More training critical in manufacturing: study

The skills shortage is quickly turning into a skills crisis in the manufacturing and export sector, and while employers are aware of the problem, little effort has been made to improve it, a report released last month shows.

“There has to be a sense of urgency in addressing the problem of skills,” said Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the organization that produced the study, 2002-2003 Management Issues Survey. “Not enough has been shown to date by all players — employers, government, education. There was a temptation with the economic slowdown to think that the problem is not that serious but employers are still having a hard time finding skilled workers.”

More than 400 manufacturers and exporters across Canada participated in the survey and a number of them listed “lack of qualified personnel” as a major constraint on performance improvement — the barrier ranked fourth on the list. Organizational structure, work culture, and cost and resource limitations were the other constraints cited as main concerns.

Skills in greatest need of improvement include problem-solving, communication and teamwork.

“Some of the most rudimentary skills that enable us to function in the sector are lacking. This will only get worse unless we address it. As the economy continues to grow, employers have to dip down further into the pool to get the people they need,” Beatty said.

Employers may be dipping deep into the talent pool, but they’re not digging deep into their pockets for training. About 41 per cent of manufacturers and exporters spend one per cent or less of payroll on education and skills development. More than 20 per cent spend between one to two per cent and 34 per cent spend more than two per cent on training.

“Profits are very squeezed right now and as a consequence you find training and advertising are usually the first two items employers defer.”

However, 39 per cent of those surveyed increased training budgets this year and 47 per cent intend to increase budgets in the coming year. Though most respondents expect training budgets to remain the same in 2003.

Considering the majority of participants cited internal training programs as most effective, these would be ideal methods for improving skills and therefore should be targeted for spending, Beatty said.

Around 40 per cent said their internal training programs were “more than satisfactory” in meeting skill requirements, while high schools were viewed as the least effective — 31 per cent cited high school education as “not effective” or “less than satisfactory.” Community colleges, university and apprenticeship programs were also seen as most effective.

Employers need to upgrade employees’ skills by investing more in workplace training, Beatty said.

“We can also look at collaborating more closely with community colleges (and universities) so the skill sets match the needs of employers. Employers can also donate equipment to community colleges. Students will then be using the same equipment that will be used in the workforce,” said Beatty. Many do this already, but there’s room for more organizations to follow suit.

The survey also found almost 40 per cent of respondents are having the most difficulty recruiting and retaining engineers. Managers, designers, marketers and machinists follow closely behind.

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