Plant tours open minds to possibilities
Andy Elkin, left, assistant general manager at Toyotetsu, welcomes Holy Trinity High School students Will Bellas, centre, and Alex Winne, both of Langton, for a tour of the Simcoe plant on Thursday morning as part of Manufacturing Day organized by the Workplace Planning Board of Grand Erie. JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer
As a high school guidance counsellor, Ed Wilson said he’s constantly battling the stigma of the trades.
Long derided as a path for students who can’t make it to university, the trades are more technical, complex and lucrative than ever, he says.
On Thursday, just before he helped lead a tour, Gino Armellini, general manager of Hematite, a Brantford manufacturer of plastic automotive parts, prepared a group of local students for what they were going to see.
“It can be a bit of shock to people who are expecting to see something dark and dingy like they would in the past,” said Armellini of the plant. “We have come leaps and bounds over the past 10 years.”
Hematite was one of 18 companies in Brantford and Brant, Norfolk and Haldimand counties to open their doors so students so they could step inside a working plant and learn about careers in manufacturing.
On its clean and brightly lit manufacturing floor, Hematite employees use robotics, computers and other high-tech equipment to produce engine shields, wheel liners, and rocker shields for cars.
Employees are not carrying heavy loads as they once would have in factories of old and safety is a top priority.
And, at Hematite, there is much effort put into turning customers’ scrap materials into innovative recycled materials.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how the workforce is changing in manufacturing,” said Hunter Weaver, 17, a Grade 12 student at Pauline Johnson Collegiate, who visited the plant and is considering a career as an electrician. “I took an electrical course in Grade 10 and I liked it.”
But Wilson, a guidance counsellor at PJ, said Weaver and other students with an eye on a job in the trades – predominantly still boys -- continue to be in the minority.
“Everybody still wants their kids to go to university,” said Wilson. “There is still a myth that university is the best place to be.”
But, he said, trades can be well paying, challenging and rewarding and high schools have to do a better job at promoting the trades to students through parent nights with guest speakers and offering expanded co-op programs.
At Hematite, employees include electricians, millwrights, engineers, and those with expertise in robotics, quality inspection, planning and human resources.
“There’s real growth opportunity for people who are willing to work hard,” said Nicole Donovan, human resource manager at Hematite.
Manufacturing is the largest industry in area, accounting for some 16,500 jobs. Some of the largest companies in the area participated in Manufacturing Day tours, organized by the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie in partnership with the Grand Erie District School Board and the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, with funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
Among the participating companies were auto parts maker Toyotetsu Canada in Simcoe, steelmaker Stelco in Nanticoke, and Tigercat, a forestry machine manufacturer that has operations in Brantford and Paris.
Also on the tour were companies that have new state-of-the-art facilities, including Gizeh Packaging in Brantford and Apogee Ceramics and R & W Metal Fabrication in Paris.
“Manufacturing Day gives manufacturers an opportunity to show what they make and connect with future generations of potential employees,” said Jill Halyk, executive director of the Workforce Planning Board.
“Local manufacturers make some amazing products, some of which are sold around the world. Local firms are also eager to attract young talent to help them grow.”
Students from Simcoe’s Holy Trinity High School and Simcoe Composite School toured auto parts plant Toyotetsu and Titan Trailers in Courtland.
“I heard on the radio this morning that manufacturing accounts for the largest sector of employment in all of the Grand Erie district, but it’s often overlooked as a way to make a living,” said Andy Elkin, assistant general manager at Toyotetsu, which employs about 730 people.
“It’s often viewed as a short-term job or something you do while you’re in school but manufacturing provides lots of opportunities for long-term careers in dozens of different positions,” he said.
“There are all kinds of jobs within a manufacturing facility like this and I think that a lot of kids aren’t aware of the opportunity. On TV you see lawyers and doctors and all those sorts of things but no one gets to see what happens inside a manufacturing plant, So, we’re really excited to show a bunch of local kids what happens inside this building.”
With files from Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer