In this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’, Nick and Brendan take a drive down to St. Catharines Ontario to chat with Aaron Tisdelle, 3rd generation owner and president of Girotti Machine. During the discussion, they chatted about what a job in manufacturing can offer young people, the impacts of not having enough young people in the trades, and what Aaron would like to see done about the barriers to entry. The short answer is, a lot.
One issue that has come up frequently in our podcasts is that people (younger persons in particular) are often unaware of the diversity of opportunities available in manufacturing. For Aaron and other owners, this problem has not only affected their productivity, it’s altered their job description over the years.
Finding, hiring, and retaining talent in manufacturing used to be as simple as posting a job in the local paper. At least, this is what it was like in the post-war era when Aaron’s grandfather and great uncle founded Girotti Machine. Today, not only are fewer and fewer people applying for those jobs, fewer and fewer people are even aware of what jobs are available. Simmie Thiara, in a recent episode about gender diversity in manufacturing, says quite simply that young people, young girls in particular, are not aware that making things for a living can be how you make a living. Additionally, those that are aware, regardless of gender, are often discouraged (systemically) from entering the field because of the prevailing perceptions of manufacturing.
This (among other reasons) is why Aaron is as active as he is in organizations like the Niagara Industrial Association (NIA) where he serves as Vice-Chair. Simply moving the job postings online vs. posting in the local paper won’t solve the problem. What’s needed is a cultural shift in the perceptions of a job in manufacturing. Unfortunately, and despite the tireless work of Aaron and the NIA (and countless other organizations), the problem is larger than them. While this is not to imply that they can’t affect change, it’s important to know what changes they need to strive for in order to help solve the problem.
As Donald Cyr, Chair of the NIA, shared with the Trillium Network, Canada is heading for a ‘demographic cliff’ (see Figure 1) where fewer and fewer younger persons will be entering the education system. This means that even fewer people will now be looking for jobs in manufacturing than before and employers will have to compete even harder for talent.
According to every guest interviewed for this podcast series (as well as several others who we discuss this issue with), the main barriers to getting more people into jobs in manufacturing can be distilled into three main overarching issues:
- The lack of awareness of jobs available in manufacturing
- The systemic discouragement of young people looking to get into the field
- The assumption that manufacturing jobs are too physically demanding
The problem with these three main barriers is they work symbiotically to make the problem much more complex and difficult to solve. Since the perception is that jobs in manufacturing are physically straining, young persons looking for ‘satisfying careers’ are led away from manufacturing, which in turn leads to a reduced number of people aware of the jobs available.
So let’s unpack this beginning with the third point. As Aaron says in the podcast, “If you’re lifting anything heavier than 40 pounds in my shop, you’ve got a hole in your head. I’ve got dollies and cranes you can use!” Technology has reduced or eliminated risks on the shop floor. A lack of sheer physical strength is no longer the barrier to (or prerequisite for) employment that it once was. While working in a machine shop is more physically demanding than working in an accounting firm, it is far less so than in the past.
The parents of students in grade eight and nine (or even earlier) need better education themselves as to what a job in the skilled trades can mean.
This brings us to the second point: If the stakeholders in a young person’s life (read their parents, teachers, guidance counsellors, and friends) are better aware of how a job in advanced manufacturing is different from their original perceptions, the discussion of salary and job security can take place. The parents of students in grade eight and nine (or even earlier) need better education themselves as to what a job in the skilled trades can mean. Their influence on the future generation needs to be better informed. In the podcast, Aaron goes into detail about the pay structure he uses in his shop for the young people he employs. When they realize they could start saving for an actual home by the time they are twenty, it helps them (and their parents) to see the reality of a manufacturing job.
This brings us back to the first point: a lack of awareness of the jobs available in manufacturing. The best remedy for this problem is curiosity – the very thing that is being stifled by the presence of the second and third barrier. Children are born curious but that curiosity is too often eroded as they get older. Something needs to fan the flames of curiosity and help fill the talent pipeline so that Ontario manufacturers can continue to compete globally.