Study focuses on how to help smaller manufacturers 'thrive and grow'
Friday, October 30, 2020
The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell
A Canadian Association of Mold Makers/Automate Canada report released this week is calling for a more focused industrial policy for smaller manufacturers touching on skills development, technology, innovation and branding.
The “Made In Canada: An SME Perspective” study emphasizes that the needs of small and medium advance manufacturers differ from larger companies.
“There’s a disconnect between us and the government,” said CAMM chair Jonathon Azzopardi.
“They have a good understanding of what larger manufacturers need, but we don’t have a loud enough voice.
“We form the supply chain to those big companies. If issues aren’t addressed, then that chain becomes weaker.”
Small- and medium-sized manufacturers employ 58,000 people earning an average of $71,000 and contribute $7.2-billion annually to the Canadian GDP.
It’s a figure that has steadily grown over the past decade.
“This report reflects the enthusiasm and commitment to the Canadian manufacturing sector from our backbone — those entrepreneurs running small- and medium-sized companies, who are very aware of the important role they play and what should be done to see our sector thrive and grow,” said Automate Canada chair Shelley Fellows.
Azzopardi said the report wasn’t in response to COVID-19, but the pandemic has served to amplify the issues that need to be addressed.
Groups representing Tier I suppliers, mold and tooling firms, and automation companies have been working on the report since last spring.
“The solutions are complicated, so we’re not pretending to provide them,” said Azzopardi, who is also CEO/president of Laval International.
“What we’ve provided for the governments is a dashboard and a way to measure sustainable support for the industry. If you touch the key pillars in the report, then you’re doing a good job.”
The report focuses on three key areas:
- Skills and talent development
- Technology adoption and a culture of innovation
- Branding and collaboration
Brendan Sweeney, managing director of the Trillium Network of Advanced Manufacturing, said the report provides a good framework to build on.
“Any plan for recovery and growth in Ontario and Canadian manufacturing should include these companies,” Sweeney said.
“These companies have grown over the last decade economically and in the number of persons they employ. This isn’t a fledgling segment of the economy seeking support, it’s an established growing segment.”
Sweeney added with the right supports, companies like CentreLine (Windsor) and Cambridge’s ATS Automation can go from being globally competitive to global leaders.
Azzopardi said SME’s don’t have the ability to solve some of the issues they face because they lack the size, influence and economic power of larger industrial players to quickly pivot towards Industry 4.0.
In the area of skills, the report suggests raising the profile of manufacturing in education programs, adding First Robotics to the curriculum and making plants more accessible to the public.
“We’re struggling to fill good-paying jobs with the high unemployment numbers for youths and women in this region,” Azzopardi. “Windsor has the highest percentage of single mothers who are unemployed.
“We have to ask ourselves what are we doing wrong that we aren’t tapping into this potential talent pool?”
The report also suggests creating an innovation accelerator in Windsor-Essex aimed specifically at manufacturing, offering up more venture capital, improving “buy in Canada” government procurements and financial programs to aid technology adaptation.
“SMEs need new technology the most, but it’s harder for them to afford it and take the risk of being on the bleeding edge,” said Azzopardi. “Government can help de-risk technology adaptation.”
He added our branding and collaboration have also been a “failure” in the past.
“We need to let people know Canada is a leader in advanced manufacturing,” Azzopardi said.
“There’s no other place in the world with a complete supply chain where you can go from raw materials to finished product within fours like in southern Ontario.
“When we show people that they’re amazed. That’s got to change.”