Building Tomorrow’s Industry

Written by Allison Dempsey

Prodomax, a leading automation firm in North America, specializes in creating, designing, and producing cutting-edge automated manufacturing solutions. The company’s expertise ranges from assembly and welding to machining, material handling, and laser cutting/welding applications and processes.

This Canadian company, founded in 1971, boasts two cutting-edge production buildings totalling 204,000 square feet where items for a variety of industries including automotive, electronics, and consumer goods—with a concentration on automotive chassis and underbody components—are produced.

In order to help keep the industry vibrant and moving forward, Prodomax is dedicated to attracting recent graduates through its ongoing close association with Georgian College, a reputable college also based in Barrie, Ontario. “We post jobs in the co-op portal specifically for students who need to get a co-op position in order to graduate,” says Brad Parcher, CEO. “We’ve been part of that program for many years.”

Prodomax has brought in both mechanical and electrical engineering technology students and skilled trades, many of who have ended up working for the company. “In fact, 30 percent of our staff are Georgian College graduates,” says Rene McKeown, Director of Human Resources. “We’re a blend of junior, intermediate, and senior level professionals with a skilled workforce, and roughly 25 employees who worked here as students are now full-time.”

Parcher, who sits on eight advisory boards for the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, also helps the college make decisions on curriculum, marketing, and putting the right programs in place to supply the right talent for the industry.

“There are several other manufacturers in town that sit on this board, as well,” he says. “Georgian College relies on us to help guide them, for instance when their curricula need to be updated.”

Prodomax also recently worked with the college on a micro skills program they offered, sending a number of employees who took advantage of the government-funded program. “We helped the college be successful in that because we supplied a number of students, which allowed the school to host the program and then give the benefits to the people,” says Parcher.

In fact, 32 spots were filled, he adds, and leading up to that, Prodomax, the City of Barrie, Georgian College, and a few other manufacturers worked together to identify programs that will help candidates build the right skill sets.

This collaboration wasn’t just for recent graduates, however; it was open to everyone to help build gainful employment in the area. “We’re actually working with them right now on leadership development programs,” adds McKeown. “We have 50 employees registered to attend their leadership program, and we’re working together to create content that’s tailored to Prodomax.”

The company also has 48 of its employees scheduled to attend project management training at Georgian College, collaborating with the school on creating content for these programs that will also benefit other employers in the region.

“We also worked with Innisdale Secondary School, where we awarded two recipients a scholarship—one for women in STEM and the other for academics,” McKeown adds. “They were to encourage and support women in engineering and STEM, and also people in our industry.”

This month, Prodomax is offering tours to the area high schools to encourage the younger generation to consider manufacturing or automation as potential careers, as well as providing co-op placements to high school students. “Two or three kids that came in here in Grade 11 and did co-op terms ended up graduating high school and coming to work here full-time in an apprenticeship,” Parcher says. “Not everybody goes to post-secondary right out of high school.”

Over the years, Prodomax has continually taken in students from local high schools, allowing them to spend several days a week experiencing firsthand how the business works. While the company has hired more than 40 people this year, the biggest challenge is finding the right intermediate-to-senior level person.

“We’re trying to accomplish that by growing people from within as well, which is why we’re developing leadership programs and doing project management, upgrading people’s skill sets and offering opportunities from within,” Parcher says.

Along with the leadership development program through York University’s Schulich School of Business, which 45 employees attended, this year the company is working with Georgian College on building a Leadership in Manufacturing program for 40 employees and a Project Management for Non-Project Managers program which includes developing 30 employees. Earlier this year, Prodomax ran a Finance for Non-Financial Managers training program that included 18 participants as well as Excel Training for 50 employees, all in addition to other training and development initiatives, such as SolidWorks and other technical training.

While Prodomax has built solid relationships with educational institutions in the Simcoe Region, it has many co-op students and permanent hires who are graduates from many other reputable colleges and universities in Canada and abroad.

The company’s diverse workforce includes many international employees as well as women in manufacturing, management, engineering, and production roles. “We advocate for women in the industry for manufacturing, technical, and leadership roles,” says McKeown. “We also ensure our compensation is conducted equitably and there are no gaps based on gender. We want to hire more women in our industry as a whole, and we’re trying to promote that through our Women’s Network, which is one of the reasons why we’re encouraging women in STEM through our scholarship program.”

Along with the Women’s Network, Prodomax has also launched an IDEA Committee of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility to encourage inclusion and diversity within the company. “For instance, through the committee we asked our employees what countries they would like to represent at Prodomax,” says McKeown. “We purchased and hung flags for everyone who completed the survey and the result really represents our diversity.”

While recruitment and developing talent can be challenging, it has also led to some key accomplishments, particularly through the establishment of new company training platforms. “We didn’t need them 10 years ago because there was enough supply of skilled labour,” says Parcher. “On-the-job training sufficed, but with having to bring in a lot more new people in the past two or three years, it’s changed the landscape a lot for us.”

And recruitment is vital for this company, which has experienced years of growth and aims to do so for many years to come, supplying chassis body parts to its core group of large Tier 1 automotive companies in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

“The systems we build are primarily in the body in the structural part of the vehicle—the metallic body structure and welded parts, for the most part,” explains Parcher. “We don’t do plastics and we don’t do the engine powertrain.”

Prodomax doesn’t necessarily take aim at continuous new business, instead choosing to focus on its established customers that it has had good relationships with for more than 20 years. And that dedication and commitment is not only for its customers, but also its employees.

“We work hard but play hard as well,” McKeown says, referencing the company’s annual Town Hall BBQ and team building events, Employee Appreciation Event in September at Horseshoe Valley, and Holiday Luncheon at Liberty North in December. “Our employees also plan their own company functions and this year they’re going to Mont Tremblant for a weekend of fun. Last year they ran ski lessons at the various ski lodges in the surrounding area.

“The health and safety of our employees is something we also do not take lightly,” McKeown says. “Our management team is actively engaging with employees and collaborates regularly to ensure our practices are sound.” The company also frequently hires employee referrals and has paid out $20,000 in employee referral bonuses in the last 12 months.

Indeed, the Prodomax culture is one of collaboration and social responsibility, with the team giving back to the community through recycling efforts, the CN Tower Climb for Nature, the Great Cycle Challenge to fight kids’ cancer, food drives for the food bank, and toy drives, with the company also making donations to increase the overall funds raised.

Prodomax’s longstanding commitment to its community has not gone unnoticed, with an August, 2023 visit from the City of Barrie’s Mayor to speak with the management team about some of the challenges the company has faced and what initiatives can be undertaken in the future to help other area manufacturers succeed.

To be sure, Prodomax has succeeded in numerous ways over the past 50 years, and future plans include moderate, controlled growth. “We’re growing and we have positions open,” McKeown says.

The team also continues to invest in itself, having recently renovated the office and cafeteria, constructed a ramp for accessibility, and updated their website, demonstrating their dedication to not only helping the community but continuing to take pride in their work and presence in the community.

“We’ve got a long-established reputation in the industry,” says Parcher. “We’ve been located in Barrie for more than 50 years, which kind of sets us apart from some similar companies that haven’t been around as long. We’re proud of that. We also have a pretty deep knowledge base here in the systems that we build. It’s really hard to get that anywhere else.”



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