Announcement helps manufacturer provide skills to compete in global marketplace

It was a lucky Monday the 13th.

Employees who work in manufacturing in Fergus are benefitting from advanced skills training thanks to a federal investment in A.O. Smith WPC Canada.

The Dec. 13 announcement was made by Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong on behalf of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (FedDev Ontario).

Chong is currently the chair of the standing committee on Canadian heritage as well as the chair of the standing committee on industry, science and technology.

“Our government is focused on creating and protecting manufacturing jobs in southern Ontario,” said Chong.

“This investment in advanced skills training will help A.O. Smith compete in global markets and ensure that good manufacturing jobs stay in Ontario. This money comes from Canada’s Economic Action Plan, our plan to create jobs and steer the Canadian economy through the global recession.”

Chong thanked David Hammond for the use of the A.O. Smith Fergus facility to make the announcement and “to highlight the good work that the Yves Landry Foundation is doing.”

Chong pointed out the announcement “fits in with the government’s overall approach to manage the crisis we’ve all been through over the last 24 months.” As he referred to the global recession which first impacted Canada two years ago, he talked about the development of the government response – Canada’s Economic Action Plan.

“As you all know, manufacturing is the second largest employer in southern Ontario, and it was the sector most affected by the recession which hit in September 2008.”

“In the spring of 2009 we came forward with Canada’s Economic Action Plan – our two year plan to stimulate the economy and to ensure that manufacturing jobs and other jobs were created through this recession.”

Part of that, Chong said, was to fund $12-million to the Yves Landry Foundation, an organization set up over a decade ago to help innovate, train and raise the skill level of those who work in the manufacturing sector.

Chong added “part of the money that we’re celebrating today is “the $39,000 that the foundation has given to A.O. Smith to train about 40 employees here to raise the skills levels so that you can compete with manufacturers around the world and ensure that good paying skilled manufacturing jobs stay right here in southern Ontario communities like Fergus.”

He drew a contrast by comparing Canada’s experience to not only what has happened across the border in the United States, but what is also happening in Europe.

“We have escaped the worst of the global recession here in Canada because of our governments stewardship and management of the economy.

“In the United States, one in four American homeowners have negative equity. It means that one quarter of American homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s not the case here in Canada.”

He asked, “Why does that matter to you and me and water heaters here in Fergus? People who don’t buy homes, or cannot afford to build homes, don’t buy water heaters.”

Chong added “Canada has managed to get through this recession, albeit with some job losses, though not nearly as bad as south of the border, [and that] is an indication of the management of the economy and the impact of the stimulus package, part of which went to upgrade skills in Fergus.”

At the same time, he sees more work ahead.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, and there are many risks. There are global factors we are not immune to. Nevertheless, we need to stay the course and continue to manage the economy, so that the worst of what is happening in the recession outside our borders does not wash up on our shores.”

Michael Sherrard, chairman of the Yves Landry Foundation, said, “We are delighted to be working with the government of Canada on this important partnership project,”

The funding, he said, will allow the foundation to continue to foster innovation within the manufacturing sector and support the adaptation of the new technologies of southern Ontario.

In total, 289 local projects will share a contribution of over $11-million, through the Yves Landry Foundation’s Achieving Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Initiative.

This initiative is helping eligible small and medium-sized manufacturers in southern Ontario by allowing them to bring new ideas to market, attracting and retaining talent, developing growth for new and existing businesses and creating leading edge jobs.

“Canada’s current and future prosperity and quality of life depends on how well this country innovates,” said Sherrard.

“When we talk about innovation, we’re talking about the ability to extract economic and social values and knowledge in the generation, development and implementation of ideas to produce new and improved products just like you are doing here.”

Sherrard commented that the relentless pace of technology and global competition has eaten away at traditional markets.

“What have we learned as this world speeds forward? We’ve learned that we’re strong. We’re innovative, resilient and forward thinking. We’ve also learned that the key to survival and prosperity will be continuous innovation … and continuing to invest in people.”

As he thanked A.O. Smith for allowing the celebration announcement, Sherrard said, “You’re exactly the kind of manufacturer we were looking for when this program was designed.

David Hammond, general manager of the AO Smith plant in Fergus, said, “With the financial aid of the foundation, we have trained over 40 employees. The application of this training has now been implemented into our daily work practices at our Fergus facilities. This is a necessary investment in our future to remain competitive and provide advances products and services to our customers.”

In November 2009, Goodyear announced the government would invest $12-million through the Southern Ontario Development Program.

The foundation was established in 1998 by leaders in Canada’s manufacturing and business sectors to advance technological education and skills training to resolve the skilled labour and technical professional shortages facing Canadian industry.

Through the initiative, the foundation will fund up to 75% of a project’s total direct and indirect eligible cost, up to a maximum of $50,000.

FedDev Ontario was created as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan to support economic and community development, innovation and economic diversification with contributions to communities, businesses and non-profit organizations in southern Ontario.

Hammond said “we’re here to recognize the successful efforts of business and government working together to enhance the skills and technical ability. We all know the issues Canadian manufacturers have faced over the past 24 months. We’ve been able to work through that.

“Why is training important?” Hammond said sometimes when dealing with day-to-day issues one tends to forget about planning.

He used the example “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.

“Today is the time when we need to train and get ready for the future. Training and skills upgrading is a critical and necessary investment in our future to remain competitive.”

He noted the local training has already been implemented into the plant’s operations.

While he agreed the operations “may be in a heritage building, it is being modernized and transformed into a modern, vibrant facility.”

He pointed to the transformation of the water heating market itself, as he pointed to a new hybrid water heater which was a finalist in the Ontario Regional Innovation Awards.

“The idea was here, the concept was here, the support and engineering work was here. We built the first unit here for North America.”

He said that is the type of perseverance to create products for the future.

A.O. Smith WPC Canada is Canada’s leading designer and manufacturer of residential and commercial water heaters. It employs approximately 450 people to supply a full range of products to customers in the wholesale, retail and energy sectors across Canada, as well as internationally.

It is Canada’s largest manufacturer of water heaters and has now begun manufacturing high efficiency products meeting the latest Energy Star program requirements.