Our resource-based economies
The real question is why don’t we do more manufacturing in Canada? As increasing pressure to solve the global warming crisis continues, people are pointing to North America’s consumption economy and the Alberta tar sands as leading contributors to the overall problem. It is not, however, the aim of this article to discuss global warming but instead to highlight that the economic prosperity brought on by being a resource based economy could be in jeopardy. We have seen it before with the decline of the fishing industry, softwood lumber disputes with the United States, and mining sectors experiencing boom and bust scenarios from rapidly changing commodity prices. Now, Alberta is experiencing one of it’s greatest downturns in recent history due to over-production of oil and falling prices.
The loss of a primary industry is devastating to the local economy. For example, in 1990, British Columbia had over 300,000 people working in the forestry sector and a population of 3.2 million people. This represented almost 10% of all workers in the province. This does not include “spin-off” or the support industries created from the primary. At present day 2018, there are 187,000 workers in forestry and a provincial population of 4.8 million people, meaning forestry jobs only make up 4% of the total workers. This is a shocking trend for a province that was founded on forestry. In fact, only 100 years ago, you stood almost a 90% chance of working in the industry.
How other countries cope
For many of the strongest economic countries in the world, manufacturing makes up a large and important part of the gross domestic product (GDP). Germany, with a population of 82 million people is ranked number 16 in the world by population size and 4th by GDP. How does Germany boast such high economic prosperity for its size? And, since 1990, Germany has only grown by 3 million people. Their economic growth has changed little over the years but they remained a strong and stable economy. It’s the author’s opinion that a strong manufacturing sector could be responsible for this.
Other countries such as Japan and Israel have developed themselves as world leaders in manufacturing and technology. They both enjoy strong, robust economies as a result.
The future of Manufacturing
The times are
So, what’s holding us back?
Germany has a history of manufacturing and it’s almost a core value. Much like the “Swiss Watch,’’ it defines who they are. Since I started in the trades 17 years ago, I have seen the shift from these core values and the erosion of the manufacturing sector in Canada. GDP numbers don’t tell the full story. While I was a high school student, the emphasis was on attaining a bachelor’s degree or masters in the arts or science fields. I was almost ashamed for wanting to be a tradesman. As a result, apprenticeship programs saw less funding and lowered standards. Cheap labor was the name of the game and getting people through the mandatory training was key. Manufacturing was being lost to China at a rapid rate and many of the highly skilled tradesmen that are key to a strong manufacturing sector lost their jobs to less skilled, cheaper labor.
With Canada facing an uncertain economic future, I think it’s important to strengthen our appreciation for the builders who are the foundation of many strong economies around the world. Raising the standards of teaching and learning in the education system and encouraging young people to see the trades in a positive light is key to a solid economic future. Furthermore, governments need to see the value in investing in manufacturing for the long-term. This is a huge obstacle to overcome as the short-term gains from selling resources can be hard to ignore. Canada still has highly skilled tradesman and should not hold itself back from being a world leader in this sector.
Written by Greg Epp
About the author
I am the owner of Adventure Marine Manufacturing Inc. and currently spend my time building my business and bringing awareness to companies about the advantages of restoring or improving their current manufacturing capabilities.
A red seal certified Millwright, experienced welder, machinist, and fabricator, I have over 17 years of trades experience in many sectors including automotive parts manufacturing, mining, sawmills, construction, custom metal fabrication, and CNC machining.
A former member in good standing of the Canadian Forces, I proudly served as a paratrooper in the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s light infantry – overcoming huge physical and psychological barriers.
A professional leader and team player, I am always looking for a new obstacle to overcome. I’m passionate about improving manufacturing and would like to help solve your greatest challenges.