Canadian Plastics

The Human Resources Imperative

By Bill Empey, Prism Economics And Analysis   

T wo major research efforts completed last year define a new vision for Canada's plastics industry and identify important opportunities. The Canadian Plastics Sector Council (CPSC) led an industry-wid...

Two major research efforts completed last year define a new vision for Canada’s plastics industry and identify important opportunities. The Canadian Plastics Sector Council (CPSC) led an industry-wide Labour Market Study, and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) created a new Technology Road Map. Results of these efforts point to a “Human Resources Imperative” for the industry.

Firms must build a skilled workforce that complements investments in new products and systems. The CPSC and the CPIA are working together to define future opportunities and align firm practices to realize their full potential, and to provide practical new tools to help implement human resource (HR) strategies.

The CPSC / CPIA plan argues that industry challenges are both cyclical and structural and that new firm and industry HR strategies are needed on both fronts.



Simple projections for the coming year linked to traditional markets show limited growth potential. In some sectors, the current downturn may persist for a year or more. But this narrow vision does not take account of the traditional capacity for plastics and composites to displace other materials.

There are important opportunities for firms as they adapt to changing market conditions. The Technology Road Map builds on the flexibility of polymer chemistry, and projects that these advances will combine with the creative use of new reinforcing agents, advanced design capability and demand for customized and value added products to create a new industry. The new industry will step beyond the conventional borders between materials. In the future, the design and manufacture of customer products will be decentralized, flexible and timely. Using personalized design and prototyping systems, customers will order any polymer-based product to fit their specific needs.

The Technology Road Map anticipates a transition for processing firms across four dimensions: single to hybrid materials, mass production to mass customization, one pass use to sustainability, and low margin commodity to high value added products.

Proposed investments and new HR strategies focus on these opportunities.


The Labour Market Study gathered information on the current state the industry’s human resources. Findings from surveys, interviews and current statistics describe processors that

• Concentrate attention on fabrication and contract out other areas, including: design, moldmaking and repair, compounding, decoration and recycling.

• Focus on recruiting entry level workers

and training in-house. • Make limited investments in compensation, career paths, education

and training in outside institutions. • Have limited access to engineers,

technicians and technologists. • Struggle with moderately high turnover.

• Face an escalating need to recruit to replace retiring Baby Boomers But the technological change defining future opportunities requires higher knowledge intensity and a more skilled workforce.

At the same time, firms report growing competition from recruiters in other industries. These industries are attracting the best engineers, machine operators, technicians and skilled trades. Looking farther into the future the Labour Market Study documents the expected retirement of Baby Boomers who are now approaching their early 60s. The loss of these employees is a major blow to firms and the industry where so much emphasis is placed on in-house and on-the-job experience.


HR practices link the present to the future by securing a skilled and motivated work force. This is a big task and the risks and costs can be shared across the industry; helping small to medium sized firms who may lack the needed resources and strategies.

The CPIA is working with regional groups to apply the Technology Road Map in traditional plastics markets.

The CPSC is leading industry collaboration around key HR needs. This includes HR systems and applications that can be applied by individual firms, including

• Occupational standards that define job descriptions, career opportunities, training needs for operators, technicians, supervisors and others.

• Certifications through the CertPP programs that motivate workers, assist recruiting qualified workers and identify key training programs.

• Shared efforts to promote careers in plastics and meet competition from other industries.

• Linking Cert PP programs to inhouse training and related mentoring activities.

• A virtual HR department system that supports an expanded in-house capability for creating job descriptions, career paths, recruiting and compensation plans. Plastics processing firms across Canada are invited to learn more about the Technology Road Map and the human resource management packages. Bill Empey is a managing partner at Prism Economics and Analysis, a Toronto-based consulting firm serving clients with economics, industrial-labour relations and social research expertise.


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