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Ingredients for recovery in a post-COVID Canada

More companies are waking up to the benefits of digital technology.

November 30, 2020   Joe Terrett

The COVID-19 crisis has brought anguish to thousands of families, swung a wrecking ball at the economy and escalated business uncertainty. Yet there is a potential positive. The pandemic is transforming the way manufacturers conduct business in ways that lead to new opportunities and improve the diversity of the workforce. But chief among the changes will be the application of technology.

More companies are waking up to the benefits of digital technology. Annex Business Media publications Canadian Manufacturing and PLANT Magazine are releasing the results of the 2021 Advanced Manufacturing Outlook report this month (available on www.plant.ca). The study shows more manufacturers (30%) are applying Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) than last year’s study sample (24%) while another 17% have a plan, more than doubling last year’s response.

The Outlook report complements KPMG’s Global CEO study that found 84% of Canadian company leaders (all sectors) are prioritizing technology investments to meet growth and transformation objectives; and most (92%) say COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization of their operations. But US companies (all sectors) spend an average C$22.8 million per technology – 30% more than what Canadians spend, according to a KPMG/HFS Research report.

The Outlook report shows 56% of manufacturing executives spnt the most on robotics and automation (average $129,800) but most companies (65%) are investing in the cloud ($61,000).

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Canadian manufacturers, mostly small, find investment dollars are tight, especially this year, so no wonder Outlook survey comments show caution when it comes to technology adoption with an emphasis on ROI. You will find a few tech planning pointers (page 16) to build confidence, but be mindful of how informed vendors are and how closely they align with your values and culture. Research by ERP provider IFS notes poor advice from vendors tops the list of why digital transformation projects fail for 37% of global respondents.

The disruptive effects of the pandemic have further exacerbated shortages of labour and skills, driving the need for technology to improve productivity, yet people with skills necessary to operate digital solutions are in short supply. This points to a need for greater gender diversity within the skills pool.

The recent speech from the throne called for an action plan to involve more women in the economy to reverse a drop in their participation in the workplace because of the pandemic. That certainly makes sense, especially with half the population chronically underutilized in business and industry; and some realignment is necessary, according to another study by Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and the Public Policy Forum. It notes occupations in STEM fields often define technology roles and stereotypes of entrepreneurs by unintentionally excluding women, thus impeding innovation by making technology the focus rather than using it to drive change.

The Trudeau government would be wise to also consider the contents of a report by the national Task Force for Real Jobs, Real Recovery. It represents 250,000 businesses and declares the key to a recovery plan is the engagement of Canada’s natural resource sectors and manufacturing. It offers 19 recommendations that focus on social, regulatory and climate goals with the potential to create 2.6 million jobs and generate $200 billion in labour earnings.

Technology, greater effort to achieve gender parity in industry and harnessing the power of natural resources and manufacturing should be part of a strategy driven by governments and industry to reboot manufacturing as a more agile, innovative contributor to Canada’s economy.

The ingredients are there. Let’s move quickly on a national plan.

This feature originally appeared in the October 2020 print issue of PLANT Magazine.


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Economy General Manufacturing COVID Economy manufacturing pandemic recovery


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