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Manufacturing sector must address gaps in labour, intellectual property to compete

October 2, 2019   Don Horne

Canadian manufacturers have an unprecedented opportunity to take the lead on the growing skills gap, as the global manufacturing sector prepares for transformative change that includes robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things technology and the rollout of 5G networks.

If Canadian manufacturers get it right, they’ll be “way ahead of the game,” stated the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS 2019) keynote speaker and former Québec premier, Jean Charest.

Charest, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP, discussed current economic and international trade trends on Oct. 2, and the ongoing need for Canada to diversify trade and gain more access to world markets like Asia.

“The rest of the world is going in the wrong direction. They’re re-trenching behind their borders whereas Canada is opening up, continuing to focus on immigration and workplace strategies aimed at recruiting the talent we need, from researchers and professionals to tradespeople and labourers,” said Charest.


Part of the challenge is finding creative ways – including skills training and financial incentives – to retain an aging workforce who are eager to pass on their knowledge to the next generation, he added.

“A lot of them are in good health and they want to continue to work, but only if conditions suit them,” said Charest, who is leading Vision 2025, a pan-Canadian mission to reaffirm Canadian leadership in the global aerospace sector that includes a call to develop national strategies to train and retain workers. “This is an important issue that no other country has taken a hold of and one that Canada is well positioned to lead on.”

To compete successfully in the global economy, Canadian manufacturers need to build strategic intellectual property (IP) capacity – an important issue that CMTS 2019 keynote Jim Balsillie, co-founder and chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators and former chairman and co-CEO of Research In Motion, who spoke on Oct. 1. 

“To grow and remain profitable in the era of automated manufacturing, Canadian companies need sophisticated strategies to generate, commercialize and protect their IP in all stages of the manufacturing process,” said Balsillie. “It’s a pre-condition for sustained commercial success in today’s knowledge-based economy.”

Pointing to recent statistics that show the intangible assets now account for roughly 91 per cent of the S&P 500 Index compared to only 16 per cent in 1976, and that companies that embrace IP strategies are growing twice as fast as their competitors, Balsillie delivered a strong message that Canadian manufacturers can play to win in the global economy driven by innovation.

“Canada has largely missed the shift from traditional, production-based economy to the IP and data-driven economy,” Balsillie said, “but it’s not too late for our manufacturing sector to build better capacity in these realms and scale their businesses to new heights.”

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