With more than 27,000 workers worldwide — including 13,000 in Canada — Tier 1 supplier Linamar Corp. has a lot to offer prospective employees.
Aside from competitive wages and benefits, the Guelph, Ont.based company provides training, opportunity to advance within the company and the chance
to work at its units in Europe and Asia.
Yet it’s challenged to fill many vacant positions, a gap that only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic. At any given time, Linamar has 500 to 700 openings.
“Post-pandemic, we’ve seen higher levels of retirement,” Roxanne Rose, Linamar’s global vice-president of human resources, told Automotive News Canada. “I think the economy’s seen high levels [of]...people leaving the workforce in general for a variety of reasons.”
The labour shortfall has auto companies and industry groups turning to overseas recruitment, as domestic training programs are unable to meet the demand.
Linamar is one of those companies recruiting abroad, mainly in the Philippines and Mexico. The most recent effort — a pandemic-limited virtual trip to the Philippines — netted millwrights, electricians, and setup and automation technicians.
The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), which represents about 1,100 franchised dealers in Ontario, this summer recruited 100 Filipino service technicians for dealerships in the province under Ottawa’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). TADA Executive Director Todd Bourgon said they’re expected to arrive in the next two to three months, depending on how quickly applications are processed.
COVID-19 DIDN’T CAUSE IT
Chronic staffing shortages in auto manufacturing and service predate COVID-19.
“The problem wasn’t created by the pandemic,” Bourgon said. “It was exacerbated by the pandemic.”
Supply-chain disruptions also made automaking less attractive, said Unifor President Lana Payne, whose union represents 40,000 employees in the industry.
The Stellantis vehicle-assembly plant in Windsor, Ont., for example, provided only 18 full weeks of work during the first nine months of the year, Payne said. “Most people want to have stability in their work.”
According to Statistics Canada, the job vacancy rate in transportation manufacturing broadly ranged between 1.5 per cent and 2.0 per cent in the years before the pandemic. By the fourth quarter of 2021, it had reached 3.9 per cent, dropping slightly in the first three months of 2022.
Vacancy rates in the automaking and parts sectors were below one per cent pre-COVID but rose proportionately during the pandemic. The gap closed somewhat this year, but StatsCan’s estimates suggest thousands of positions remain unfilled.
“We’re probably short about 10,000 people in the [parts] industry, so it’s not hard to find jobs for people who want to work and have a useful skill set,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA).
EVERYBODY WANTS TALENT
On an increasingly automated factory floor, automotive companies are vying with other industries — such as aerospace, IT, even mining — for the same talent.
“It’s an added challenge because everybody’s trying to attract the same type of individual that’s got some computer skills, diagnostic skills, that sort of thing,” said David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, which represents overseas car companies.
Traditional trades are also in demand.
Linamar’s various divisions, for example, are short 100 to 150 machine operators because of attrition, promotion, transfers and growth, Rose said.
Even before the pandemic, the company held weekly “Walk-in Wednesdays” — recruiting open houses — at a Guelph community centre.
“The number of people walking in is increasing, which is a good sign,” said Rose. But the 10 to 30 walk-ins is a far cry from the 2,000 who would show up during the 2009 recession, she said.
At one time, Linamar ran recruiting ads on radio and in movie theatres. It’s no longer doing so, but Rose said a TikTok campaign is planned.
SHORTAGE IS ‘ABOUT WAGES’
Like others, Unifor’s Payne wants Ottawa to streamline its difficult immigration process, a key to growing Canada’s workforce. But Unifor does not support using the TFWP to recruit for what are essentially permanent jobs.
“I would suggest that it becomes a quick fix ... for some employers who presume they have a shortage when really the shortage is not about labour,” she said. “The shortage is about wages.”
Most successful TFWP applicants apply for permanent residency. That’s not a good way to address long-term shortages, said Payne, saying it’s “very, very flawed and needs a number of fixes in order for it to be a pathway to immigration.”
Domestic training simply does not produce enough qualified people to meet demand, despite government and industry support, said TADA’s Bourgon. “And the pandemic set colleges and apprenticeship training programs back well over two years.”
The APMA participates in several initiatives to attract and, if necessary, train people to work in the sector, said Volpe. These include programs targeting groups underrepresented in automaking, such as First Nations, women and people of colour. About 1,900 people, including Afghan refugees and displaced Ukrainians, have been hired through these programs in the past 18 months.