Why Isn't Ontario, Canada, Facing A Skilled Labor Shortage?

April 2, 2007
Province extends proven initiatives to nurture the manufacturing workforce.

Editor's Note: "Look to Ontario" is a three-part series describing Ontario, Canada's recent efforts to build upon the province's competitive advantages as a manufacturing center, including its highly skilled and educated workforce; attractive investment climate and central location; and reputation for high-quality production and innovation. This is part 1. Also see part 2, Knowledge Networks Feed Manufacturing Growth and part 3, Balancing Site Selection Criteria.

While U.S.-based manufacturers decry the coming skills shortage in their nation, their neighbor to the north, Ontario, Canada, is working to strengthen its already formidable advanced manufacturing workforce. New government programs launched in the past year boost access to higher education, invest in research facilities, and expand apprenticeship programs -- three elements that are vital to manufacturers' success. The new workforce-targeted initiatives include:

  • The launch of the largest capital investment in colleges and universities since the 1950s. Ontario and its partners are spending Cdn $2.6 billion to create more than 135,000 new student spaces at colleges and universities throughout the province.
  • The building of 74 new post-secondary capital projects on campuses across Ontario, many in the rapidly growing fields of sciences and high-technology.
  • The creation of an Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit that will give companies a 25% refundable tax credit on salaries and wages for new apprentices for the first 36 months of the training programs to a maximum value of Cdn $15,000. Also, new government programs will increase the number of apprentices in high-demand areas to 26,000 annually by next year.

The initiatives build upon a well-established knowledge infrastructure that already produces a steady stream of new industry-ready workers, from the plant floor to the research lab and the executive suite. "Businesses thrive or fail based on the quality, commitment, skills and knowledge of their people," says Martin Ehlert, vice president Manufacturing, Apotex Pharmachem. "Our business has excellent R&D and operations staff drawn from Ontario universities and colleges. These connections have led to research collaborations with a number of universities in the province and the development with Mohawk College of an on-site training program for our operators. Ontario's ethnic diversity also means we can have people on staff who are familiar with the cultures and customs of countries around the globe where we do business, and that is a major benefit."

At 44 universities and colleges in the province, thousands of students train in every field -- from skilled trades to the most advanced areas of math, science, engineering and business. Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology are designed to meet the needs of both students and industry, with degree and certificate programs in mechanical, industrial, materials, electrical, computer, and systems engineering. Each year, Ontario's knowledge network produces 29,000 graduates in the manufacturing-critical fields of mathematics, engineering and science.

Ontario's R&D infrastructure includes thousands of leading researchers and 30 specialized research centers where industry innovations are tested and refined. Seventeen of Canada's top 50 research universities are located in Ontario and are widely recognized for excellence, particularly in programs related to the chemical industry. The influential Gourman Report rates two Ontario universities (McMaster and Toronto) among North America's top 10 for chemical engineering. Leading researchers from around the world also are drawn to Ontario's seven specialized university research labs.

In management education, BusinessWeek ranks the MBA program at Queen's University as the best in the world outside the U.S., and the Financial Times ranks the business schools at four Ontario universities -- Queen's, York, the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario -- among the world's top 40 for MBA programs.

Most important, however, is how the provincial government works to facilitate partnerships between higher education and industry to form a focused effort to meet manufacturers' ever-increasing demands for new skills and knowledge. College-industry collaboration keeps skills training on the leading edge. Colleges in the Sarnia, Toronto and Ontario East chemical clusters offer two-and three-year technology programs such as Chemical Laboratory Technology, Chemical Production Engineering Technology, Environmental Science Technician and Materials Engineering Technology. Many Ontario colleges also offer specialized training developed collaboratively with industry associations or individual companies.

Extensive apprenticeship and co-op programs give students critical, real-world experience. The Ford Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, a teaching facility that's unique to North America, is just one example. The $30 million, 100,000-sq. ft. facility has shop-floor labs filled with state-of-the-art equipment, including CNC machines, Axis machines, rapid prototyping, wire EDM, high-end CAD/CAM software and an industrial automation line. It can accommodate 1,300 full-time, part-time and apprenticeship students. Incorporating the best practice from industry, the Centre has been designed to move the students from classroom to industrial setting seamlessly.

Together the new and existing programs will help Ontario further increase its advantage as the most highly educated workforce of any industrialized nation. Overall 55% of all Ontarians aged 25 to 64 have completed their post-secondary education, a higher percentage than any other industrialized country, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

A Global Community

Ontario's manufacturing workforce is not only smart, it's ethnically diverse. One in four Ontarians was born outside Canada and one in five is a member of a visible minority, making Ontario's population of 12.5 million people one of the most multicultural societies on earth. Roughly 145,000 people immigrate to Ontario each year from every corner of the globe, bringing with them the cultural awareness and language fluency that multinational companies must have to succeed in a global economy.

Ontario is home to people from 170 different ethnic backgrounds who speak more than 100 languages, which means Ontarians can work with customers and suppliers in their own language, virtually anywhere in the world, making your global sourcing, service and sales flow more smoothly.


As well, Ontario's manufacturing workers are dependable, staying with a company for an average of nine years which translates into lower training costs compared to neighboring jurisdictions. Loyal autoworkers are why Ontario facilities are consistent winners of both the J.D. Power and Associates initial Quality Survey and the Harbour Report productivity survey. In 2006 two Ontario assembly plants ranked first and second in quality in North America, out of 84 facilities. DaimlerChrysler's Windsor plant captured silver and General Motors' Oshawa No. 2 plant took gold for the second year in a row--less than a week after finishing second among all North American plants for productivity.

Backed by publicly funded universal healthcare and first-class education systems Ontario's employees also are wage competitive -- a materials handler in Ontario makes US$36,750 a year, compared to US$42,640 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Employee health care benefits cost Ontario manufacturers about half as much as their U.S. counterparts -- 6.8% versus 13.2% of wages.

Ontario's government continues to forge strong alliances between industry and educational institutions, and works hard to create the environment where manufacturing and its workforce succeed. Together, the government-industry-academic partnerships have created an environment that both builds and attracts a diverse, highly educated, productive and loyal workforce -- a formidable competitive advantage as a manufacturing centre that is unmatched in the world today.

The Honorable Sandra Pupatello is the Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade. The goal of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is to build a strong economy for all Ontario. This is accomplished by helping Ontario businesses innovate and compete; attracting new investment for the province; and supporting Ontario businesses expanding their exports. www.2ontario.com

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