Outlook 2018: Manufacturers flexing more market muscle

B.C.’s second largest employer aiming to expand its horizons 

Marcus Ewert-Johns, president of the BC Alliance for Manufacturing | Submitted

B.C. manufacturing had another strong year in 2017, adding 14,000 new jobs since December 2016.

Overall, the wide-ranging sector, which is the province’s second-largest employer behind construction, has increased job growth 13% since 2014. Marcus Ewert-Johns, president for the BC Alliance for Manufacturing, said the sector flies under the radar because of its diversity, which can include everything from aerospace technology and clothing apparel to plastics and petroleum. 

“Manufacturing in B.C. is underappreciated because it is not as visible as other industries,” he said. “A lot of manufacturing happens in buildings that could easily be an office or retail. Factories in B.C. are generally not massive work sites with big smokestacks. Plus, a lot of messaging in B.C. is about other industries.”

Ewert-Johns noted the province’s manufacturing sector had approximately 12,000 companies and employed 177,000 people as of October and that the region is expected to add 50,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

He said the next step for the sector is to cash in on the burgeoning technology manufacturing industry, which includes robotics, medical devices, digital optical sensory systems, the Internet of Things, smart-materials and wearable technology.

While B.C. already has a highly trained talent pool, Ewert-Johns said the hurdle is getting people into the industry.

“B.C. also has some cool strengths that could be leveraged. B.C. could become an advanced manufacturing hub where we connect our highly educated workforce and bring fabrication and software together. Of course, to get there, we need to aim big and have a co-ordinated strategy.”

RBC Economics’ Provincial Outlook 2017 noted that B.C.’s labour market over the past two years “has been nothing short of stellar,” posting average annual growth of 3.4%. But it cautioned that the province’s torrid pace of job creation will likely not be maintained into 2018 because of the increasing difficulty employers will have in finding candidates to fill job vacancies.

The latest Statistics Canada numbers show that petroleum and coal led the way for national manufacturing output up until September, increasing 10.3% to $5.5 billion from August, the third consecutive monthly gain. This was partially due to a rebound in pricing and volumes for petroleum and coal products.

Statistics Canada numbers for September showed a drop in food and transportation equipment manufacturing across Canada. The food industry was down 1% to $8.4 billion and overall sales in the transportation equipment industry declined 0.7% to $10.3 billion.

Although increases in the railroad rolling stock industry (66.8%), other transportation equipment (36.5%) and aerospace product and parts (5.6%) were posted in September, the gains were not enough to offset decreases in the motor vehicle (5.9%) and motor vehicle parts (2.5%) industries.