Building a Better Workforce Together

Written by Allison Dempsey

NGen’s mission has long involved strengthening the development of world-leading, advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada through the promotion of technology, protecting the environment, and securing supply chains through funding and supporting industry clusters and Supercluster projects. Now NGen is turning its skills and knowledge to bolstering the manufacturing workforce’s future through education, awareness, and collaboration between various industries to address shared issues and interests.

“Workforce was the number one thing we heard from manufacturers across the country when we were doing round tables,” says Stewart Cramer, Chief Manufacturing Officer. “There’s a lot of concern about an aging workforce and about kids going into manufacturing as a career, so we’re approaching it on a number of different levels.”

NGen’s first approach involves attracting more young people into manufacturing through an initiative called Careers of the Future ( This program offers outreach to young people in elementary and secondary schools to better understand what manufacturing looks like as a career, and to help shift the perception of manufacturing.

“One of the things we really want people to understand is that manufacturing is STEM,” says Cramer. “It’s modern, clean and safe, and it’s very sophisticated. We’ve had an amazing response so far.”

The website has garnered hundreds of thousands of views — including from young women. “It’s exciting that we may have gotten some messaging out there that will really make a difference in the mid- to long-term for our workforce,” says Cramer.

The campaign started with public opinion research that NGen issued with one of its campaign partners targeting teens, their parents, and educators such as guidance counsellors and teachers, to gain perspective on their views of the manufacturing space and whether or not they saw opportunities in terms of careers for young people there.

“Really everything we did as part of this campaign was to move the needle on what we heard in the discovery phase,” says Robbie MacLeod, Director, Strategic Communications & Corporate Secretary. “We did see some great success. There was also a bursary component, comprising 10, $10,000 bursaries. We were looking to students themselves to say what they would do in a career in advanced manufacturing, and what sorts of challenges they would solve as part of that.”

There is also a multi-media push, with NGen looking at partnerships with Twitch, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, along with some TV spots, which resulted in a total exposure of about 330 million. It’s that kind of exposure that’s vital to helping potential future employees find their way to a field that might be overlooked or viewed as undesirable, possibly due to a lack of education.

“It’s not only kids, but also their primary influence network when they’re at the phase in their educational path when they’ll be making the important decisions in terms of what they’ll study in university and what they want to do for a career,” says MacLeod. “We’ve really noticed there’s a huge importance to getting an ear and resources for parents and educators who are going to be influencing those decisions.”

NGen is also focused on promoting upskilling. Companies don’t always know where to begin when looking at digital transformation and Industry 4.0, explains Cramer. In response, NGen has launched an initiative called Amp Up: Accelerated Manufacturing Upskilling Program, featuring company discounts as well a catalogue of courses in both English and French from approximately 23 training organizations, colleges, universities and industry-based trainers across Canada.

“We’ve got courses across the spectrum that we think are really helpful to businesses,” says Cramer. These courses include Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, Industry 4.0, Data Science, Leadership and Supervisory Skills, Supply Chain Management, Circular Economy, and Project Management, to name a few.

The initiative has been well received, with a brisk uptake on the program, Cramer says, adding there’s still some funding available for this fiscal year.

“We’re also quite focused on helping SMEs in particular – but not only SMEs – in their digital journey. Statistically, more than 80 percent of companies that take on a digital transformation don’t accomplish their objectives,” says Cramer. “There are a lot of reasons for that, but one that’s really important is that, while the technology in and of itself works, the technology in and of itself isn’t enough, so we’ve developed the Transformation Leadership Program, or TLP.”

The TLP is a series of exercises supported by instruction that helps manufacturers assess their entire organizational structure, strategies, ability to execute project management capabilities, market position, relationships with customers, and role in supply chains both as a customer and a supplier in a number of different areas.

“We’re really trying to help organizations know what they don’t know and give them a broad overview of all the things that need to go into their strategy,” says Cramer. “With exercises done by individual members of an organization’s leadership team, you get the opportunity to make sure that everyone understands the mission the same way, that the words mean the same thing to everyone in the organization and the organization is aligned… Going forward, we’re focused on how we can use Industry 4.0 to build superior manufacturing value change in Canada. We think the TLP is a mechanism to do that.”

Through this methodology, NGen encourages companies to pick a few of the top priorities that come out of the various exercises and aim for a balanced approach of transformation.

“The response to the initial deployments has been fantastic,” says Cramer. “We actually took a company through it with its suppliers and the response was very positive. Feedback was that no one had ever been through anything quite like this before, so we’re now in the process of rolling out a core TLP program.”

While the initial deployment was eight weeks, NGen is now rolling out a three-week, 15-hour program to try with some partners later this year; the goal is to then take hundreds of Canadian companies through this process. NGen believes that by going through an alignment and strategy exercise, it can improve the success rate of digital transformations and move more companies into a successful implementation of Industry 4.0.

Collaboration Days are another of NGen’s key initiatives, and even though the last one was virtual, it had 379 companies in attendance, demonstrating how strong the drive to innovate is in Canadian manufacturing.

Along with workforce initiatives, NGen is also continuing to focus on supply chain resilience and sustainability. In June, NGen brought together thought leaders around the Canadian manufacturing economy for its first manufacturing supply chain summit, which involved breakout panels in the areas of aerospace and defense, automotive, food manufacturing, heavy industrial, and equipment manufacturing.

“They were all separate and simultaneous, so none of them heard one another,” says Cramer. “Each panel covered two questions: What did COVID teach us, and what should a manufacturing supply chain look like in the future?”

Feedback showed some of the participants had never heard from anyone from a particular industry, even though in many cases they use the same supply chain. “They all came back with a lot of the same challenges in terms of more tightly integrated, transparent supply chains, better visibility through the supply chain, and the opportunity for Industry 4.0 to unleash supply chains and make for a stronger value network across Canada,” says Cramer.

Looking forward, NGen is particularly excited about the newly launched challenge of Zero Emission Manufacturing to help Canadian companies enter the electric vehicle (EV) market. The goal of this challenge is to create not only new value chains, but to unlock them through the application of advanced manufacturing technologies.

“We’re hoping to build highly efficient, automated and sustainable manufacturing facilities that ultimately are Net Zero all in,” says Cramer. “It’s an incredibly high-growth market, and we’re proud of the ability of this organization to put together meaningful challenges, to pivot rapidly, to be opportunistic, and to help Canadian manufacturers pursue markets.”

NGen’s initial cohort of 209 projects will all reach completion in the next 15 months, and future projects will be screened for a strong business component, technology, and successful advanced manufacturing business results.

“We’re very excited about the impact we think we’re going to have on Canadian manufacturing,” says Cramer. “When we look ahead, what we’re most excited about is how much impact our projects are really delivering, how many jobs and patents we’ve created, how many partnerships we’ve established.”

Ultimately, NGen’s aim is to take whole supply chains through programs together to better align them with the goal of building the most robust supply chains in the world within Canada, says Cramer, adding that in addition to driving project delivery, Superclusters have an ecosystem focus NGen builds into its project pipeline in terms of forcing collaboration and driving companies to work and come together through true collaborations.

“The way we’ve approached project design is very much focused around building a stronger and more sustainable Canadian manufacturing ecosystem,” he says. “Our workforce initiatives include getting kids into manufacturing and upskilling existing workers, and we’re now working with partners on work-integrated learning solutions.”

NGen plans to continue addressing all of the issues and challenges the manufacturing industry faces, not only today but for future workforces as well.

“We’ve built relationships all over Canada, we’ve introduced companies to one another, we’ve introduced clusters to one another, we’ve helped colleges create micro credentials in specific areas that we know are of interest to our members, and we have over 4,000 members now across Canada,” says Cramer. “We’re really focused on driving positive results for manufacturers across Canada and the entire ecosystem that supports them. That’s a bit unique in terms of our mission. It’s something we’re quite excited about and that the organization takes a lot of pride in.”



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