Written by Rodelle Genoway, CME and Shaun Soonias, SFNEDN.
As we celebrate Manufacturing Week in Saskatchewan (November 28th – December 2nd), Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) and the Saskatchewan First Nations Economic Development Network (SFNEDN) wanted to reflect upon the opportunities that lie ahead for Saskatchewan and our Indigenous citizens. Building on two recent reports from our respective organizations and an interview with JNE Welding founder, Jim Nowakowski, we see a bright future ahead for Saskatchewan if we can take the appropriate steps to translate the information into action.
While Saskatchewan’s economy is diverse, the manufacturing sector is often neglected, or at least overlooked, both as it relates to its contribution to our province`s wealth and as a career path. We hope this article continues to build on the strength of the manufacturing sector and to promote the kind of partnerships necessary to business, First Nations and Métis, education and training institutions, and government that will continue to move Saskatchewan forward in an ever competitive and fragile global economy.
In its report, Manufacturing 2025: Saskatchewan’s Action Plan to Grow Manufacturing Sales to $25 Billion by 2025, CME found the greatest challenge to growth in manufacturing was attracting and retaining skilled labour. Companies also noted that labour issues impacted their ability to bring products to market.
While 19% of manufacturers have partnered with a Saskatchewan post-secondary institution on an applied research/innovation-based project, it is unclear what partnerships exist with respect to skills development.
We see a tremendous opportunity for partnerships with education and training institutions to address both the immediate needs of Saskatchewan’s manufacturing sector and to plan for its labour force requirements moving into the next decade. This path forward has a much greater impact than merely supplying manufacturers with skilled labour. It has the potential to change the socio-economic well-being of our Indigenous population and Saskatchewan’s GDP substantially. It its report, City of Bridges: First Nations & Métis Economic Development in Saskatoon & Region, the SFNEDN found that Saskatchewan loses earnings of $1.083 billion dollars per year due to the education gap experienced by Aboriginal peoples. This was further corroborated in the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board’s November 2016 report.
However, this opportunity presents its own challenges. Saskatchewan’s manufacturing sector needs to see Indigenous people as a solution to its labour issues. CME’s report demonstrates manufacturers see immigrant workers, Canadians from other regions and graduates from education institutions much more favourably than our own Indigenous citizens. Yet, this is not an insurmountable problem, rather one of education, networking and sharing of positive experiences.
Beyond addressing labour shortages and creating opportunity for our Indigenous citizens to participate in the economy as employees, opportunity exists for First Nation and Métis Economic Development Corporations to enter into and participate in manufacturing through mergers and acquisitions.
A recent example of a successful partnership in manufacturing is between JNE Welding, Des Nedhe Development Corporation (English River First Nation) and Peter Ballantyne First Nation.
JNE Welding founder Jim Nowakowski shared that “In 1980, JNE Welding began business with the philosophy of partnering with customers to build project integrity and mutual success. In 2007, when we were revisiting the corporate brand, JNE Welding recognized their success in partnerships went well beyond those established with their valued customers.”
“Combined Strength” is JNE Welding’s brand. “Our Partners” has been, and continues to be, one of the fundamental building blocks of JNE Welding’s brand and certainly fundamental to its success over the past 35 years. “We approach all of our partnerships with an attitude founded on the principles of a win-win relationship,” says Mr. Nowakowski.
So how did this partnership develop? Jim shared that “…I’ve wondered all the time if it wasn’t a good strategy to engage aboriginal ownership; even when talking through private equity firms I mentioned this to them; after dancing with private equity for 6 months, I realized they weren’t valuing our company appropriately; they concerned me because they’re in it for about 5-7 years and then want to sell it off to another investor; my concern is that they may lose their flare from a couple of bad years, they are parted out, jobs are lost, opportunities are gone, and it has detrimental effects to the community.”
Jim says of the partnership “It’s almost given me a new wind in my sail, it restored and reenergized me. I’ve been at it a long time, gone through a lot of cycles, and thought I was getting played out, but once we completed that deal it was very exciting and I had new purpose.”
Of retiring and leaving the company, Jim shared the following “The one thing a lot of people ask me over the years, does this mean you’ll be retiring, or you’ll be able to take it easy? I said absolutely not, I’ve only got a few years to make sure we take full advantage of our new partnership and make sure it’s successful. I want our partners and employees to be successful and be a win-win. The only way I can do that is to take it seriously and work towards a bright future for them, so that when I leave it’s in good hands and I have a team that is going to carry the ball forward.”
We agree with Mr. Nowakowski and look towards the horizon to where First Nations and Métis in Saskatchewan partner and acquire opportunities in manufacturing. An active role in addressing food and water security issues as well as environmental and land management pressures will facilitate First Nation and Métis businesses in applying our Indigenous values to our collective endeavours. Like all Canadians, our chief concern is caring for our people.
From water and wastewater products to modular construction, agricultural implements, food processing to mining equipment and electronics, manufacturers are an important and growing component of Saskatchewan`s economy. We will achieve greater success when we ensure Indigenous inclusion in the economy, from employment to economic development.
CME and SFNEDN would like to thank Jim Nowakowski for this time, passion and leadership both in manufacturing as well as blazing new trails in partnering with Indigenous business.