Canadian Plastics

OUR GREATEST COMMODITY

For many companies in the Canadian plastics industry, 2008 has been a rough year. With the unprecedented rise in commodity prices, continued strength of the dollar and constrictions in areas like auto...

September 1, 2008   By Umair Abdul, Assistant Editor



For many companies in the Canadian plastics industry, 2008 has been a rough year. With the unprecedented rise in commodity prices, continued strength of the dollar and constrictions in areas like automotive, manufacturers are fighting on a lot of fronts.

But as we continue to struggle against these cyclical forces, I find myself wondering if we are losing our grip on our greatest resource: our people.

As part of our 65th anniversary issue roundtable, Mark Lichtblau of Haremar Plastic Manufacturing noted that there is a skilled labour shortage in Canada, a challenge that our industry must embrace. Finding and attracting skilled labourers has been a problem for manufacturers across the board: according to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters’ 2006-2007 Management Issues Survey, only 13 per cent of companies said they did not experience problems in attracting or retaining skilled and experienced personnel.

Lichtblau also noted that the message being communicated to professionals is that “Canada doesn’t want to support manufacturing,” which I think is the crux of the problem. We are trying to recruit people to what many already view as a lost cause.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Simon Yee, one of the laid off workers who had set up a blockade outside Progressive Moulded Products. Yee had worked at the company as a process engineer for more than 23 years, and his frustration was palpable. These workers, many of whom spent more than 10 years at the company, had been forced to take drastic measures to fight for severance pay and benefits.

It’s hard not to empathize with workers like Yee, who bear the brunt of the ebbs and flows in this sector. And these are the images that are being transmitted to the public, the stories that are

leaving the strongest impression on potential employees.

There is the hope that business will eventually stabilize, and many economists have predicted that the manufacturing sector will recover over the next few years. Companies in the plastics industry are incredibly resilient, and will continue to find ways to overcome high commodity prices and a strong currency.

But, in my opinion, we cannot afford to have current and prospective employees lose their faith in this industry. When the industry does recover, they will be the ones who will help us drive it forward. The Canadian plastics industry in particular is filled with examples of people who got their start in the industry before going on to become global innovators.

For instance, newly-retired Robert Krycki (News, pg. 7) began his plastics career as a plant engineer at W. Ralston & Company. He went on to found Future Design Inc., home to the world-renowned Saturn family of air rings. It perfectly illustrates the fact that innovation in the plastics industry often comes from within the ranks.

So where do we go from here? It is evident that we — the collective “we” — need to invest our energies in developing skilled labour. But how do we counteract the image of Canadian manufacturing as a sunset industry with no sustainable future? And how can we foster a culture of innovation at a time when many business owners find themselves flying by the seat of their pants?

What is your company doing to find and retain the best talent Canada has to offer? And what should the industry be doing to attract skilled workers to a career in manufacturing? Tell me by emailing me at Uabdul@canplastics.com.

We could talk about commodity prices until we are blue in the face, but let’s also give some thought to protecting our greatest commodity.

Uabdul@canplastics.com


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