There’s something visceral about being inside a machine shop. It’s the smell of oil, the hum of the lathe and the fact that in just a few hours, skilled tradesmen using powerful machines can turn a raw block of steel into almost anything. This transformation is nothing short of amazing and the metaphor is not lost on us when we meet our subject for this episode of Niagara Stories.
Jordan is a machinist’s apprentice at Niagara Precision in St. Catharines. When we meet him he is punching in a sequence of buttons on a complicated looking machine called a CNC machine. He’s putting the final touches on a part that will end up in a giant wind turbine somewhere in Canada. Making things has always been in his blood.
Jordan grew up down the street from this particular shop and was introduced to the skilled trades at a young age. His grandfather was a machinist and he would spend countless hours marvelling at the tools in his garage. But it was when Jordan was placed in Niagara Precision for his grade 12 co-op that his transformation really began.
What started as an afternoon co-op has turned into a full time job and a career path that has Jordan excited. “I love coming into work every morning. Every day is different and I learn something new every day.” He credits his high school shop teacher for guiding him down this path.
“I was never really good at school but I liked to work with my hands and make things. My shop teacher saw that and really pushed me to get into the trades. He encouraged me to never give up, taught me a lot and I can’t wait until the day when I’m the guy in the shop that can do the same for someone else.”
When Jordan finishes his apprenticeship, he will enter into a skilled trade that is in extremely high demand. Niagara region has more than 620 manufacturers employing 17,000+ people. As the region grows and big players like GE and GM set up shop, the demand for skilled trades will continue to increase.
The manufacturing sector in Niagara region contributes 1.6 Billion (USD) and accounts for the largest section of the regions GDP. An excellent place for anyone with a skilled trade.
Niagara region has been a manufacturing hub for a long time. One of the most significant moments in engineering history happened in 1895 when Nikola Tesla and industrialist George Westinghouse created the worlds first hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls, changing forever the way the world looked at harnessing natural forces.
So why is Niagara an Economic Trade Corridor? There are a number of reasons, but a few stand out. First, it’s all about location. In terms of moving products, Niagara has access to highways, railways, airports, multiple border crossings and the Welland Canal.
Next, Niagara has access to people. In the region alone, there is a labour force of 226,000 with millions more in nearby GTA and Hamilton areas. There are also several world class universities and colleges feeding this growing workforce including Brock University, Niagara College and nearby McMaster University in Hamilton (which has one of the top engineering schools in the country).
Finally, one of the top reasons manufacturers love doing business in Niagara is the low cost of doing business. In fact, Niagara is rated the 7th most cost competitive area for manufacturing in North America (out of 115 locations). In the region, businesses can realize operating costs as low as $1.37 (USD) per square foot.
Whether you’re already in a skilled trade, or working towards one like Jordan, the opportunities for a great career (and lifestyle) in Niagara region are ample. A great place to start is to check out the Niagara Industrial Association (NIA) which acts as a direct link between government, private sector and academia. Their trade shows are an excellent opportunity to meet employers in person and see if they are a fit for you.
For skilled tradesmen like Jordan, the future in Niagara is bright.