Shortage of Skilled Trades in the area

Hundreds of unfilled jobs in Windsor’s tool, mould sector

Not being able to find skilled trades workers and even general labourers is costing 70 companies in the Windsor area’s booming mould, tool, die and machining sector almost $43 million a year in overtime and lost business, according to a survey done late last year.

The companies were seeking people to fill job 350 jobs, 75 per cent of which had been vacant for at least four months despite a local unemployment rate of just over 10 per cent at the time. As well as mould designers, machinists, engineers and other skilled trades workers, they were looking for forklift drivers and general labourers. The jobs paid anywhere from $11 to $55 an hour.

The statistics, which represent a good portion of the 450 local companies in the sector, had some members of a task force set up last summer to co-ordinate efforts to address skilled trades shortages shaking their heads Thursday.

“What we want as a region is we want to get a jump on this. (The skilled trades shortage) is a problem across North America,” said Karolyn Hart, vice-president of marketing, operations and community development for the  WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. “The region that gets a head start on this and capitalizes on this will win.”

The 22-member task force hasn’t come up with all the answers but is focusing on ways to get more young people into the skilled trades to ensure the Windsor region can be competitive far into the future as a centre for advanced manufacturing. Much of that kind of highly computerized and technical work is being done by the tooling sector, which largely serves the auto industry and employs an estimated 5,000 local people.

Forty-five per cent of those surveyed by the WE Prosper Available Skilled Trades Task Force were looking for apprentices.

While there is still a stigma attached to going into the trades in some minds, companies that are offering good training programs and are making a concerted effort to recruit young people are attracting young apprentices.

In fact, an on-the-job training program at Valiant Corp. has received over 1,000 applications, said co-ordinator Mike Ouellette.

“They’re coming in every day. I don’t know what to do with all these applications. I think the key is we’re paying people…. And there’s a career ahead of them,” he said. Valiant, which employs more than 500 people in the Windsor area, has enrolled 116 new recruits in the program so far.

Lakeshore-based Reko International Group Inc., which has about 200 employees, came up with a strategy 18 months ago to hire apprentices and isn’t having trouble finding the eight a year it is looking to train, said Joe Sirianni, corporate human resources manager.

After a dramatic downsizing and the near collapse of the auto industry, the sector is roaring back and in far better shape to weather future economic storms, he said. At the same time, company owners — most of whom live in Windsor and Essex County — are waking up to the need to replace hundreds of highly skilled workers who will be retiring in the coming years.

There is a growing realization in the industry that companies that sometimes compete with each other for contracts need to work together to compete globally, Sirianni said. “I think that’s the direction we’re going. It’s not just us against the company down the street. It’s us against the world…. We all have to bite the bullet and train. If we don’t, these companies aren’t going to be around.”

Getting into the schools earlier and winning over parents, who are still skeptical about encouraging their children to enter the trades, are among the challenges that have to be tackled, he said.

Over the coming months the task force will be working with local companies, school boards and trades organizations to give more students exposure to the opportunities in the skilled trades, said task force chair Tanya Antoniw.

Lisa Pereira

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