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Encouraging diversity in the skilled trades

Finding enough qualified workers

March 2014

If there's a common challenge for companies all over the world, it is the need to find enough qualified workers to fill positions in the skilled trades. One Canadian company is addressing that challenge by building talent from within through a dedicated apprenticeship program.

Linamar Corporation, based in Guelph, Ontario, is a multibillion dollar global manufacturing company with 40 manufacturing facilities around the world. It was incorporated in 1966 by Frank Hasenfratz, who named the company by combining the names of his two daughters - Linda (Li) and Nancy (Na), and of his wife Margaret (Mar). Today Linamar provides precision powertrain system solutions for a diverse range of industries, from light vehicles and commercial trucks, to energy and industrial OEM markets. Its Skyjack brand is a global leader in aerial work platforms for the construction and access markets.

In-house skill building

From the beginning, Linamar has supported apprenticeship. Traditionally at Linamar apprenticeships were available to existing employees. However, in 2011 the company recognized that its approach needed to change. At the time Linamar was working with various partners to attract young people to skilled trades. Although the company could clearly show that it supported apprenticeship, students graduating from high school could not easily enter into an apprenticeship with the company, due to the fact that (like many companies) Linamar's focus was to provide apprenticeship opportunities to existing employees.

At that same time, Linamar was analyzing the diversity within its organization and learned some interesting facts. Although the percentage of women in management was equal to the percentage of women in the workforce (approximately 20%), the majority of these management positions were in quality, finance, and human resources. Workers promoted into operational leadership roles, such as General Manager, typically had a background in production or engineering, or had a Certificate of Qualification.

Faced with these two facts, Linamar saw an opportunity. By encouraging more women to pursue careers in production, engineering, and the skilled trades, the company could build a talent base of women with the skills and experience necessary to be promoted into operational leadership roles. Based on this insight, Shaun Scott, Corporate Director of Human Resources, approached Linamar's CEO, Linda Hasenfratz, with a request to invest in youth apprenticeship, specifically targeting young women. Hasenfratz enthusiastically approved the request.

A community effort in 2010

In early 2010 a Guelph Chamber of Commerce Workplace Development Committee meeting put representatives from the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) in touch with Linamar. The school board and Linamar discussed leveraging their relationship with Skills Canada - Ontario to develop a pilot initiative that would encourage young women to enter the skilled trades. Skills Canada - Ontario is a not-for-profit organization that actively promotes careers in skilled trades and technologies to Canadian youth through skills competitions, networking events, school presentations, and summer camps for youth from elementary school through college.

Linda Hasenfratz personally announced the pilot of the Women in Skilled Trades program in November 2011 at the Skills Canada - Ontario annual Guelph Networking dinner sponsored by Linamar.

The next priority was to get the message out to young women throughout the school district. The school board arranged for students to tour Linamar facilities and to speak to skilled trades people. Seventh and eighth grade girls also had the opportunity to attend a young women's summer camp to get an introduction to the skilled trades. In 2013 a second co-ed summer camp was added.

That first year Linamar selected two female candidates from the WCDSB group, along with one current employee, to start the apprenticeship program in July 2012.

Practical and theoretical training

Linamar apprenticeship requirements are the same for both men and women based on the type of specialty - millwright, machinist, or electrician. All apprentices take in-school training classes for one day a week at nearby community colleges following a curriculum prescribed by Ontario's Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. In addition, they take several days of training in Linamar's classrooms on a range of subjects, including safety practices.

Before going near any electrical equipment each electrical apprentice goes through safety training based on CSA Z462 to learn about arc flash hazards, how to choose personal protective equipment (PPE) based on tasks, and the safe use of test equipment. The remainder of the work week is spent on the manufacturing floor, mentored by Linamar journeypersons and engineers.

Each apprentice (along with every employee on the Linamar electrical service) is issued a Fluke 381 Remote Display True RMS Clamp Meter. "With the increasing awareness of arc flash hazards and large fault currents we mandated that our technicians must have a meter that meets the IEC 6010/10 standard for Category III 1000/Cat IV 600V environments," says Leigh Copp, Chief Engineer and Business Unit Manager for the Linamar Advanced Systems Group. "The 381 is a good tool for a generalist because it's a basic multimeter, plus it's got the clamp-on amp meter and the iFlex® current probe for larger conductors or difficult conductor geometries. The wireless display is a game changer for safety because you can put the instrument inside the panel and position the display outside and monitor voltage or current at a safe distance."

Investing in the future

It takes the typical apprentice a little over four years to complete the required work experience hours and schooling requirements. Linamar pays the apprentices their regular wage while they're at school and pays for their tuition and books. "We want to encourage both men and women in the trades so we need to make it financially feasible for them," says Copp. "It is an investment in their future and in our future."

Linamar's first group in the formal Women in Skilled Trades program completed their first year of apprenticeship in July 2013. At that time two more female apprentices started their first year in the program. That makes a total of five women apprentices. "We love to teach and we love to mentor and we recognize that's the future of this company," says Copp. "We want to expand this company substantially in the coming years and to do so is going to require a greater investment in our skill base and our people."

That expansion has already begun. Late in 2013, Linamar announced that it would be increasing the number of apprenticeships it offers to 12 apprenticeships. The additional 7 apprenticeship positions are open to any graduating students from any school board in Ontario.