Canada’s Best Workplaces in Manufacturing: A Catalyst for Innovation

Canada’s Best Workplaces in Manufacturing: A Catalyst for Innovation

Dispelling lingering perspectives that manufacturing equates with monotonous assembly-line low-cost jobs, today’s manufacturing facilities are sophisticated and high tech, boasting robotics, artificial intelligence and 3-D printers. Canada’s Best Workplaces in Manufacturing are harnessing those new technologies to leverage people, natural resources and innovation capacity to drive growth in Canada’s economy.

The manufacturing sector is a major driver of innovation, wealth and employment from coast to coast. Comprised of more than 100,000 SMEs and larger suppliers, the sector directly and indirectly contributes to 30% of all Canadian economic activity, 30% of all employment and a large portion of Canada’s technology, services and natural resources sectors.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is Canada’s largest trade and industry association, and the voice of manufacturing and global business in Canada. We asked them to shed some light on the biggest challenges facing manufacturing organizations in Canada.


“There is no innovation or economic growth without skilled workers, and in Canada we don’t have the skills or the workers we need to keep up” says Dennis Darby, President and CEO of CME. “We need to invest in our people, and give them the skills and tools that will build the productive and innovative economy needed to ensure the sustainability of our communities.” 

Roughly 40% of manufacturers face labour and skills shortages today, and our skilled labour force is aging, so in five years’ time, close to 60% anticipate such shortages.  According to CME, one way to mitigate this skills shortage is to attract more women to the industry, and they have created “Women in Manufacturing” initiative to help do this.  In Canada, women make up 48% of the labour force, but only 28% of the manufacturing workforce and there has been no increase in the share of manufacturing jobs held by women in 15 years. Only 6% of employed women in Canada have a job in manufacturing compared to 13% per cent of all men.

At 3M, one of the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing, they recognize that despite constant change and fierce competition, success comes down to people and their ability to solve problems. It’s at the heart of what 3M does and it is why STEM education should be so important to Canadian businesses across the country, particularly for young women, who are under-represented in this field. At 3M, employees can make a difference in the world; be part of a leading company; and, work with the best and the brightest; all while growing through challenging work and being rewarded for the effort.


“To be competitive on a global scale, Canadian manufacturers must adopt advanced manufacturing, with automation, robotics and novel processes. This is not an easy thing to do in Canada” stated Darby. “Other countries have created national strategies around technology adoption. Without strong, coordinated actions for governments and industry, Canada is at risk of falling behind and becoming too high cost and not technically advanced enough to compete globally.” 

Between 2002 and 2014 investment declined by 5% in machinery and equipment in Canada, while in the US, it increased by nearly 60%. Given the importance of new technologies and machinery and equipment to manufacturing operations, this declining investment has led to corresponding declines in productivity rates compared to our major international competitors.  CME assessed that it is critical that Canadian governments work closely with industry to help facilitate the transition to innovative technologies. 


“CME looks forward to the opportunity to re-shape our trade relationship with the US through the modernization of NAFTA. Our role is to advocate for an agreement that will ensure Canadian manufacturers can better compete in the North American market”, said Darby.  “A redrawn NAFTA offers a platform to empower innovation as the driving force of manufacturing and economic growth. It is an opportunity to identify and eliminate some of the challenges that manufacturers are currently facing in the North American market such as non-tariff barriers, protectionist policy, and stimulate job creation through the flow of skilled labour.” 

NAFTA, in most ways, is a model for which all trade agreements should be judged. It has helped increase the standard of living of participants and strengthened the industry by combining the talents and expertise of each market, creating bigger markets at home and strengthening our combined competitiveness globally. However, it does not mean it cannot be improved to recognize major advances in manufacturing while creating the conditions for decades of future growth. Specific measures for improvement mainly stem from integration and the volume and value of the trade.  Issues such as government procurements, protection of intellectual property, improved customs processes to speed border transactions and eliminating uncertainty through reduced red-tape for both people and goods ranks as the top priorities for Canadian manufacturers.  


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Great Place to Work publishes a series of Best Workplaces lists based on feedback from more than 300,000 employees at Great Place to Work–Certified™ organizations across all industries in Canada. Employees complete an  anonymous Trust Index© survey, answering questions about how frequently they experience behaviors that create a great workplace, including, the transparency of communication, degree of collaboration, quality of benefits programs, opportunity for professional development, and support for work-life balance.  If 7/10 employees respond positively to the survey, the organization becomes Great Place to Work-Certified™ for one year.  Results from the survey are highly reliable, having a 95% confidence level with  +/- 5% margin of error.