Skilled trades need more workers and diversity amid shift to EV: federal minister

With an upcoming electric vehicle battery plant that will bring thousands of local jobs, and the federal government's push to end the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, the future is looking electric.

Windsor women interested in skilled trades are looking to the electric vehicle sector

Mpokeleng Makwati works with electrical tools, with a screwdriver nearby. She's wearing safety glasses and smiling at the camera.
Mpokeleng Makwati is looking to pursue a career in the electric vehicle industry. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

As Windsor prepares for a new electric vehicle battery plant, and the federal government pushes to end the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, Canada's labour minister says the country needs more skilled workers, and more diversity among them.

Seamus O'Regan said in a stop in Tecumseh, Ont., on Monday that the shift to a greener economy will be powered by skilled workers, but there's a shortage of them in Canada.

He says he hopes to see more diversity in the skilled trades workforce — including women, Indigenous people, the LGBTQ community and persons with disabilities — to help fill the gap.

"Inclusion is really important because it's only when you include everybody that you get the best people," he said.

'This is the future'

Several women interested in skilled trades attended an event at Unifor Local 444's union hall on Monday.

The session offered information about the trades and a free CNC industrial mechanic millwright pre-apprenticeship with Women's Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor.

Mpokeleng Makwati, who used to work in call centres, says she's interested in electrical work and wants to be part of the EV revolution. 

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan (right) was in Tecumseh on Monday. He spoke at a press conference with Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara, left, along with Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk and Steve Ray, chief operating officer of Essex Power. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"This is the next best thing to do for my career, for myself as a woman and the rest of the world too, you know?" she said. "This is the future."

Jennifer Holland says she's worked in trades before, and more recently, has worked in seniors' services.

She sees her future back in the trades as well, perhaps in the world of EVs. She says her whole family was excited to hear about the $4.9-billion Stellantis-LG Energy Solution EV battery plant set to open in 2024.

"That's huge news for everybody in Windsor. That's [an] amazing opportunity, going to bring lots of awesome jobs. It's super exciting. I can't wait. I hope I have an opportunity to work there. I hope all of these ladies do."

Funding for EV chargers snapped up

O'Regan was in the region on Monday, during Canada's electric vehicle week, to announce there was strong uptake for a program subsidizing the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

Through the Charge Up Windsor-Essex program, 144 electric vehicle charging stations will be going in to 35 locations around Windsor-Essex

The federal government has pledged $1.7 million for the project, money that was expected to last two years but was allocated in about three months. 

Asked if more funding would be committed, O'Regan said, "I think that's definitely the direction we're going in."

Meanwhile, the chief operating officer of Essex Power Corporation, which is running the program, also says there's a demand for skilled workers.

"I think the challenge is always out there," Steve Ray said. "If you stop looking for the best people then you're going to fall behind, so you can call it a shortage or you can call it constant demand, but we're always looking for good people."