aims to ensure the sustained growth and sustainability of the program, thereby furthering its mission of empowering individuals and advancing innovation in manufacturing.”

Employers who would like to participate in this program and work-integrated learning, hire program participants, support mentoring or coaching the learners, or help in steering the program by participating in the program advisory committee can reach out to Robert Tortian at ACCES Employment (

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