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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

A lifeline for manufacturers: Manufacturers are only going to grow if they keep youth in the area

By Justin Prince

Note: This story was originally published in the Seaforth Huron Expositor.

For one half of each day, Central Huron Secondary School student Hayden Potter is usually sitting in a classroom for his Grade 11 courses. During the second half though, the 16-year-old is working at his cooperative education placement at Progressive Turf Equipment on West William Road in Seaforth.

Potter, who is enrolled in CHSS’s Specialized High School Major program for manufacturing, spends a few hours each weekday gaining hands-on experience in the industry, operating machinery at the specialty lawnmower company’s facility, located on West William Street in Seaforth. The company focuses on creating specialized products for golf courses, sod producers, grounds care for municipalities, professional landscapers and also maintaining sports turf.

“There’s a lot of different things you can do here (that you) then could do in other places,” says Potter, who lives in Seaforth. “There’s a lot more learning experiences you can get through here than you would during school.”

Programs such as the one Potter takes part in are what will help manufacturers in Seaforth and across Huron County keep its youth and grow economically, according to Huron Manufacturing Association Vice-Chair, Andrew Masse.

Masse, who is also the general manager for WindTrans Systems Ltd., says he considers the current industry in Huron to be quite healthy at the moment. The long-time skilled tradesman explained that some companies in the region are currently going through a series of changes. He believes they are not seeing the same amounts of cuts made in other areas, such as the closure of the Caterpillar locomotive plant in London, Ont. last year. The industry currently accounts for 16 per cent of all jobs in the region, as said by the Huron County Economic Development.

However, Masse also noted that companies in the area are finding it harder to compete with larger firms to hire and, in some cases retain, more technical workers such as CAD and machinery operators. He explained one of the ways the HMA and its manufacturers have been trying to keep them, is by supporting programs such as co-op placements at both the high school and post-secondary level. That includes the SHSM – which allows students to focus on gaining experience and technical certifications in a field of choice – at Central Huron Secondary.

“We need our local youth to get experience in manufacturing here because this will be the lifeline for some of these companies,” says Progressive Turf president and co-founder Luke Janmaat. He noted his company has hired 12 former co-op students who eventually spent a fair amount of time working at PTE since it started creating lawnmowers in 1989. “Without locals for some of these factories, they’re not going to sustain themselves.”

The HMA has also been giving students from local schools tours of neighbouring facilities to show them what the industry is doing locally. Masse added the HMA hopes to upsurge its efforts over the next two years to increase awareness.

“It’s important for people to know they can do those types of jobs and stay here,” says Masse, who also does work for Sun-North Ltd. and Envira-North Ltd. just off Railway Street in Seaforth. “I think a lot of the students when we were doing our tours here didn’t realize what jobs are here and what the things (the companies are) doing.”

Masse predicted many companies in the region will be expanding in the near future. He noted that the smaller manufacturers connected to his group of employers have been researching and developing a lot of new products. Janmaat says he is also in the same boat, trying to create new initiatives for its niche markets. It also recently supplied equipment to the sod producers for the golf course being used at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Masse says he sees his companies and others in Huron County increasing their capacities by “a quarter, a third or (up to) double” in the next three to five years.

“I can only see (the industry in the area) get better,” Masse says.

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