Competition Heating Up In Quebec Aerospace

Companies like Pratt & Whitney Canada looking to attract skilled workers to handle surge in orders.

MONTREAL (CP) — Fuelled by growing global demand for aircraft, Quebec's thriving aerospace industry is being forced to pull out all stops to attract a limited supply of skilled workers.
 
For the first time in years, engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney Canada is heavily promoting a job fair to fill the 100 new spots it is creating to meet surging orders.
 
''It's the first time we have ever done something like that,'' spokesman Jean-Daniel Hamelin said from the company's headquarters in Longueuil, Que.
 
''I think it's saying simply that we're expanding and growing.''
 
Jobs include machinists, engine assemblers, sheet metal workers and operations inspectors.
 
The new hires, who will earn good salaries, will raise the total employment at the south shore facility to about 5,700. Pratt & Whitney employs more than 7,000 people in Ontario and Quebec.
 
Quebec accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the aerospace activity in Canada. It ranks sixth in the world, behind the U.S., France, Britain, Germany and Japan.
 
The average aerospace worker earns $60,000 a year, up to 15 per cent more than other manufacturing sectors, said a Quebec workplace aerospace sector organization.
 
Pratt & Whitney isn't the only one looking for skilled workers. A constant exit of older workers puts pressure on companies to seek out new recruits. But projections of industry growth over the next decade is placing additional pressures.
 
While he hasn't heard about a shortage of workers, analyst Jacques Kavafian of Research Capital Corp. said the industry is faced with the challenge of a booming market.
 
''It's going to be very strong for the next 10 years, we think and so labour is going to be tight in that business,'' he said in an interview.
 
Companies are loathe to talk about poaching from their competitors, but it's an ongoing battle faced by some as they all fight for the same potential workers.
 
Many of the hires come from two aerospace training schools in the Montreal area.
 
Serge Tremblay, executive director of le Comite sectoriel de main d'oeuvre en aerospatiale, said attracting young people to such work is challenging.
 
''We have difficulty at this time, and probably for the first time in aerospace, to find youngsters that want to do machining curriculum program that takes a year to a year and a half to graduate from,'' he said.
 
The group says that between 1984 and 2005, aerospace employment in Quebec grew by 4.4 per cent annually. Employment is expected to surpass 46,600 by 2008, many in small companies of less than 500 workers.
 
The industry expects to increase its overall workforce by 2,000 each year.
 
Yet less than 200 aerospace trained students graduate each year in Quebec.
 
That puts them clearly in the driver's seat even though many companies are constrained by collective agreements from offering financial incentives.
 
''The students select the company,'' Tremblay said.
 
The most well-known of the companies gain the most interest.
 
''It's like hockey, everyone wants to go for the Canadiens at one point or Toronto and then you select other companies,'' he said, pointing to airplane manufacturer Bombardier Inc.
 
Bombardier spokeswoman Sylvie Gauthier said the company is always hiring but has maintained a steady workforce for the past few years.
 
About 12,500 of the company's global workforce of some 27,000 are located in Quebec.
 
Like other large manufacturers, the world's third-largest airplane manufacturer faces its biggest challenge replacing engineers and production development experts.
 
Recently, its hunt for engineers was necessitated by the launch of the CRJ1000 aircraft.
 
''We hire with whatever our needs are,'' she said.
 
A possible launch of the CSeries widebody aircraft would propel a more intense hiring phase. In 2005, it projected the project would create up to 5,000 jobs. That includes 2,500 workers for assembly, later identified as the Mirabel facility north of Montreal.
More in Labor