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ONTARIO@WORK

The auto sector needs you!

By Moira MacDonald
Special to the Toronto Sun


A job-seeker's market is opening up in Ontario's automotive industry as it readies for a huge shortage of skilled tradespeople by the end of the decade.


The auto parts manufacturing industry in particular is expected to have nearly half -- 42% -- of its skilled trades jobs unfilled by 2010, says John Mavrak, executive director of the Council for Automotive Human Resources (CAHR).

While that's the worst of it, other sectors in the auto industry are expected to have shortages ranging from the high 20 percentile, into 30% and 40%. The industry currently employs about 330,000 Ontarians and brings in about 20% of the province's gross domestic product, while representing about 13% of the national GDP.

The CAHR was created last spring in response to both the auto industry's and Canadian government's worries about the impending skills shortage. It is doing a comprehensive analysis of what the industry's skills needs are now as well as into the future to see where the gaps are. It next plans to consider what its first strategies will be to address the problem. A website and information package for job fairs are also in the works.

"Not all levels of the industry are experiencing shortage but we recognize that it's going to get worse before it gets better," says Mavrak.

'Backbone of the industry'

The big five automakers tend to be the first place skilled tradespeople head for jobs, owing to their higher profile, broader-scale recruiting methods and attractive salary and benefits packages. But this represents only about 15% of the entire industry, Mavrak points out. Smaller companies form "the backbone of the industry," he says, but often find recruiting harder to do.

While Canada has more than 20 auto assembly plants, that compares to an even larger 550-some parts manufacturers. Guelph-based Linamar Corporation, an auto parts manufacturer with some 10,000 employees, has had to recruit as far away as eastern Europe and Great Britain to get the skilled workers it needs to stay competitive. About a quarter of its workforce is in technical skills.

While it's "hard to quantify" what the company's future labour needs will be, its current 18% annual growth means its workforce also needs to expand at the same time as the industry is experiencing a wave of retirements, says Michael Annable, Linamar's vice-president in charge of human resources. Some of the skill sets the company continues to recruit for include metal cutting, set-up technicians, machinists, industrial maintenance workers, and program and project managers.

The industry is working hard to combat the myth that auto manufacturing jobs are dead-end and are performed in dingy factories. Instead, says Mavrak, manufacturing facilities are typically bright, clean and state-of-the-art, reflecting the growing sophistication of the vehicles themselves. As well, some skilled tradespeople are making incomes qualifying them as wealthy: "An industrial electrician in Kitchener-Waterloo is paid on average about $140,000 a year."

Young people considering a career in skilled trades can combine a high school co-op program with an apprenticeship program, says Annable.

"Another two or three years and they can get their journeyman papers. They're in a field where they can be making $50,000 to $60,000 right off the bat with no debt -- and that's just the start of their career," he says, adding that some companies will help workers pay for their training and will support them to get a more advanced degree in a field such as engineering.



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