The unemployment rate in the manufacturing sector is considerably worse than the overall rate in Hamilton, as the city undergoes a process of deindustrialization and a shift away from heavy manufacturing.
By Katie Stoneman
Published March 18, 2011
The unemployment rate for Hamilton's manufacturing sector has continued to hover around 17 percent since 2006. Compared to Hamilton's overall unemployment of seven percent, this suggests that manufacturing workers are among the most affected.
The displaced workers continue to struggle to find ways to maintain a regular standard of living.
The average Hamilton manufacturing worker is in their mid to late 40's and has a home and household to maintain. This task becomes difficult to accomplish when dealing with a considerable decline in income. Most of those out of work no longer have medical or dental benefits, causing them to drain their severance payments and employment insurance to make ends meet.
"The manufacturing sector is continuing to decline," said Sam Vrankulj, researcher and instructor in the school of labour studies at McMaster Univesity. "The process of deindustrialization is marching on. But associated with that we've also had a kind of de-unionization as well."
Many of the lost manufacturing jobs were unionized, which guaranteed relatively high wages, pensions, benefits and some job security. The jobs currently available to manufacturing workers are normally not unionized and do not offer the same wages, benefits or job stability that the workers came to depend on.
We can see the combined deindustrialization and de-unionization in McMaster's Innovation Park. The Park was originally a Camco site, which housed a workforce of an average 40 years of age with about 20 years seniority.
These workers have been displaced to the service sector to find work, where finding meaningful employment means dealing with a job market that's potentially hostile to one's skill-set.
There has been a general shift away from the traditional, heavy manufacturing to one of a different, much lighter manufacturing.
While the laid-off workers have undoubtedly developed a complex set of both social and technological skills over their years of manual labour, one of the reasons for a decrease in manufacturing jobs is technological change in the sector.
"It takes less people to make a widget and it is anticipated that employment will continue to decline in this sector because of technological advancements," added Judy Travis, Executive Director at the Hamilton Training Advisory Board.
"The number of businesses continues to grow. It is just that businesses don't need as many people anymore and the large businesses of the past with many employees are disappearing."
If businesses don't require people in the way that they did in the past, how are people to be employed? The economic future is bleak for manufacturing workers.
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