With too many Sault Ste. Marie companies unable to find skilled workers to meet demand, the city has set its sights on Oshawa’s autoworkers – who could be out of work by year’s end – as potential recruits.
During an early January budget meeting, the city revealed it had started a conversation with management at General Motors (GM) about initiating recruitment efforts.
“We’ve been working for a while doing community outreach and talking to the leading employers in town, and a consistent theme was that they were having trouble finding skilled labour,” said Tom Vair, the city’s deputy CAO of community development and enterprise services.
“When we heard about the closure at GM, we thought, there’s an opportunity there perhaps to attract some of those folks to Sault Ste. Marie.”
News broke in November that GM would permanently close four of its North American facilities by the end of 2019, including its Oshawa assembly plant, which employs 2,500 workers.
The car manufacturer cited a shift to developing electric cars as the reason for the decision, which is expected to save GM $6 billion by 2020.
Details are still being worked out, but Vair said the city envisions travelling to Oshawa to host a job fair-type event where GM workers could learn more about the Sault and the high quality of life it has to offer, including natural beauty, short commute times, affordable housing, and more.
The city will embark on a similar quest this April when it travels to the GTA to host a job fair there.
“(GM) will be arranging a time for us in the future to go down where we can present these opportunities to their workers, and we’ll have a chance to let them know about Sault Ste. Marie and the jobs here, and hopefully convince some of them to come back,” Vair said.
If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because at least one other community in the North has twigged to the idea.
In February, after the Sault made its intentions public, North Bay Coun. Mike Anthony proposed making a pitch to attract GM workers north to that city. Plans are very much in the early stages, and Anthony was continuing to gather support from key community stakeholders.
Working to bring GM workers north is just one part of FutureSSM, the Sault’s multi-pronged community development plan, the goal of which is to make the city a better place to live and work by improving its cultural vitality, economic development and diversity, environmental sustainability, and social equity.
Following one of the recommendations of the plan, the city hired a labour force development co-ordinator who is now leading a number of initiatives to try and “help fill the talent pipeline,” Vair said.
“We are working with our colleges and universities to make sure we’ve got the training programs in place for locals, we’re reaching out to people who’ve left Sault Ste. Marie through our Sault Network website, and then we were doing outreach to look at bringing newcomers to Sault Ste. Marie from elsewhere in the province,” Vair said.
He estimates roughly 15 to 20 organizations in the community are actively looking for new workers to meet their employment needs. They extend from large industrial manufacturers to smaller community organizations.
Algoma Steel, the city’s largest employer, is on track to hire about 250 people a year, for the next four years, just to meet gaps being created by retiring workers, growth and planned new projects, he noted. But there are also small IT firms in town seeking programmers to bolster their ranks.
“It’s quite a range of different skills sets and different sizes of companies,” Vair said.
Feedback from local companies about the city’s efforts so far has been encouraging, and Vair said industry representatives would likely accompany the city delegation to Oshawa to pitch their case directly to workers once a date has been set for the job fair.
“At the end of the day, they’re all looking to advance their businesses, and having the right people in place and the skilled labour to grow or maintain their businesses is really critical, so they’ve been appreciative of any of the efforts to help them find and locate that talent,” he said.