Immigration won’t be enough to supplement Alberta’s manufacturing workforce, says BDC economist

Investing in technology and automation are key for manufacturers so they can improve productivity in the face of a shrinking labour force, says the chief economist with the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Vice-president of research Pierre Cleroux said 22 per cent of workers today are over the age of 55. Immigration is only part of the solution when it comes to filling jobs in the future.

“Alberta is really good at attracting people, but this is not going to be enough,” Cleroux said who spoke at the SmartMTX (Smart Manufacturing Technology Exhibition) at Westerner Park on Wednesday.

“It’s not going to be easy in the next 10 years to hire people, and it’s going to be expensive because salaries are increasing. If we want to continue to grow our businesses we have to think differently, and thinking differently is investing in technology and automation.”

He said people are moving to Alberta because there are more jobs, salaries are the highest in the country, and the cost of living is lower than in Ontario or British Columbia.

In addition to solid oil prices, more workers are helping to drive economic activity in Alberta. While economic growth in Canada is expected to be close to zero this year, Alberta’s growth will be higher, he said.

“Growth in Alberta is going to be around two per cent this year, the highest in the country.”

But in the last 12 months 34,000 Albertans retired, which is three times more than in 2000.

“The percentage of older workers is much greater than the percentage of younger workers. This is the gap that we have,” said Cleroux who encouraged business owners from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia attending the conference to visit the vendors and check out options to increase productivity.

Peter Krzesinski, event organizer and Manufacturing and Export Enhancement Cluster executive director, said companies in central Alberta and Western Canada need to learn about the tools, supports and programs available to them to adopt advanced manufacturing solutions.

“We need to innovate. We need to adopt these technologies in order to stay competitive with the rest of the world,” Krzesinski said.

He said automating some of the lower value, repetitive tasks allows employees to focus on higher tasks, increases job satisfaction and will help attract to younger workers.

“They want to apply their creativity, their computer skills. They want to program robots.”

Krzesinski said the response to the first ever SmartMTX in Red Deer has been positive.

“I think it would be a big disappointment if we didn’t hold this again. Industry is more aware of opportunities to learn, and attend, and connect with vendors and programs at the show. I think the next one will be much bigger.”

SmartMTX was presented by Manufacturing and Export Enhancement Cluster, Red Deer Polytechnic and Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.


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