Paul Brent, Automotive News Canada
January 13, 2021

The Ontario auto parts industry is launching a new digital skills training platform this spring to address the growing shortage of skilled trades workers in the auto sector.

The online learning platform from the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (AMPA) will offer programs in areas such as health and safety, lean manufacturing, quality assurance and leadership. The aim is to allow established workers to gain skills at their own pace and is forecast to train as many as 5,000 workers in the first year of operation.

Dubbed the Digital Learning Program for Advanced Manufacturing (DLPAM), the e-learning effort is funded by $3 million from the Ontario government and is intended to address the large and growing gap of skilled trades in the 100,000-strong provincial automotive sector.

“The key target is the existing workforce, hourly workers, those on the production floor versus salaried or office workers who are vulnerable to those tech changes,” said Lauren Tedesco, the APMA’s vice-president of learning and development.

Financial support for the digital training effort will come exclusively from the province for the first three years with APMA’s Tier One partners sharing best practices and resources to create the training material.

Accelerating technological change and the shift to autonomous and electric vehicle production will only worsen the skills shortage. “We know that robotics are coming in, technology is coming in, big data, and so maybe they are in their 30s or 40s and have finished school and that have had a lot of training since.”

She added that the advanced manufacturing training programs are aimed at small to mid-sized auto companies that likely do not have the resources to run their own in-house training operations. “We know a lot of big ones, the tier ones like Woodbridge, Magna, Martinrea, they have their own training programs because they have the capacity and big HR departments.”

There is no hard and fast number as to the size of the shortage of skilled workers, just a realization that it is growing ever larger as technology advances, young people ignore careers in skilled trades and older employees age out of the workforce.

Last month (DEC) a survey of Canadian manufacturers found that 60 percent faced a labor and skills shortage. The survey of 563 companies by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters also found the lack of skilled labor is limiting manufacturer’s ability to innovate and that specialized training needs to be adopted.

The major assemblers have well-established in-house training operations and the goal of the APMA’s digital training is to spread that to small and mid-sized suppliers. “They are miles ahead of the suppliers although the suppliers are 85 percent of the car,” said Bob Magee, chairman of Woodbridge Foam Corp. of Mississauga, Ont. who is also chairman of the APMA’s digital training project.

Although much of the content is still in development, Magee expects lean manufacturing will be a major focus of the DPLAM. “It is possible to train everything, we do want to focus on lean because everybody including our own people say, `What am I going to get out of this?’ Some pieces of the lean (training) you get something back very, very quickly.”

The shortage of highly trained workers was severe enough to prompt Windsor, Ont.’s Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing outsource some of CAD design work to India. Today it is running two shifts in India and one shift of designers in North America.

“We are trying to do as little outsourcing as possible because managing multiple outsources on the design side is very complex,” said Tim Galbraith, sales manager at Cavalier. Currently the company is also aggressively recruiting CAD designers in the U.S. and Canada to add to its design team.

The Cavalier executive welcomes the digital learning platform coming from the APMA. Currently his company is conducting its own training efforts and participates in the province’s youth apprenticeship program and is working with local colleges.

Galbraith said that while training and upskilling is important, attitudes to skilled trades need to change. “It’s not about just about formal skilled training program, it’s about perception. Everybody wants their kids to be a doctor or lawyer, not a skilled trades person.”

Closing the skilled trades gap in automotive and other industries in Canada means not just changing perceptions among students and educators, but convincing parents that it is a viable, high-paying career for their children. “You have got to create awareness with all three groups that indeed there is opportunity to make a good living in going through skilled trades as opposed to being a university professional.”

Read the full article here.