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Manufacturing sector labours to maintain workforce
Sep '08
As Canadian workers mark Labour Day, a Conference Board study indicates that Canada's manufacturing labour force is critical to the future prosperity of this sector.

In addition to the relentless competition from developing economies, rapid technological change and the strong Canadian dollar, manufacturers face major human resources challenges: a flood of early retirements, a reduced ability to attract young workers, and a need to keep up with changing skill requirements.

In the future, Canadian manufacturers are anticipating a shift from doing final assembly to building specialized components that fit into the overall production process, and in providing products and services that accompany the finished good, such as logistics and supply-chain management services.

"This shift in production means the skill requirements for manufacturing employees will continue to rise, and firms will increasingly compete for skilled workers with other sectors of the economy," said Douglas Watt, Associate Director, Organizational Learning and Development.

"At present, the manufacturing sector needs to do more to take full advantage of its current workforce through training and learning programs, and do more to successfully recruit younger workers."

The report, Key Economic and Labour Force Issues Facing Canada's Manufacturing Sector, recommends that manufacturers must improve on the current skills of their two million workers by tapping into education and training programs.

The sector also needs to keep its aging workers in the labour force longer, through more flexible scheduling and changes in work processes. Finally, the sector has to restore its image as a rewarding career option for underrepresented groups-such as young workers and women-that have other employment options.

The economic analysis as part of the report found that the manufacturing sector's share of gross domestic product-which grew strongly in the 1990s-slipped from 18.4 per cent in 2000 to 15.2 per cent in 2007. Since the beginning of this decade, overall growth in the manufacturing sector has stalled, even as the rest of the economy has expanded, and about 300,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

"There is no doubt that some segments are facing structural challenges-such as increased import competition-which have been further aggravated by the slowdown in the U.S. economy. However, all is not doom and gloom in the sector," said Michael Burt, Associate Director, Canadian Industrial Outlook.

"Some segments of manufacturing have garnered gains in employment over the course of this decade. The story is even rosier when one looks at production, where nine of the 21 industries have experienced rising production over the course of this decade, and total production is down only slightly. What is surprising about the sector is not that it has struggled in recent years, but that it has fared so well under these circumstances."

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