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Outreach and education: A group effort

Jun 11, 2023

The crowd packed in to listen to Dan Southern and Corey Lutes of Seaspan at the MME Langley event.

In April we hosted the largest-ever Metalworking & Manufacturing Expo in Langley, B.C., both in terms of exhibitor booths and attendee numbers. For those of you who have yet to attend one of these one-day events somewhere in Canada, it gives manufacturers a chance to preview products and services and network with industry leaders in a relaxed atmosphere. If you don't live in one of the main tradeshow hubs or have access to travel across Canada and the U.S. for the large-scale manufacturing shows, these events are ideal for connecting with the industry to see what's new. As one exhibitor said, "Everyone was here today."

When you’re in an environment full of industry professionals who are so enthusiastically engaged, it's hard to believe the challenges that exist to attract new talent to manufacturing. Perhaps part of the reason for that challenge is that outsiders have no concept of what is involved in the industry, particularly younger people with no exposure to the trades; even within the manufacturing sector, understanding what a particular business does can be a mystery without an introduction.

Dan Southern, director of workforce development at Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards, raised this very issue during the keynote presentation. Part of his recruitment efforts at Seaspan involve educating the public about exactly what Seaspan is doing. The company is busy every Monday on-boarding new tradespeople, but hiring enough talent, like anywhere else in manufacturing, is an uphill battle. We’ll be discussing Seaspan's operations more thoroughly in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

A tour held as part of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) Annual Meeting, held Feb. 28 through March 2 in Las Vegas, offered another example of how new the industry can be to those outside of it. Jordan Yost, CEO of Precision Tube Laser in Las Vegas, spoke to the tour group and explained how just seven years ago he was in the car rental business. He sold his businesses and went to work for a friend's fab shop that had trouble sourcing cut and formed sheet and tube. From that serendipitous exposure eventually sprang Precision Tube Laser.

How do we get more people engaged with industry? Outreach is part of the equation; that's the mission of FMA's charitable foundation, Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), which is working at developing more outreach here in Canada with local support. And the CWB Foundation has been valuable in this mission over its 10-year history. But manufacturers also need to sell the industry to a younger generation.

By this, I don't mean "influencer"-type welding videos with sparks and music, necessarily. So many companies are working on fascinating projects, using cutting-edge machinery. I myself am hypnotized on occasion by well-filmed clips of automated machinery or a skilled press brake operator efficiently bending complex parts.

I think the key for any company looking for ways to show the next generation what it can do is to start by highlighting the things it does that get its employees excited to come to work. This is an industry of problem solvers. Sharing that gift via your website or social media can demonstrate just how vibrant an industry this is.