Society of Manufacturing Engineers vows to take back manufacturing

Wednesday October 26, 2011
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The Society of Manufacturing Engineers' Toronto chapter has launched an aggressive campaign and is working with "like-minded organizations" to bring manufacturing back to Ontario and Canada.

Dubbed "Take back manufacturing" (or TBM), the campaign's goal is to get government, educators and industry leadership to work closer together to plan the recovery of the declining manufacturing sectors in Ontario.

The TBM forum is a group of organizations, including 25 technical associations, three trade associations, five educational policy makers, media experts, local government reps and industry experts. The premise is to speak with one voice and work towards one goal on one agenda.

"As manufacturing professionals, we have seen the effects of the decline of manufacturing in Ontario. Our outlook as we look to the future is not a rosy one. We have deep concerns about what we will do in the future if we allow the decline that's been going on [to] continue. We need to actively take part in changing this around if we're going to create a better future for Ontario, not just for the people in it now, but for future generations," said Marie Laird, chair of the Toronto chapter of SME, in a presentation at the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) in Toronto.

Laird and colleague Nigel Southway, SME operations lead, presented a 45-minute demonstration outlining the initiative and its goals every 90 minutes at the SME booth during the four days of the CMTS show.

During the presentation, Southway discussed some of the industries that used to be part of the Ontario economy, but have since moved offshore. One example, he said, is something as iconic to this country as the hockey stick, which is no longer produced in Canada.

This will result in a generation of kids believing that Canada can't even make hockey sticks, he said.

"Manufacturing has been such an integral part of Ontario's economy, but we're quickly moving towards this idea that we can't make things in Ontario any more. In fact, if it goes on long enough, we're not even going to remember that we even made them," said Laird.

The presentation touched on the costs associated with offshore manufacturing, including shipping and the environmental impact.

Laird also spoke about the social attitude towards manufacturing.

"As a society, we have done it a great disservice, and as manufacturing professionals in that society, we are no different," she said. "I have heard many people in manufacturing tell their kids or their grandchildren, 'You know what, don't get into this. Stay in school. Go to university. Get a good job.' And the implication has been that manufacturing can't provide a good job, or it's not a good thing to get into. That's a really dangerous message to tell our children...We've let it get this public image of being dark, dirty, dangerous, difficult, deafening - all these things that no young person would really want to partake in when they look for their future employment prospects."

What does the SME recommend we do to combat this issue? With their forum partners, they've developed a TBM roadmap that, if followed, they believe will improve Canada's manufacturing competitiveness, reverse the weak manufacturing position and improve prosperity.

The roadmap addresses what they consider to be major issues, including low unemployment, an untrained workforce, dated management practices, lower productivity and expensive products. The biggest of these issues, said Southway, is the untrained workforce.

"We actually see [the] untrained workforce [as] being a future threat to the new world that we see because, unfortunately, the next generation of engineers, technologists and skilled people we need won't be there unless we plant it in place."

To address this, the forum recommends a joint apprenticeship training board, career development plan for students, and a training program that's integrated with industry. This training and having close ties with industry will help pass along the knowledge of those set to retire in the next decade, and also help to keep students abreast of the latest technology, which frequently evolves.

And for those already in manufacturing with dated management practices, the forum recommends professional retraining programs.

The group is currently in Phase 1 of the campaign - the TBM awareness stage. Phase 2 is about getting government to listen. They are relying on their forum members who lobby to government to talk to them and make them understand that they have to put the right tax policies, trade policies, educational policies in place to bring manufacturing back to Canada. Phase 3 focuses on education.

"There are two million people in manufacturing," said Laird. "If we speak together, if we work together, we can make this happen." 

For more information on TBM, or to find out how you can get involved, visit http://sme-tbm.org/.

 

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