It's a warning that runs counter to all the usual economic doom and gloom emanating from Ontario.

Owners of small and mid-sized manufacturers, like tool and die shops, in southern Ontario are warning of an imminent shortage of skilled workers.

High school students aren't choosing the trades as a career — not even in Windsor, a city defined by manufacturing.

Dan Moynahan, president of Platinum Tool Technologies, says, yes, the industry went through some recent tough times. But things are rebounding.

'Now we're faced with the problem of getting people.' — Dan Moynahan, Platinum Tool Technologies

Moynahan hired six employees this month. He'd like to hire more but they're hard to come by. The ones he has are working seven days a week.

"Now we're faced with the problem of getting people," he said.

Programs like the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program used to supply the industry with fresh blood. But it can't meet the demand for apprentices today.

"It breaks my heart," said Dario Rossit, longtime coordinator of OYAP for the Greater Essex District School Board. "A couple weeks ago, I had a tool shop call me and ask for 8-10 apprentices for the conglomerate of shops they have. But most of  the apprentices we have are spoken for."

Provincial problem

Rossit said it's a problem facing the entire province, not just Windsor.

By some estimates, Ontario could face a shortage of more than 300,000 skilled workers in another 10 years. 

That's partly why OYAP is launching a television ad campaign in mid-December.

"It’s a key time because it’s when students are selecting their options for next year," Rossit said.

High school students enrolled in the program begin their apprenticeship in Grade 11. In Grade 12 they are paid apprentices also earning credits toward graduation. It's 10 per cent theory and 90 per cent hands-on, Rossit said.

"The trade is something good to get into because you always have that as background. It's something to fall back on," said Tim DeOliviera, one of students enrolled in OYAP.

The program offers a seamless transition from high school to post-secondary apprenticeship training.

Enrolment down

In its hay day, the program ran three full classes. This week, two students are under Rossit's tutelage. Rossit said the economic downturn has hampered the program.

"Every time there is an article about a shop closing or restructuring there is a lot of negativity around that. Parents and students look at it as not a viable career trade," Rossit said.

Gage Demarce remains positive.

"As much as those places are closing, we still hear the stories of everyone calling the schools asking for us to come work for them," he said. "I'm confident."

Moynahan and Rossit say there is more than just jobs at stake. The entire industry could close up shop.

"It could limit the growth of our industry in the city, definitely," Moynahan said.

Rossit claims a local shop two years ago had to turn down a $23-million contract because of a lack of skilled workers.

"That was money that could have started up the local economy again," Rossit said.