Addressing the Labour Shortage

In the US and Canada, businesses big and small report that the struggle to find and retain staff has been exacerbated by the consequences of pandemic. Rob Wildeboer, Chairman and Co-Founder of Martinrea International, recently spoke to OG100 about how the company is navigating the issue, what strategies they employ, and how Ontario businesses can find long-term solutions to building great teams.

1. Current labour shortages are affecting small and large businesses across multiple industries. From what you’ve seen, where does the Ontario manufacturing industry stand?
The labour shortage is the largest issue we’ve seen coming out of the pandemic, but it isn’t new. Attracting and retaining good people has always been a key factor in building a business. Currently, with the economy heating up and extended government subsidies, it’s hard to attract new employees. It’s an issue that is influenced by multiple, unique factors and gets more complicated as teams grow and expand across borders. In Ontario, the good news is that the public perception of local manufacturing is improving. The local industry’s response to the pandemic was swift and well-received. Martinrea alone produced and donated millions of masks since the beginning of the pandemic, which kept our teams working and supported our community. The government’s attention and support towards manufacturing has been very positive, and public recognition and interest in working in our industry is increasing.

2. Moving forward, what strategies or solutions can alleviate our local labour shortages? Are there any untapped opportunities?
Ontario is in a great position to deal with labour shortages – we attract immigration, have a great education system, and have access to markets across North America. Canada, as a whole, has countless success stories of welcoming and leveraging immigration to build our communities and economy. As a child of immigrants, I lived that story. Now, as an adult and a business owner, I can see the benefits the country and my business have earned from welcoming newcomers. Also, Ontario and Canadian businesses have an incredible training eco-system that we don’t utilize enough. With the land, resources, and workforce that exist in North America, we could be the #1 economic region in the world – if we do it right. Martinrea has seen a lot of success from seeding operations in the US and Mexico, creating outstanding teams that are trained in our specific engineering expertise and business management. Ontario businesses don’t use this model as much as they could but there are excellent, recent examples that demonstrate how it’s helped businesses grow and expand economies.

3. Martinrea’s retention rate is very good, particularly in Mexico and the US, where you do better than most. What do you think is the key to retaining personnel?
We’ve been talking and living our culture from Day 1. Our vision, to make lives better by being the best we can, is driven from the top and runs across the company and our borders. You have to preach it and live it by investing in your employees; hypocrites are quickly exposed. Anyone can write a vision statement, and ours has been written in sweat. In turn, we’ve cultivated real accountability and bred a very entrepreneurial culture where solutions and innovation come from all levels of the company. I’m also really proud of how we embrace diversity across our global teams. Your employees have to feel respected, safe and comfortable regardless of their gender, religion, background, etc. We have incredible team members from so many different walks of life working together to be and build the best we can. Once you find good people, you can teach and train the necessary skills. And from there, you need to encourage them to seize growth opportunities. When your employees do well, the business does well.