“It is [a concern],” said Danies Lee, CEO of NextStar Energy Inc., the electric-vehicle battery-cell plant being built in Windsor.
The $5-billion facility — a joint venture between LG Energy Solution (LGES) and Stellantis — is expected to employ about 2,500 people once it’s up and running in 2025. It will require more than 500 engineers, 400 technicians and 1,550 hourly workers.
Hiring has yet to begin, but NextStar is developing training programs for technical employees, some of whom will undergo lengthy training at LGES’ battery hub in Poland, Lee said.
Skilled trades are in short supply across Canada, he noted. “That’s why I am trying to hire in advance to get them trained. We need more time to train those people.”
HIGHER WAGES, HIRE ABROAD
To retain and attract workers, companies are doing everything from raising wages and benefits and offering more flexible schedules to investing in automation and importing labour through such measures as the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
“This is the first time our quality manuals [for workers] are in two languages,” English and Spanish, said Jonathon Azzopardi, president of Laval International, a tooling manufacturer near Windsor.
The plant — which supplies molds, fixtures, parts and designs to Tier 1 parts makers and automakers — employs about 100 workers, half of whom were not born in Canada, Azzopardi said. “Most of them are temporary foreign workers or landed immigrants.”
At KB Components Canada Inc., the Windsor-area company has invested “heavily in automation” and granted wage hikes, ranging from 10 per cent to 17 per cent to its 280 employees over the last year, said President David Ulrich. “We have to meet our customers’ demands, and it’s either through manpower or technology.”
While Azzopardi also has boosted wages and benefits as well as offered flexible schedules, higher compensation could erode the bottom line, especially for lower-tier companies, he said.
“People say, ‘Just pay more,’ ” he said. “The problem is the further away you are from the OEMs, the less profit is in the project.”
Stellantis, for example, “can afford to pay $36 an hour, … but the guys at the bottom can’t,” Azzopardi said. At those suppliers, hourly wages generally range from $16 to $26 an hour, he said.
‘YEAR OF PEOPLE’ EVERY YEAR
Cavalier’s Galbraith is also taking a multifaceted approach toward mitigating the impact of the labour crunch, including expanding an engineering design centre in India.
“Five years ago, we opened our first office to augment our design needs that could not be met locally,” he said. “We now have three locations [employing 33 people] there that offer support to various areas of our company here in Canada.”
In addition, the company, which employs more than 200 people in the Windsor area, has made human resources its top priority.
“Every year, Cavalier picks a theme to dominate our strategy,” Galbraith said. “2021 was the ‘Year of People,’ where we hired HR specialists to guide us in employee retention and recruitment. During that year, it became evident that every year was going to have to focus on that aspect of the business.”