The president and chief executive officer of a small, wooden crate manufacturer mainly serving the Bruce Power and Darlington power plant rebuilds from Owen Sound’s industrial park said he’s struggling to find good workers.
Steve Warwick opened StevCon Packaging & Logistics Ltd. in the former Goodyear V-belt building two months ago.
His business is poised for growth. The 13-year Bruce major component replacement project begins next year and his production will begin to ramp up over the summer.
The crates will contain components which may not be needed for another two or three years. Until then, they’ll be safely tucked away in their crates in warehouses, either in space he’s seeking to be qualified to provide, or elsewhere.
He needs to hire four people – three in the shop building custom-designed crates and one engineering technologist familiar with computer-aided design. Once hired, he will employ seven people, not including himself, the lone salesperson.
But he’s feeling the widely felt shortage of suitable labour firsthand, he said.
The unemployment rate in this region was 4.7 per cent in May, above historic lows regionally but still very low.
The area’s labour force is declining too, all prompting skills-training and recruitment efforts to meet the needs of Bruce Power and its suppliers and all the other businesses which rely on skilled workers.
There are more than 50 nuclear refurbishment suppliers in Grey, Bruce and Huron counties.
“I just have a problem finding good people; people that have showed up for one day, I’ve had to fire three people. One guy quit, et cetera, et cetera,” Warwick said in an interview Friday.
The woodworking shop workers start at $17.50 per hour, with a review after three months or earlier. Two “really good” employees got “significant” raises after 1 1/2 months, Warwick said.
One of his employees came from Owen Sound’s Tenneco plant, the auto parts maker where hundreds work, which is closing its doors in stages by June 2020.
He said his is the only packaging company in this area serving this niche nuclear market. Former clients of his previous packaging businesses in Mississauga are returning to him, he said. He’s also seeking work from non-nuclear clients.
“It’s exciting. I’ve got something special here,” he tells employees. “If they don’t buy into it, then they’re gone. That’s why I’ve had to fire three people for different reasons.”
One left for “an extra three bucks and hour,” another was involved in a high-profile city police incident, and two more were let go because they didn’t work out. One prospect had transportation problems.
“I need people who are team players and embrace what I’m trying to do here.”
“I’ve been at the Georgian College job fair and I’ve been at a few different places and I’ve got my name in there for summer students,” he said. His jobs are listed on online job sites including Indeed, the Owen Sound Y’s job board and VIP Working Solutions in Walkerton.
He said he ran a packaging business in Mississauga and won business of the year. The business had a “family atmosphere” but it ended up unionizing, he said.
The latest Four County Labour Market Planning Board annual survey of the region’s employers illustrated the struggle to find skilled workers is getting worse, not better. Fifty-two per cent said they couldn’t find the skilled workers they need in 2017. That number grew to 72 per cent in latest survey for 2018.
Employers are also having difficulty finding and keeping workers in low-skilled positions, something blamed on diverse factors, from a lack of transportation and affordable housing to questions about work ethic and “soft skills” needed in the workplace.