“When you are a manufacturer whose workforce is getting closer to retirement, in Quebec, and particularly in the region, you have a problem,” summarizes the president of Polycor, Patrick Perus, regarding the current economic context which makes life difficult for businesses.

The natural stone producer headquartered in Quebec is affected almost as much by rising interest rates as by the scarcity of labor. “Our business is going well, but we had to give up investments due to the combined effect of these two factors,” he explains in an interview with La Presse. This is our reality. »

Polycor’s reality is the one experienced by many manufacturing companies in Quebec, according to a survey carried out by the Manufacturers and Exporters of Quebec (MEQ) among 168 manufacturers who have positions to fill.

Six in ten companies reported having to refuse contracts, reduce the number of bids for projects or pay penalties for late deliveries.

The most obvious solutions, such as overseas recruitment and automation, are not within the reach of all companies, especially smaller ones. Four in ten companies with fewer than 100 employees have never attempted to recruit abroad and a quarter of those that have had no success, according to the MEQ survey.

Polycor is one of the companies that has recruited abroad. “It’s not complicated, it’s hell,” says its president. The process is long, complex and expensive, he said.

“It’s not an easy solution,” continues Patrick Perus. He believes that we really need to explore all local recruitment possibilities before embarking on this adventure.

The use of automation, the other lifeline of manufacturers, is hampered by the increase in the cost of borrowing.

In the stone quarrying sector, many tasks still have to be carried out manually. The president of Polycor still remains on the lookout for advances in robotization. “Again, it can’t solve all the problems,” he said. It takes capital to invest in the technology, but you also need engineers to operate the machines, which adds to recruitment problems. »

There remains training, a tool that can be better used by companies, according to Patrick Perus. “In Quebec, the resources exist and it works well,” he believes, emphasizing the openness of educational establishments to the labor needs of businesses.

The number of vacant positions in Quebec’s manufacturing sector recently fell from around 31,000 to 21,000. But the improvement is not uniform, underlines Véronique Proulx, president and CEO of MEQ and sponsor of the survey.

“There is a significant impact for the smallest businesses, despite this improvement,” she said, pointing out that of the 13,000 manufacturing companies in Quebec, only 1,000 have more than 100 employees.

“Larger companies have more means to offer better conditions to their employees,” she explains.

Despite the difficult context, Polycor had a record year in 2023, according to its president. He expects “stability, or even slight progress,” in 2024 as the economy continues to slow.

This slowdown will reduce tension on the labor market and facilitate recruitment, according to Patrick Perus, who is already seeing an improvement.

“The problem is less glaring, but it’s not going to go away,” he says. In Quebec, with the aging of the population, the scarcity of labor is a problem that is here for good.

More immigrants will be needed, especially in the regions. “It’s a mathematical certainty,” he says.