A Conversation with Jay Myers
Jay Myers is the Chief Executive Officer of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (Ngen Canada), the industry-led, not-for-profit organization established to lead Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster initiative.
In our recent report, Better, Faster, Stronger, BII+E’s research team took a closer look at the impact of automation on Ontario’s firms and workers. Above all else, our core findings point to the presence of an emerging challenge in Ontario. On the one hand, the province must improve tech adoption, while on the other hand, there’s an equally pressing need to provide training and supports that help workers thrive in a changing labour market.
Our conversation is outlined below:
Q: What are Ontario’s strengths when it comes to advanced manufacturing? What is currently holding us back?
Ontario is home to some of the best research, technologies, and manufacturing capabilities in the world. The province boasts two globally ranked start-up ecosystems in the Toronto-Hamilton-Waterloo triangle and in Ottawa, a diverse and concentrated manufacturing base, many leading technology companies, a highly skilled workforce, world-class research and educational facilities, and a remarkable entrepreneurial dynamic. Imagine the economic powerhouse it [Ontario] would be if we could combine these assets more effectively, applying more advanced technologies to improve the competitiveness and growth potential of our manufacturers and scaling up more technologies to apply and manufacture them within Canada.
The main challenge holding us back is that while we do have world-class assets and capabilities, we currently lack a systematic way of connecting them or building the collaboration necessary to leverage them effectively in order to generate the economic value we’re capable of achieving.
Q: The Supercluster initiative has some ambitious goals. What, in your view, are the top priorities for Ontario’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster in its first year?
In our first year, we want to begin to address four of the major challenges related to industrial growth in Ontario. First, we want to construct a capabilities database that will give much greater visibility with respect to the manufacturers, technology companies, academic and research organizations that we have in Ontario. Second, we will create an online collaboration platform and develop a series of networking activities – educational events and technology demonstration visits, for example – aimed at facilitating greater collaboration and building scale across knowledge, technology, and manufacturing supply chains. Third, we will launch capacity building programs aimed at helping companies, smaller ones in particular, de-risk both technology adoption and technology scale-up for manufacturing in Canada. And, fourth, we will fund a number of our lighthouse collaborative projects that aim to drive technology leadership, provide opportunities for technology supply chain development, and expand technology applications in manufacturing.
Q: The Supercluster is projected to create over 13,000 jobs and $13.5 billion in GDP. How did you come up with these numbers and what’s the plan to achieve them?
Our estimates are actually much higher than these, which were calculated by the federal government. We want to leverage as much private sector investment as possible per dollar of federal Supercluster funding. Our collaborative projects aim to achieve significant improvements in manufacturing productivity and accelerate the scale-up of new technologies, and in some cases brand new industries, leading to new growth business and employment across Canada. Our Board has made it clear that the projects selected for funding must be transformative and leave a legacy in terms of the capabilities of Canada’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem – boosting skills development, testing, and innovation management capacity for small companies. We have already attracted more than $800 million in potential co-investment from industry partners. A ten-to-one return on investment over ten years is ambitious but totally doable, given the opportunities and potential economic impacts of technology deployment in the fields of digital technologies, machine learning, additive manufacturing, and smart materials.
Q: What does success look like 10 years from now?
Our aim is to position Canada as a world leader in advanced manufacturing by 2030. That means a much more rapid pace of investment in innovation and advanced technologies in manufacturing and more Canadian companies becoming world leaders in the manufacturing of advanced technologies. We’ll measure success in terms of business and employment growth, international recognition, and the ability of Canadian firms to set global benchmarks in terms of productivity and the commercialization of new technologies in manufacturing.
Q: What kinds of jobs do you expect to see emerge over the next 5 to 10 years? Are there jobs that you expect to see disappear or fundamentally change?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that there are significant skills shortages that already exist in Ontario manufacturing and across our high tech sector. There are shortages of trades and technical skills and also business management skills – the skills required to successfully grow new businesses and manage innovation. I expect that those skills shortages will become even more pronounced as technologies transform products, processes, and business opportunities, and as we see more people retiring from the workforce. In fact, skills shortages will be one of the major drivers of automation over the next five to ten years.
The tasks that people carry out in industry will undoubtedly change as a result of automation, but that does not necessarily put jobs at risk. People will be expected to do different things. We’ll see less repetitive manual work. Workplaces will become healthier, safer, and more environmentally-friendly as a result of automation. And jobs will involve more systems thinking, more practical problem solving – creativity – as well as a greater ability to work with and manage the technologies that companies will deploy. We are already seeing a transition within manufacturing, and this is apparent in both Canada and the United States. Many of the technical, engineering, software, and other support roles are no longer being done directly in manufacturing, but instead within companies offering their services to manufacturing. At the same time, more jobs within manufacturing are taking on a higher services component – involved less in production and more in quality control, logistics, maintenance, materials and process management, and planning.
Over the next five to ten years, we’ll certainly see more people involved in the implementation of information and communications technologies in production processes, more virtual design, engineering, and testing jobs, more jobs in collecting, analyzing, and creating new services out of data. Digital technologies will affect how every job is carried out. But jobs of the future will not only be about the collection and manipulation of data. They will increasingly involve the interaction of people and smart technologies. Technologies are tools. Jobs will depend on how we use them.