Wanted: Workers to fill jobs in Windsor-Essex

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Windsor Star/Karen Paton-Evans


Three out of four local employers have indicated they intend to hire at some point in 2016.

Responding to a survey taken by Workforce WindsorEssex, 105 business owners, managers and human resources professionals also said they are having difficulty finding people to fill those positions.

The top reason is there are not enough people applying.

That is a welcome shift after this area’s recent stretch of tough years, when jobs were scarce. People who have almost given up hope of finding employment or advancing into better jobs can start updating their credentials and polishing their resumes.

“There are also opportunities for those who moved away to get back into the region,” observes Rakesh Naidu, chief operating officer of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC).

At Workforce WindsorEssex, the Local Employment Planning Council engages employers to identify current and future job openings and encourages the development and maintenance of a sustainable and dynamic workforce. Executive director Tanya Antoniw says that between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, more than 12,500 local jobs were posted online.

“We have consulted with employers across industries and we have found that employers in agriculture, construction, creative industries (including information communication technology), health sciences, manufacturing and tourism are actively hiring in Windsor-Essex,” Antoniw says.

“Some of the jobs most in demand as explained by local employers include machinists, mold makers, welders, software developers, general labourers and marketing,” she adds.

“Employers have also highlighted the importance of soft skills when they are looking for candidates which include communication, teamwork, dependability, ability to take initiative, punctuality, etc.,” says Antoniw.

Lack of work experience, qualifications or technical skills or lack of motivation, attitude or interpersonal skills also left open positions unfilled.

WEEDC’s own findings reveal there is an increasing number of jobs waiting for the right candidates. “We’re seeing a significant rebound in the auto industry. We will continue to add more jobs there,” Naidu says.

Outside of the auto sector, however, he finds there are real opportunities and immediate demand for local people willing to work in construction, agribusiness and food processing, manufacturing, logistics and transportation.

“In our region, we have great strength in manufacturing,” Naidu notes. “What we do really well here is manufacturing auto components and that includes making the moulds, making the dies and the tools. But also we are extremely good in robotics and automation. We’re good in fabrication and customization of parts.”

Companies, especially mould shops, are looking for CNC operators, mould makers, millwrights, electricians, welders, mechanical engineers and manufacturing and production workers are in high demand, Naidu says.

There are job postings for people with experience in robotics, automation and programming skills, as well.

“A sector that has seen some very interesting growth primarily because of some major capital projects that we have invested in this region is the construction industry,” Naidu says. “There has been an uplift in that industry because of the Windsor Essex Parkway (which is now complete) and then the upcoming bridge construction that is definitely going to add more jobs.”

Other positive indicators for the near future are the building of the new city hall and the expansion of the University of Windsor’s downtown campus. Construction managers and inspectors, plumbers, carpenters, plumbers, millwrights and other skilled trades and labourers are all needed.

WEEDC anticipates the demand will increase in the next few months when work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge gets more online.

Following the automotive sector, Naidu cites agribusiness and the food processing industry as the second most important locally. It, too, is enjoying growth.

There is a particular demand for greenhouse workers. “We can’t seem to find enough,” he says.

Nursery and greenhouse supervisors, food and beverage processing technicians, machine operators and labourers are needed.

Agribusinesses also require salespeople and consultants who sell seeds, farm equipment and other products.

Naidu predicts population aging and other factors will create a surge in the need for workers in life sciences, including nurses, pharmacists, social workers and personal support workers.

Creating and advancing new health solutions requires research scientists, clinical trial workers and pharmaceutical production workers for local organizations.

Manufacturing also plays a role in life sciences: People skilled in working with titanium and other metals are needed to produce medical devices.

“Being a border town, I think we constantly see an increase or interest in the logistics, warehousing and transportation sector,” Naidu says. “With the new bridge that is being worked on that will actually add more interest to the region.”

Consequently, “we’re expecting to see an increase in warehousing operations,” says Naidu.

Positions should open up for forklift and truck drivers, logistics managers, dispatchers, radio officers and others who want to work in shipping, receiving and bonded warehousing. Extra staff may also be needed at custom brokerages.

All that is positive news for Windsor-Essex’s men and women wanting gainful employment.

“Employers are calling us on a daily basis,” says Waseem Habash, vice president of academics at St. Clair College. “I don’t know of any vocational sector not hiring right now.”

The college’s graduates are also being sought for positions in fields as diverse as information technology, health sciences and architecture.

“Our employment rate for graduates across the college is on average 90 per cent within six months of graduation,” Habash says.

The positions are related to their fields of study. That is an increase of about 10 per cent within just a few years.

“Social workers in the gerontology field are in high demand right now because of the aging population,” says Habash. Nurses, respiratory therapists, ultrasound technicians and other health science workers are needed.

People educated and experienced in civil construction, architecture and design are needed “because of the infrastructure that is being built in the Essex-Windsor region,” Habash says. Companies that do mechanical, electrical and HVAC work on commercial and residential properties are also adding workers.

At the top of the local most-needed list, however, are the people skilled in trades and technology. CNC operators, millwrights, CAD designers – “anyone with a skilled trade, they would be basically hired almost immediately,” Habash maintains.

“Right now, any companies in the tool and die and mould business are extremely busy and they can’t find people.”

Employers are also interested in University of Windsor graduates with degrees in business, finance and administration, accounting, engineering, law, nursing and education, says Chris Bush, the university’s executive director of co-op, career and employment services.

According to data reported by Statistics Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, employment for Ontario workers aged 25 and older increased by nearly 200,000 jobs between June 2015 and June 2016.

“Most of the Ontario net job gains are for individuals with a university degree,” Bush points out.

Before they have their degrees in hand, students can be introduced to their chosen fields through co-op programs, experiential education or work integrated learning.

“Anytime a student has an opportunity to take the learning that’s occurring in the classroom and be able to apply it in different contexts, it really reinforces the learning that they’re getting,” says Bush.

During a co-op experience, “the employers on the other hand also start to see and recognize the talent and potential talent from a hiring perspective. That’s very advantageous.”

The university’s main focus is students’ job readiness and employability, Bush says. “It’s also the transition after they leave our campus. How can we help them take their degree and do exactly what they want to do with it? We’ve been starting to make some large investments in that area.”

Statistics for the University of Windsor’s 2014-2015 year indicate that six months after graduation, 85.7 per cent of its graduates are employed in areas related to their degrees. That number increases to 90.7 per cent two years after completing their studies.

“It’s fantastic to see that for our alum, as soon as they graduate, their talents are being perceived and rewarded in the workforce by giving them opportunities for employment,” Bush says.

Some grads decide to be their own bosses, he notes. “A lot of students are being successful in starting their own enterprises.”

That can also lead to a need for staff.

In addition to job openings, new job creation is critical to Windsor-Essex’s wellbeing. Fresh investment in Windsor-Essex is generating more paycheques.

The province’s Southwestern Ontario Development Fund recently injected $894,000 into Cimpress, the parent company of Vistaprint. The grant will help create 50 new jobs.

A $7.8-million grant drawn from the same provincial fund is being divided among seven local companies, each producing for the automotive sector. The outcome will be 270 new jobs, one new plant and the retention of 1,180 positions.

Last May, Ontario’s Deputy Premier Deb Matthews announced the good news for The Ventra Group, Lakeside Plastics, JD Norman Canada, Integrity Tool and Mold, Essex Weld Solutions, The Electromac Group and Astrex Inc.

According to Matthews, “Ontario simply wouldn’t be Ontario without the auto sector.”

The grant “demonstrates that Windsor really is on the forefront. These are all innovation, cutting-edge jobs.”

For local residents and people outside Windsor-Essex who are hopeful for gainful employment, Naidu advises, “Nothing is easy. I’m not saying they will arrive and there will be five job offers for them. But for the people who are seeking the right kind of opportunities and are willing to work toward it and to get their skill set upgraded to meet the requirements of the employers, there’s quite a bit of opportunity.”