Labour is one of the costliest inputs and largest limitation to growth for Canadian manufacturers, especially given that our skilled labour pool is smaller than that of some of our global counterparts. It’s no wonder then that 70% of manufacturing respondents in KPMG’s Canadian poll say the main goal of their technology investments is to reduce their labour operating costs, and 73% plan to augment the productivity of their employees with automation or machines. Automation is a strategy that’s not unique to Canada, as global manufacturers say it will provide the biggest leverage for achieving their growth targets over the next three years.


70% of Canadian manufacturers say the main goal of their technology investments is to reduce their labour operating costs


73% of Canadian manufacturers plan to augment the productivity of their employees with automation or machines

In addition, 52% of Canadian manufacturers expect to increase headcount by 6 to 25% over the next three years, but 69% say they’re having a hard time hiring people with the skill sets needed to grow their companies. With a scarcity of skilled talent across the industry, 83% of the country’s manufacturers believe Canada needs to welcome more foreign talent to meet business labour force needs and to become an innovation leader.

Taking a multi-pronged approach to addressing your talent needs

Managing the talent shortage doesn’t have a simple, quick-fix answer. Instead, manufacturers need to employ a multi-pronged approach to not only attract, but retain skilled employees in today’s highly competitive labour market.

  • Target the specific skillsets you need: Understand what critical talent/skills your organization needs to support your business strategy outcomes and focus recruiting on post-secondary schools or technical colleges across Canada that specialize in the skills you require, such as skilled trades, automation or reliability engineers, and data scientists.
  • Expand talent searches globally: Look for skilled talent in countries where the labour is less expensive and more abundant.
  • Upskill your current workforce: Partner with universities and colleges to upskill your employees in the areas you need most. All levels of the organization, from leadership to the shop floor, can harness the value of these digital skills, such as leveraging data analytics/reporting and automation. There’s tremendous opportunity to develop your peoples’ skills, show them how valuable their operational experience is, and take them with you on your organization’s journey to transform the business.
  • Invest in more co-learning arrangement: Look to internships, co-ops, cross-training, job-shadowing, and mentorships to grow more of the skillsets you need internally, leveraging the skilled talent you already have. With over 20% of experienced talent (e.g., skilled trades) nearing retirement over the next five years, this not only helps you retain the knowledge of these employees, but also motivate them in new and exciting ways, and reinvigorate the latter years of their careers.
  • Communicate your unique employee value proposition: Understand what differentiates your organization and why candidates should choose you as an employer – and clearly articulate that in ways that resonate with your audience. Employees today are looking for more than just a paycheck; they want to feel a sense of purpose and belonging where they work. They want to know what their career will look like, what their growth opportunities are, and understand the value of the work they do. In many ways, this approach requires a rebranding of what the traditional view of a manufacturing job looks and feels like. Can you add more flexibility into your processes, where it makes sense? Are you able to use floater shifts or technology enablers, such as remote monitoring, to make hybrid possible for some roles? Can you provide exciting learning and development opportunities or add some variability to schedules? Being adaptable and listening to your employees about what matters to them is key to employee engagement and retention.

Strategic workforce planning

Building succession planning into the talent strategy is also an important consideration for manufacturers, but thinking about it more as strategic workforce planning is helpful. It requires taking into consideration the skill sets you need to achieve your strategic plans and ensuring you have those skills now and in the future.

For example, you may have surpluses around your general assembly line because your business plan includes introducing automation in the next three years, where machinery will take over a portion of the manual operations. However, you may have a deficit in the area of skilled maintenance to repair those machines that will be running 24/7 or automation quality engineers to manage quality control. Strategic workforce planning becomes less about tracking FTE numbers, and more about analyzing the specific skill sets required to fuel your growth aspirations.

At the leadership level, where traditional succession planning in manufacturing would look only at the executive, general manager, and plant director roles, strategic workforce planning ensures you also consider the future of specific and highly focused skilled roles, such as who your next leaders in lean six sigma, automation, engineering, and data management will be. For leading manufacturers of the future, all these roles will be equally critical to sustainable growth and success.

The Sunday to Monday experience

More than two thirds (70%) of Canadian manufacturers indicate that one of the biggest issues holding them back from making progress in their digital transformation journey is the perceived impact on people and culture. It’s important to consider, however, that technological innovations are not restricted to the business world or the manufacturing industry – employees are being impacted by technology and digital enhancements every day in their personal lives as well.

Just as employees might do their banking/investing on their mobile phones or enroll their children in different programs using online portals on Sunday, this exposure to digital platforms is transferable to their work lives on Monday. At work, they’ll have some of those similar experiences, for example, tracking their time or receiving their pay online – and data visualization is making these transitions that much easier. With the increasing prevalence of technology in more and more aspects of our lives, adapting to new innovations and welcoming a digital culture on multiple levels at work – especially at the point where decisions can be made on the shop floor or in the back office – will become easier and easier. And it will be a critical requirement for today’s workforce to progress the organization’s future growth aspirations.

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