Faced with the growing demand for highly skilled professionals and an increasing shortage of people with specialized skills, Canadian manufacturers are teaming up to hire youth workers with little or no prior work experience and then investing in training them afterwards.
The scheme has been initiated by the Ontario Manufacturing Learning Consortium, which is made up of four industry associations in the tooling and machining, aerospace, manufacturing, and nuclear sectors. The consortium is working with a training institute with additional funding provided by the provincial government under their Youth Skills Connections Program. The initiative seeks to recruit unemployed or disadvantaged young people in their twenties.
The hired youth are paid from their first day at work and undergo six months of classroom and on-the-job training, with an opportunity of getting permanent full-time employment with the same employer upon successful completion of the training.
In Toronto, the first batch of 16 young adults are being trained as machinists, with manufacturers set to announce plans to extend the scheme by training a total of 80 youth workers by the end of next year. The consortium also plans to start similar initiatives in other parts of Ontario and in other occupations.
All this comes as good news for young people, who over the past few years have been struggling to find their first jobs in Canada’s competitive job market. The country’s youth employment rate has not shown much improvement in recent years, with only half of the youth being gainfully employed. The percentage of youth who are employed in part-time jobs but want full-time work has been increasing since the recession, with the percentage of young people working in full-time jobs falling to a record low just last month.
Tougher rules around Canada’s temporary foreign worker program along with increasing business growth are believed to be the reasons why companies are motivated into hiring local youth and training them in-house. Cyclone Manufacturing Inc., an aerospace parts making company, used to work with 20 temporary foreign workers up to a few years ago. But things have changed now. “It’s almost impossible to get (government approval) for a machinist … so we need to train people internally,” says Robert Sochaj, executive vice-president of Cyclone.
Even though the OECD has asked Canada’s employers to increase their efforts in skills training, many employers are reluctant to make this kind of long-term investment. According to estimates by the Conference Board of Canada, over the last two decades, employers have reduced investment on workplace training by about 40%.
In what is welcome news for Canada’s young job seekers, the consortium of manufacturers has decided to invest between $15,000 and $20,000 per new hire to train them in their new jobs. Employers say that they have an immediate requirement for 270 “computer-numerical control (CNC) machinists”, a number that will increase to over 700 over the next two years.
Trainees are paid between $12 and $15 per hour, with pay increasing as their skills improve over time. CNC machinists can eventually go on to earn up to $25 to $35 an hour.
“It’s a great opportunity to be paid to learn,” says 25-year-old Gregory Wood, one of the new hires under the program. Wood plans to pursue his career at Cyclone where he received his training.
Under the initiative, the applicants are first tested for both aptitude and attitude to establish their motivation and capability for mathematical and spacial thinking. So far about 40% of applicants have been accepted, and with just two dropouts, the participation rate of 90% is considered to be exceedingly good.
Though such initiatives are still not common in Canada, they have long been practiced in other countries like Germany where employers have stronger and closer ties with educational institutions. Kevin Lynch, vice-chairman of Bank of Montreal, believes that Canada should follow this model more aggressively. “Having a highly-skilled work force will be one of the competitive differentiators of countries in the future. Our biggest resource in the future is the kids that we’re graduating today. How we educate them, how we train them and give them their first work experiences is everybody’s gain, not just theirs, frankly – it’s a societal gain, it’s an economy gain,” he says.
The course offered by the Ontario Manufacturing Learning Consortium extends over 26 weeks, out of which the trainees need to spend three weeks in a classroom, where they learn how to read blueprints and use various tools. The rest of the 23 weeks are spent at work where they receive hands-on training while working on the same machines they will have to operate when they complete their training. At the end of the course, the trainees are formally interviewed by the employers, and permanent jobs are offered to those considered most suitable.
Such training schemes are typically not possible in schools as specialized manufacturing equipment can be quite expensive, with each machine costing millions of dollars. “We shouldn’t be expecting schools to buy expensive equipment like this on which students can learn. Why couldn’t we find a way to have them learn in the workplace, on the equipment they’re actually going to be seeing? From an overall societal consideration, avoiding the cost of putting expensive equipment into learning organizations seems to make sense,” says Rod Jones, director of the Ontario Manufacturing Learning Consortium.
Source: Globe and Mail