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A North America-Wide Approach to Workforce Development – A View to Regional Competitiveness

North American trade is generating many job opportunities, particularly in advanced manufacturing and logistics, where technical skills are in high demand, however growing skills gaps and labour shortages throughout the continent are creating significant barriers that are challenging continued growth.

In order to ensure manufacturers have a vibrant workforce and future workers capable of meeting competitive demands of a continually changing North American market, a special forum was hosted this week at The George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, by USMCA and North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO), bringing together delegates from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

At the invitation of Global Affairs Canada, Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC) President Jean-Pierre Giroux, represented Canadian industry this week, at a special tri-lateral forum to discuss issues at the forefront of the competitive landscape and workforce development for North American manufacturers. The forum took place in conjunction with the first meeting of the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA/CUSMA/T-MEC) Competitiveness Committee. Representatives from the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States were also in attendance to present their vision and goals for the future of manufacturing competitiveness and workforce development and to collaborate on regional efforts to enhance North American workers.

“EMC is pleased to represent Canadian manufacturers at this international forum, and the opportunity to engage our American and Mexican colleagues in solution-based discussions,” said Jean-Pierre (JP) Giroux, President, Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC), Canada’s largest manufacturing consortium. “Workforce shortages are a North American-wide issue which affects every region, every community. EMC is seeking to build industry-driven resources and solutions that will help manufacturers address future People, Plant and Process challenges.”

The new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA/CUSMA/T-MEC) replaced NAFTA, and is intended to create a more balanced environment for trade, support high-paying jobs and grow the North American economy. The state of trade throughout North America is of particular importance to Canada’s manufacturing sector, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skills and Labour Shortages a Top Issue in US, Canada and Mexico

During the past 3 years, the top issue affecting Canadian manufacturers has been skills and labour shortages. Not just the absence of skills, but also an alarming absence of available workers with any skill set. This shortage of industry workers with appropriate skills, a prevalent lack of awareness and poor attitudes towards working in manufacturing also presents a significant disadvantage for the sector.

>> Skills and labour shortages are significant for industry sectors in all three countries. Unfortunately, the needed talent is not the same in every region and traditional local labour market sources for workforce growth are not sufficient to fill the vacancies, nor resolve skills gaps.

>> Skills certification, and the establishment of internationally recognized operational standards are also topics occupying business leaders’ minds.

>> Manufacturers are faced with unprecedented challenges associated with the accelerating pace of technological change, especially with respect to advanced manufacturing, digitization, automation, robotics, AI and other technologies.

Unfortunately, this pace of change is rapidly increasing, while the pace of human capability is not keeping up. A call for talent management strategies based on industry need, better labour market intelligence and improved standards for upskilling/reskilling certification training is needed for manufacturers to succeed.

Complicating matters, restricted travel and closed borders have also removed a significant source for employers to recruit new Canadians. Developing a new collaborative and equitable tri-lateral strategy for Canada, US and Mexico is an important initiative to support. There is interest in American and Mexican workers to pursue opportunities in Canada, similar to how European Union residents can work throughout the region, and Canadians can travel/work throughout the Commonwealth.

Canada’s goal for the USMCA/CUSMA/T-MEC is to allow Canadian manufacturers greater access to American and Mexican consumer markets. Canadian-made goods have an exceptionally high reputation, especially following the pandemic, and customer demand for products developed by Canadian manufacturers is strong. Sharing a common approach for skills, standards and certification makes sense.

Mr. Giroux discussed EMC’s highly successful solutions, including sector-wide engagement with both employers, workforce, youth and other stakeholders, through labour market intelligence, national skilled trade occupational development, and micro-credential certification programs concentrated on onboarding, upskilling and reskilling, as well as other work-integrated learning resources which are enabling Canada’s youth to better access manufacturing sector training and career path opportunities. Skills certification, and the development of industry-driven, internationally recognized competency standards are also topics occupying business leaders’ minds.

There continues to be a very large untapped labour pool exiting secondary and trade schools with no plan for future employment or post-secondary education, as well as many unemployed youth and post-secondary students without career path options – for no other reason than they are unaware of what options exist or they are multi-barriered to accessing the option of their choice.

EMC’s approach to removing barriers for these groups and providing clearer pathways to employment, as well as industry-driven skills certification was of particular interest for the panel discussions. Development of industry-driven, internationally recognized competency standards are also topics occupying business leaders’ minds, encouraging development for the next generation workforce to explore and prepare for careers in the skilled trades.

“Growing our manufacturers’ ability to address capacity issues and better service/respond to global markets more directly will lead to greater economic opportunity,” added JP Giroux. “But this requires the right skills, attitudes, competency standards and skills certification methodology to provide a level playing field for all industry.”

By expanding the pool of available skilled workers from across the continent, manufacturers will have better access to the labour they need to fill vacancies, minimize gaps, keep up with their orders, and more rapidly respond to customer needs.