Canadian Plastics

Gone, But Hopefully Not Forgotten

As Canadians suffer through a recession, at least one segment of the economy will see an increase in demand. Faced with layoffs and a dearth of new jobs, a greater number of people will be going back ...


April 1, 2009
By Canadian Plastics

As Canadians suffer through a recession, at least one segment of the economy will see an increase in demand. Faced with layoffs and a dearth of new jobs, a greater number of people will be going back to school, hoping to boost their skills with a post-secondary education while riding out the recession.

Unfortunately, though, these recruits won’t be working towards a new career in plastics. The Canadian Plastics Training Centre (CPTC), one of the last few remaining college-based training programs at Toronto’s Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, recently announced that it was closing its doors.

Although the program’s coordinator expressed sadness over the closure of the Humber program, he noted that it was the latest in a series of closures. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology closed its Polymer Centre in 2004, and the British Columbia Institute of Technology closed its Plastics Engineering program recently. And this spring, Quebec’s A’Huntsic CEGEP will close its plastics program as well.

It would be easy to blame colleges like Humber for closing these long-established programs, but bear in mind that colleges operate as businesses. They are governed by the same laws of supply and demand as any other corporation. When I met with Hamid Mohammadi, an instructor at the CPTC since 1996, for one last look at the now-defunct centre, he noted that there weren’t enough students enrolling in the program to make it profitable.

Indeed, the centre had survived some pretty tough cuts, and it frankly seems like a miracle that it survived as long as it did. In the early aughts, the centre was relocated from a much larger facility to a small basement space at Humber’s North Campus. The plastics engineering program had been axed, and the CPTC had been downsized to focus just on the injection molding process. The final blow came when the program couldn’t attract nearly enough students to fill a class of 20.

How did we get here? Why can’t we find 20 people who would be interested in a career in injection molding?

Some of the reasons are fairly obvious. For one, why would a student want to invest in a college certificate program given the relative lack of job security in the manufacturing sector?

Mohammadi also noted that the return on investment on an education in plastics processing isn’t what it used to be. Prospective students are perhaps less inclined to enroll in plastics programs when they can only expect to earn an average wage of $12 an hour as an operator, he explained.

These closures are setting us back many years, and the industry is concerned. They are eroding years of formalized training programs, and placing the onus of training costs back on the employer. Reflecting on the CPTC’s closure in our online poll, over 88 per cent of respondents said that they are concerned about finding trained and skilled employees in the future.

Last year, after speaking with some of the talented people who had been put out to pasture after Progressive Molded Products went under, I used this space to predict that the continued cuts in the plastics industry were doing irreparable harm to the industry’s reputation, and would make it significantly harder for companies to attract top talent once they emerge from the shadows of this downturn. The CPTC closing its doors is just another step in that direction.

At a time of turmoil and uncertainty, I’m sure that most businesses find it hard to even think about the future.

But I feel that there is an important lesson to be learned here, and one that we mustn’t soon forget. The centre may be gone, and the modest basement room it occupied will probably be converted into a classroom to accommodate other, fuller programs. But the impact of what the CPTC’s closure means for the plastics industry will be felt for years to come.

Umair Abdul, assistant editor uabdul@canplastics.com