Labour market skills are constantly evolving. Ensuring workers are equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to do their jobs is necessary to secure work, support sector development and create good jobs. Changes in workplace skills are constant. This reality is why workers, those utilizing the skills, must have a say in how jobs are designed and skills are defined, safeguarding against employer attempts to weaken work standards to save costs. Regular and barrier-free access to training and skills upgrading, including sustainable income supports, is necessary for all workers, including those displaced by new technologies and operational changes at the workplace.
In the auto sector and over time, unions negotiated significant protections for workers – from enhanced income replacement while undergoing training or on layoff, to work ownership language that aims to preserve the integrity of skilled trades. However, in times of transition more supports are necessary, including from government.
Electric vehicle production brings with it new skill demands on workers, especially among those in the supplier base as new components grow in demand, such as battery cells, power electronics and technologically-intensive parts. At the same time, the anticipated rise in automated production systems, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and mass data processing – the elements of what some perceive as the next phase of advanced industrial manufacturing, or “Industry 4.0” – may affect and alter existing skill sets for autoworkers. Studies47 warn of potential job disruption, including the elimination of some job-associated duties among autoworkers, affecting production and skilled trades work to varying degrees. Those same studies also project that new skills will surface to offset some of the changes to job duties in areas such as 3D printing, scanning, virtual reality and simulation, cyber security, robotics and mechatronics.48
Taking stock of this shifting landscape of skills for the future automotive industry and ensuring workers have access to any necessary training, is critical. This analysis is necessary not just for job retention but for investment attraction and productivity. Workers alone cannot bear the burden of navigating this shifting terrain. As a key pillar of any industrial policy, governments must lead on skills tracking and training supports in collaboration with employers, unions and community partners. The good news is that Canada has a head start thanks to a robust network of training institutions and trades bodies as well as previous experiences dealing with industrial transformation.
47 Future of Canadian Automotive Labourforce (FOCAL) Trend Report, “Impact Of Industry 4.0 Technologies On Key Occupations In Automotive Manufacturing” (April, 2020): https://www.futureautolabourforce.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Final-Impact-of-Industry-4.0-on-Automotive-Manufacturing-Occupations.pdf
48 Ibid, see Appendix D for a projected list of new job titles associated with the adoption of Industry 4.0 in the automotive sector.
Mapping and assessing the shifting skills demands for autoworkers resulting from evolving work processes as well as the steady shift to electric vehicle and parts production is a critical tool to manage this transition to net zero. Building an inventory of skills can assist stakeholders in identifying projected needs and existing gaps, assessing capacity and access issues as well as promoting training opportunities to workers.
Provincial ministries responsible for professional education and training, along with Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversees income assistance programs such as Employment Insurance, sector development funds and Canada’s Labour Market Information infrastructure, must take the lead in convening such a committee. This inventory may also assist in identifying and recruiting workers displaced from subsectors of the broader auto industry (e.g. parts distribution and vehicle dealerships), recruiting workers from other economic sectors facing transition pressures (e.g. oil and gas) and improving the delivery of relevant, high-quality technical and other essential skills training for workers.