There was a yellow school bus touring Peterborough’s main manufacturing area recently. However, it wasn’t a bus full of high school students, but rather their co-op teachers, guidance counsellors, and student success teachers. For over a year, Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development, Workforce Development Board, Kawartha Manufacturers Association and the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce along with the Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board (KPRDSB) and Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland, Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB) have worked together to host an event called “Manufacturing Doors Open”.
The premise of the event was to connect industry and local high school educators. This was accomplished during a full day of visiting three local manufacturers (AVIT Manufacturing, Flying Colours, and Siemens Milltronics). Then, while travelling between those businesses, we completed a driving tour to introduce the educators to about 25 more companies. The event culminated in a 90-minute facilitated discussion about what the educators learned, what they needed from business and what business needed from them to build the workforce of the future.
Manufacturing is an industry that has deep roots in Peterborough. It is a foundational industry to this community and yet in the past decades it has not stayed stagnant, but has changed and developed with the times. It hasn’t been easy and the adjustments have had an impact. That said, the manufacturing sector of today is a thriving group of companies spanning Major Bennett Industrial Park, Neal Drive, Technology Drive, other pockets of the city and soon enough Cleantech Commons at Trent University.
One of the most pressing issues facing employers and business owners is access to talent or finding the right people for the jobs that are open. This situation is particularly prevalent in the skilled trades and by extension the manufacturing industry.
“When manufacturers are asked what challenges they face, finding and retaining skilled trades people is always near the top of the list. Hopefully initiatives like this one will help encourage students to explore manufacturing as a long-term career opportunity,” says Tom Sayer, President, Kawartha Manufacturers Association
An important takeaway from the day was that at each stop, each business in their description of the skills they look for spoke about looking for employees that fit their company culture in attitude, energy, and flexible skill sets. Each also expressed an interest in providing on the job training, as well as opportunity.
"It’s important for educators to interact with industry first-hand, to see the technical skills required in today's manufacturing sector,” says Rhonda Keenan, President & CEO, Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development. “There is large growth potential for this sector and in this region. By introducing our educators to these opportunities and showcasing the value that STEM skills provide, we’re confident this message will be passed along to local youth and will equip them to become ready for the future.” Jennifer Lamantia, CEO, Workforce Development (WDB) echoes that sentiment: “WDB/LEPC was pleased to support and participate in the Manufacturing Doors Open Tour as it provided local educators with the opportunity to learn about the scope of job opportunities in manufacturing in Peterborough. The manufacturing sector as a whole is expected to grow over the next five years and in combination with the aging manufacturing workforce this increased demand for talent will ideally be filled by our local youth as they plan their careers.”
WDB provided the educators with a number of significant statistics about the skilled trades such as that the average age of one-third of workers in the skilled trades is 55+ and that wages can range from $19-$45 per hour. These tell us that there will be well-paying jobs to be had in areas such as precision painting, electrical
engineering, upholstering, welding and many other skilled trades.
The reaction of the educators to seeing manufacturing in the 21st century in Peterborough was positive and by all accounts an eye-opening experience that they will be able to take back to the students. One educator found it useful to learn that there are positions available for every level of student from high school to university while another commented on the precision and cleanliness of all operations.
The learning from this event will continue through the production of a video that will be distributed throughout the schools and a white paper on the facilitated discussion. The long term goal is to mimic this event in other sectors such as agriculture and construction.
Ontario statistics from Workforce Development Board
The Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce acts as a catalyst to enhance business growth, opportunity, innovation, partnerships and a diverse business community.