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CDR ONE-ON-ONE – Victoria Belbin, CEO, ACADA

CDR ONE-ON-ONE – Victoria Belbin, CEO, ACADA

BY JAY HEISLER

VICTORIA BELBIN

Chief Executive Officer at ACADA

As part of CDR’s annual Atlantic Canada themed issue, we asked Halifax Correspondent, Jay Heisler, to speak with ACADA’s CEO about some of the opportunities and challenges facing Atlantic Canada’s Aerospace & Defence industry. Here is that conversation.

CDR: How do you see your tenure so far with ACADA and what are some of your top accomplishments?

Victoria Belbin: It’s hard to believe I’m entering my third year as CEO of ACADA.

Every day I’m reminded how exciting and innovative the aerospace, defence, and security industry is in Atlantic Canada. Our members are working on cutting edge technologies and services that are making a real difference to national and international security.

ACADA’s membership base is growing as we enhance our program offerings. I’d like to note that our 2023 member survey captured a very high level of satisfaction, higher than last year at over 80% very satisfied. This is one of our top accomplishments, as our members’ success is at the heart of everything we do.

When we last spoke, ACADA was just launching the MACH Atlantic program. Since then, it has received great response from industry. In September we will have completed our first set of audits, followed by this first cohort of companies working with their sponsors on identified improvement projects. We hope to have one more company sign on to the program and complete their audit before the end of the calendar year and are working with a potential sponsor organization to do so.

We have also launched a series of programs to help our members build their HR capacity, accreditation and certification, and digital capabilities.

In addition to our ongoing programing, we are keeping industry engaged and on top of industry trends through our events such as Defence Trends in May, MASS23 in July, and Sea to Sky in August. In addition, we look forward to returning to DEFSEC as title sponsor in October.

I am also very proud of our team’s increased focus on gathering data to inform decisions to benefit industry. We have completed a detailed Labour Market Analysis, Economic Impact Study, and Member Survey that will form the baseline for activities over the next three-year period. I am energized in knowing our actions and programs will have a real positive impact on Atlantic Canada’s A&D industry, being so informed of the opportunities and challenges.

Overall, I am delighted by the positivity in the industry and the opportunity to work towards a successful future for our SMEs by helping them overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities through our research, programs, and relationships.

OPPORTUNITIES 

CDR: What are some of the major opportunities for the A&D industry in Atlantic Canada today? 

Victoria Belbin: The opportunities for our industry are tremendous! As I mentioned earlier, our annual membership survey results are a great reflection of what the industry here in Atlantic Canada perceive to be the top opportunities, which include: 54% of respondents expressed an intention to diversify their product or service offering in the next year. A strong majority of the respondents also indicated their desire to increase their export activity, mainly targeting the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. Respondents also showed desire for improvement to meet demand, with multiple business improvement target areas were identified by respondents, including key certifications like CMMC, ISO9001, and Controlled Goods. 75% of members are planning to increase their workforce in the coming year.  

This shows great optimism and opportunity, and we know the Atlantic Canadian industry is poised to serve customers on a global scale with their expertise, products, and services should we be able to grow rapidly to meet demand.

ACADA’s enhanced focus on collaboration with government, academia, and industry – and across the region –help bring many opportunities to fruition. For example:

Collaboration with Government:We work with government on both Provincial and Federal levels to promote and support our industry. From monthly meetings with Provincial Government officials, to briefing meetings and resources on the value and needs of the A&D industry, to our long-term collaboration with ACOA to mutually support the growth of SMEs in our region – our relationships with Government partners are truly reciprocal and a driving force for industry.

Collaboration with Academia:Our staff in each Atlantic Province spends time to connect with colleges and universities, presenting to the workforce of tomorrow, but also enhancing the connection between cutting edge research and innovation and industry need. We have been working with academia in all provinces to bring their insights to our events, make connections with students, and advise on future programing based on labour market needs.

Collaboration with Industry: In May, Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (ISI) and ACADA announced a partnership under ACADA’s MACH Atlantic program that includes ISI investing mentoring hours to help three local businesses learn and improve through the MACH methodology in MACH’s Atlantic’s first Cohort.

Collaboration in our Region: Uniquely positioned as a regional industry association, the ACADA team work to be connectors to spark conversation and collaboration. MASS 2023 (St. John’s, July 25-27) is the perfect example of collaboration and connection within the region. At MASS, we are bringing Northern and Arctic voices to the stage to discuss authentic collaboration in community, we are uncovering issues and solutions for DEIB in A&D, we are bringing attendees out into businesses and cutting edge academic institutions to see Atlantic Canadian excellence and innovation in real life, and we are working with our partners at ACOA to connect business, government, and academia in real-time, targeted B2B and B2G meetings.

These are only a few of the many examples where we see opportunities for Atlantic Canadian members and how we work with our many partners to bring them to fruition.

CHALLENGES

CDR: What are some of the challenges facing the industry in Atlantic Canada today? 

Victoria Belbin: Access to labour is the number one challenge facing most businesses in Atlantic Canada and our industry isn’t any different. We know this from our membership engagements, one on one meetings, and surveys.

It is for this reason that ACADA is working hard to ensure that Atlantic Canada’s aerospace, defence and security industry will continue to grow and thrive with the workforce it needs today and for the future.

Earlier this year we launched a series of pilot programs titled ‘HR Fundamentals’. We held training sessions on diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging; recruitment and selection for mid and senior management; and workplace culture. In addition to training, our members had the opportunity to apply for additional support to work with consultants to access services in these key areas. Our members are responding very positively to these programs and we hope to grow the programs based on our ongoing engagement to target their HR needs.

In addition, we undertook a very ambitious labour market study this past year. We worked with industry to capture baseline data by quantifying the workforce, as well as projecting labour and skills shortages. This labour analysis will help us better understand how to optimize the unique strengths of various industry partners toward a coordinated, holistic approach to sustaining growth of this sector.

Our learnings from the programs we offered this year, including the labour market study, will help us form the bases of ACADA’s 3-year strategy that will be designed to ensure that Atlantic Canada’s aerospace, defence and security industry will have the desired workforce to support continued growth and expansion.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

CDR: What message do you have for people around the world thinking of investing in or partnering with the defence industry in Atlantic Canada?

Victoria Belbin: First of all, I’d say that Atlantic Canada is open for business. Our A&D industry is strong and all indications show it’s getting stronger.

I believe this is primarily due to the people and business environment here in Atlantic Canada.

Atlantic Canada is a unique region that offers a great quality of life, there is new energy and innovation within the business community, strong ecosystem for the start-up community and an overall collaborative environment for industry, academia and government. We have a proven track record for this collaboration and our capacity to do more is there.

But let me bring you back to the aerospace, defence and security industry in this region to give you a glimpse of what’s happening and the opportunities.

In 2022, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council conducted an economic analysis on the Atlantic Canada aerospace, defence and security industry. APEC reported that the industry’s direct impact was $1.24 billion in GDP and with over 11,000 direct jobs, accounted for over 7% of the national industry and was responsible for almost $5.3 billion in spending and output.

This economic data matches the feeling of optimism in our most recent membership survey.

Our future is bright.

LOOKING AHEAD

CDR: What are your future plans for ACADA?

Victoria Belbin: The team and I have big plans for ACADA’s next three years – a vision we fondly refer to as “ACADA 2.0”!

Supported by our brand new three-year strategic plan, fresh perspectives on our team, and tons of data, we are poised to accelerate our value proposition to regional industry players! This will come to life with programing to help grow jobs, productivity, and export; strengthening the regional approach to our programing and offerings; growing our membership and network of industry champions; continuing our strong partnership with ACOA and the 4 Provinces to bring tangible value and future-looking programing to the A&D sector; and much more.

I would encourage everyone to keep a close eye on our social channels, website, and newsletters for all the latest – and greatest – in opportunities to expand their A&D businesses.

CDR: Thank you.

Jay Heisler is CDR’s Halifax Correspondent

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