Bridgr Insights

How to deal with the manufacturing labor shortage?

As we talk more and more about industry 4.0, one might think that the biggest challenges of this fourth industrial revolution will be technological… we’re not that sure about that!

Indeed, the new industrial revolution represents major technological challenges, but in this new era where factories are becoming intelligent and automated, we feel the biggest challenge is related to human work.

A barrier to growth in the manufacturing sector

We hear a lot that robotization will leave people unemployed, unable to compete with their robot equivalents, (see our article) yet, as soon as we start talking with recruiters or factory managers, we realize that the real problem in the short term is not the future of work for human but the shortage of labor that already affects the manufacturing sector.

“Recruitment and retention problems have never been so acute. The situation is so critical that it compromises the growth of several companies.
– Quebec industrial barometer (may 2018)

According to the Quebec industrial barometer published in May 2018, “recruitment and retention problems have never been so acute. The situation is so critical that it compromises the growth of several companies. »

In February 2016, Labour Market Information (IMT) identified the 93 most in-demand categories in Quebec. Of these, 15 are related to manufacturing production.

The contribution of digital transformation for businesses and individuals is no longer to prove (increased productivity and profitability, flexibility, mobility…) however, this transformation will not be possible without the involvement of the workers. To be competitive in the global marketplace, you need to automate, but for automation to begin, you need to find the people to implement it.

Louis J. Duhamel, a specialist in the manufacturing sector and strategic advisor at Deloitte, warns us: “The Quebec industry is recovering, the sector is growing at 2% per year, but there are obstacles to the growth of the manufacturing sector in Quebec, starting with the labor shortage.”

Investissement Québec’s 2017 tour makes the same observation: despite some great successes, Québec’s manufacturing industry is experiencing significant delays, particularly because of a shortage of workforce.
For example, the firm Merkur, which is looking for 50 specialized jobs for a Drummondville plant, estimates that only 40% should be filled. According to Martin Dufour, Merkur CEO, “the necessary workforce is simply not available at the moment”. The companies, cannot meet their labor needs, and this is an increasingly common problem in the manufacturing industry.

The reasons for this shortage

Of course, the aging of the population is a factor, baby boomers are leaving the labor market and, according to Emploi Québec, between 2012 and 2030, there will be 2.4 million retirements. But Quebec is not the only region affected by this phenomenon and it cannot explain this shortage on its own.

The second problem of the sector is that, despite the great career opportunities it offers, it suffers from a bad reputation that affects its ability to attract young people and their parents. Julie Carignan, CHRP, Senior Partner at SPB Organizational Psychology gives us one reason for this disinterest. According to her, “we hear in the media that factories are closing, that production is being transferred abroad. People keep in mind the image of a declining sector. They wonder if going into the manufacturing trades is worth it.”

Indeed, the work in the factory suffers from its bad reputation, it is always considered painful and not very challenging while the work has changed a lot. Manufacturing is not what it was 30 years ago. Jobs are more and more qualified and tasks are less and less laborious and repetitive. The work has been digitized and the staff is led to work as a team, to solve problems…

The lack of attractiveness of the manufacturing sector is particularly true for women. The sector has conserved its male-dominated image, and only 30% of employees in the industry are women.

To solve these recruitment issues, the manufacturing sector must change its image as a male-dominated, painful and aging industry.

How can we face it? What are the solutions?

In response to the labor shortage, the government has created a national labor force strategy for 2018-2023.  The strategy provides $810 million to boost the sector’s attractiveness.

On its side, the Ministry of Economy, Sciences, and innovation of Quebec announced its Digital Economy Action Plan (4 axes for the development of digital skills), which aims to develop local technical skills over the long term, notably through the creation of various training programs.

These initiatives, while valuable and probably viable in the long term, do not answer the question of the short term. Our competitors in the global marketplace are growing and there is an urgent need to immediately fill the labor shortage that exists in Canada.

To meet these labor needs, you have to immediately succeed in hiring.

In an increasingly connected world, On-demand expertise platforms are emerging. BRIDGR is the only one specialized in the industrial world. It allows companies to manage their internal and external resources and to collaborate with a network of qualified expert and technological providers specialized in digital transformation challenges.

With BRIDGR, a company can easily access local or international expertise to solve a specific problem. The network of experts covers all areas of digital transformation, from IIOT technologies to robots production lines. But also sustains companies in training their internal resources to implement those new processes.

According to Martin Dufour, the aging of the population, of course, but also the lack of training and the complications related to immigration are the main factors behind this lack of workforce. “When you look at France, you realize that they have a lot of workers who have exactly the required experience to do this job. They come to us and feel very comfortable. The problem is that it’s hard to get them to come, it takes a long time,”.

Another way to attract new recruits and especially young people in the sector is to make recruitment more attractive. The days when a simple poster in front of the factory was enough to attract people are long gone and recruitment processes have to adapt to the target. Recruiters need to find potential candidates where they are.

In addition, several Quebec companies report that they have adopted measures to combat the obstacles that keep young people from entering the manufacturing sector. These measures include the adoption of work-life balance policies, the improvement of the work environment and internal training to promote employees.

The need for automation

The STIQ Quebec industrial barometer reveals that in 2017, only one-third of manufacturing SMEs invested in equipment. This figure falls to 15% for information and communication technology spending and 13% for R&D investment. However, the majority of executives surveyed say they want to invest in technologies associated with industry 4.0 and the smart factory.

Then what happened? One of the reasons given for not investing in new technologies is the difficulty to find qualified labor to operate the new equipment.

Quebec is currently in a vicious circle from which it is vital to get out. Richard Blanchet, President, and CEO of STIQ explain: “People are more and more aware that they must make technological investments, now, the question is: Does business leaders can do it at the speed they would like? It’s less simply because they’re caught up in everyday life. You have orders to get out, but since you lack employees, you’re on a rush, so you don’t have time to sit down and think about the investments you should make and, since you haven’t invested in the required technologies, you’re finding it harder and harder to meet your customers’ demands. It’s a vicious circle. »

To break out of this vicious circle and enable Quebec to compete in the global context, it is essential to modernize production lines and this will not be possible without an adapted workforce.

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Clementine Roy

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