When Bruce Power invited students from various Ontario universities to take part in a hackathon, they didn’t anticipate such a positive outcome.
Each group of students was given 48 hours to solve a specific problem the plant was facing − and within 24 hours they had come back with workable solutions to fix it.
“That hackathon was a really good example of how these students locked themselves in a room and came up with a solution − and some of our folks said, ‘How come we didn’t think of that?’− and that’s how we need to challenge our thinking,” James Scongack, Bruce Power’s Executive Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Operational Services, said at a policy event at Queen’s Park on May 28.
Scongack’s anecdote came during a panel discussion at the event, Advanced Manufacturing: Building Ontario Through Talent and Innovation, presented by Ontario’s Universities. Labour Minister Laurie Scott joined fellow MPPs, manufacturing industry leaders, university researchers and other stakeholders to hear a panel of industry experts discuss opportunities and challenges in growing the advanced manufacturing sector in the province.
With Ontario’s universities and colleges producing 42,000 STEM graduates in 2015, the province was one of the top five producers of these graduates in North America, he noted.
The panel discussion, moderated by Financial Post Executive Producer Nicole MacAdam, highlighted the opportunities for closer collaboration between postsecondary education institutions, industry and government to help Ontario’s manufacturing sector modernize and grow. Scongack told the hackathon story to demonstrate the benefits of thinking outside the box and breaking down silos to leverage universities’ problem-solving capabilities.
“When you look at advanced manufacturing today in Ontario, there really is no blue collar or white collar any more – the real focus is on agility. We have an opportunity to break down traditional barriers,” Scongack said.
Bruce Power, which is partnering with a network of advanced manufacturing operations in a large-scale refurbishment of its nuclear reactors, is bringing together a broad mix of robotics experts, engineers, nuclear scientists, millwrights and boilermakers, to work on technical projects, he added.“When you look at advanced manufacturing today in Ontario, there really is no blue collar or white collar any more – the real focus is on agility. We have an opportunity to break down traditional barriers.” - James Scongack, Bruce… Click To Tweet
Panelist Tony Chahine, Founder and CEO of advanced textile technology firm Myant, also emphasized the need for industry to be proactive in partnering with university talent.
“The advantage we have in Toronto, given the access we have to universities, the talent pool is phenomenal. And the opportunity for us to think out of the box and to have multidisciplinary teams involved in finalizing a product is amazing.”
However, he said, the company is rapidly expanding − he needs to hire 100 engineers over the next 15 months – and finding people with the right mix of skills, across fashion design, engineering and technology, is a difficult task. In response, Myant has entered into an agreement with Ryerson University to set up a lab on the campus − a mini replica of the company’s own lab − where students and faculty can work together to develop the kinds of solutions and skills Myant will need. The company also hires students from several universities on co-ops, with a view to hire them permanently in the future, Chahine said.“...given the access we have to universities, the talent pool is phenomenal. And the opportunity for us to think out of the box and to have multidisciplinary teams involved in finalizing a product is amazing.” - Tony Chahine, Myant Click To Tweet
Panelist Rhonda Barnet, President and COO of AVIT Manufacturing and past chair of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said there is “a global talent war” and that government and industry need to find ways to expose more young people to the dynamic jobs available in advanced manufacturing.
Leveraging university research is also a priority, Barnett said. “We have some of the best academic institutions in the world in this province,” she said, adding that industry should forge closer ties with them to enable the commercialization of more of their research into new innovations and products.
Partnerships are also crucial to the task of reskilling manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs. “I believe in lifelong learning, and in this age of disruption, we have disrupted workers. We need to find ways to reskill and upskill these people because we need them back in the labour force,” she said.
Barnett urged the postsecondary sector, government and industry to work together on ways for universities and colleges to offer new, streamlined retraining programs that will match the skills that industry needs.“I believe in lifelong learning, and in this age of disruption, we have disrupted workers. We need to find ways to reskill and upskill these people because we need them back in the labour force.” - Rhonda Barnet, AVIT Manufacturing Click To Tweet
All the panelists agreed that advanced manufacturing offers huge opportunities for growth in Ontario. Scongack said the province should focus on developing the high-premium areas in which it could stand out. “We can’t go and compete with [low-cost] countries like Mexico and China,” he said. “So we have to play in the markets where people will pay for quality.”
Council of Ontario Universities President and CEO David Lindsay thanked the panelists for an engaging discussion, adding, “Universities want to be partners with industry, with government and with our college partners, to make sure we have a successful and prosperous future for our students, our communities and our province.”
At the event, attendees were able to interact with universities’ advanced manufacturing research up close, with displays from institutions in fields, including advanced industrial materials, 3-D printing of surgical instruments and machine tools, and cost-effective electricity management.
There are many more examples of how Ontario’s universities are building on the province’s strong manufacturing base and clusters of technology companies, while ensuring students have the skills, knowledge and experience they need to thrive in Ontario’s ever-evolving manufacturing sector in our booklet Partnering for a Better Future for Advanced Manufacturing.
The event was the second in the Ontario Universities Policy Discussion series at Queen’s Park, following a discussion on innovative solutions for ending hallway health care which took place last fall.