by Gloria Welton
The Atlantic Canada Aerospace and Defence Association (ACADA) held their first ever virtual Sea to Sky conference in August 2020.
According to Export Development Canada, airlines and aerospace have been the second hardest-hit industries on the Canadian stock market since the start of 2020.
“The conference addressed how the sector is being affected as a result of the pandemic and what is needed to maintain success during these difficult times,” says Allan Campbell, PEI Director for ACADA.
Speakers were available online to talk about what measures have already been put in place and what more is needed in response to COVID-19.
“Commercial aviation is among the most affected industries in Canada as a result of the pandemic,” says Francis McGuire, President, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). “It is probably going to be two to three years before we see a comeback.
Francis says companies are now and will continue to look at new products and diversification and adds that ACOA has always been there to support companies as they plan their future and develop new ways of doing business.
Tony Fang, Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, talked about the results of a survey of over 800 Atlantic employers indicating the outlook and activities to drive business growth before COVID-19. “Of the organizations surveyed, 301 were in NL; 200 were in NS; 200 were in NB; and 100 were on PEI. The survey provided a deeper understanding of the industry which is especially important at this difficult time.”
The survey findings and industry leaders who spoke at the conference all see a need for planning and strategic alignment by industry players and government to address the following areas:
- Automation: the use of more automation and technology to support cross-functional teams and faster information flows. “In the past, automation planning was driven by skills shortages in the labour force, and that is not going to change,” says Francis McGuire. “Now, companies are looking at automation as a solution to the social distancing restrictions that came with the pandemic. Companies now more than ever are looking at how to have fewer people in a space and keep production going.”
- Human resource management: staffing (more flexible workforce), compensation, talent attraction and retention. Tony Fang talked about the need to provide social/community connections and more training opportunities to keep people in the region.
- Education: This is not the time to cancel college programs, because a strong labour force is needed for the future.
- Business models: e-commerce, new service-delivery models, and online alternatives.
- Marketing: market restructuring, services, and products restructuring.
“The aerospace and defence sector is absolutely essential to Atlantic Canada,” says Francis . “Governments need to continue to support the sector for the long-term, with automation, new product innovation, a skilled labour force, and also a big effort towards digitalization.”
“We are looking at what supports companies need to market their products,” says Francis. “How do you present yourself online? what do you do to promote a new product? We are providing opportunities for virtual buying and selling, which have had fantastic results for industries.
“Trout River Industries in Coleman PEI is a great example of a successful Island-based company using digitization to their advantage,” says Francis. “They specialize in truck body assembly and are very competitive globally. Two new videos of interesting company stories are posted online every week and they are present everywhere on social media. As a result, they get requests from all over the world.”
The survey also listed some major issues as a result of working remotely, such as:
- the need for common purpose
- peer support
- in-person collaboration
- cultural and social cohesion
- sense of belonging
- shared identity
- employee privacy.
Francis says ACOA is looking to retain foreign students and temporary foreign workers who are currently in Canada. “We have to look at ways to help them become permanent residents. This is a very talented group of people with extensive backgrounds in the sciences. PEI companies want to connect with this group of people, and it is up to government to help make these connections possible and permanent.”
As each presenter gave an account of what the industry is experiencing, the message was loud and clear: now is the time to act to get back to a strong and vibrant sector.
For more information about PEI’s Aerospace, Defence, and Marine industry, contact Allan Campbell, Provincial Director PEI, Atlantic Canada Aerospace & Defence Association, at 902-314-3946 or email [email protected]
For a detailed look at four aerospace companies featured at the conference, click here