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CDR TALK BACK

CDR TALK BACK

CAROLE LEE RHEINHARDT

President & CEO, ACADA

 

CDR asked Halifax correspondent, Jay Heisler, to interview ACADA’s new president & CEO about initiatives like a webinar and new partnerships.

Here is that conversation.

 

 

CDR: How does your professional background inform your future work with ACADA?

RHEINHARDT: I’ve worked in the sector before, back in the province I was an investment director for five years in the sector so I do know a lot of the players primarily in Nova Scotia and so I do know some of the key challenges in the sector as well. And I know having been a CPA the finances and business side of things. I also was the Vice President of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters so I understand the membership organizations and membership operations.

My background is really taking us to the next level, supporting members with what they need to grow their businesses. As for my background with the police: I was a corporate planner and I did policy. I certainly understand a little bit more around the security side of things, so that gives you a much wider scope about public safety and security, especially what is going on with the pandemic.

 

CDR: Atlantic Canada accounts for just 0.6% of the country’s population however, experts estimate that it houses 14% of its defence industry and 13% of its aerospace sector. How do you feel defence and aerospace affects the lives of Atlantic Canadians?

RHEINHARDT: I think we punch above our weight here in Atlantic Canada. We don’t have a big population base but it’s a sector that’s vitally important. It provides a level of income employment that is really above average. A lot of employers are innovative, they’re cutting edge, they provide very good benefit programs, they provide excellent opportunities for Atlantic Canadians. Some of them have been around for a really long time as well, so they have become in some ways a foundation for the areas and regions where they are.

Oftentimes, in Atlantic Canada we’re seen as a bit more conservative, and a bit slow to change, I think this is one sector that has really been able to pivot. We have companies that have opened up whole business lines in support of COVID and that ability to pivot and be reactive, I think that speaks to the vibrancy of our sector here in Atlantic Canada.

 

CDR: What about recruiting challenges during the pandemic?

RHEINHARDT: Well, you know there are skill challenges. It’s really going to be interesting to see the overall impact of the kind of downsizing of the economy and COVID. We still have people who are not fully back at work again but before COVID there was a skill shortage and it was with pretty much all of our companies. I recognize if you look at recruiting for the Navy, recruiting for all of our military operations it was always a challenge as well. it will be interesting to see after all the government disappears what will we be left with. Will we be left with a group of people who need to be re-skilled or re-aligned with some other sector? Or will we still be facing the critical skill shortage that we were left with beforehand? I think in the Spring we will have a much better picture of what the labor market is going to look like in Atlantic Canada.

Many of our companies they never shut down, they keep on going, they took three or four days and sorted themselves out and then gained the new opportunities, such as the new graduates, what absorption there will be in the labor market for new skills. We’re looking at the Navy and the Military the same way, we don’t really know right now if there are groups of people left permanently without employment when things start to pick back up again. One of the things we’re doing at ACADA is workforce development. Our companies have said we need people, we need good people, we need good skilled people to grow our operations.

Always it’s been important to market the sector as good career options and get that information out there. Now we’re looking toward do we need to focus on re-employing people, doing some re-skilling, looking at that because there are some employers who say “I need, X, Y and Z” and others who had to let skilled people go. There may be some on-going assessment, some realigning, so ACADA can support employers going forward.

 

CDR: Any thoughts on the possibility of federal defence cuts?

RHEINHARDT: I think our members are really concerned about it, and the sector is really concerned in general. Many have been around a long time, and they have seen it time and time again, that this usually means a postponement of some of the big procurements. It’s a big concern that has been expressed to us by our members over the past few months. We’re trying to get ahead of things by looking at opportunities and what else is going on elsewhere in the world.

 

THE VOICE OF DEFENCE IN ATLANTIC CANADA

 

CDR: What do you see as ACADA’s role in Atlantic Canada?

RHEINHARDT: I see ACADA really being the voice of the sector in Atlantic Canada, promoting the sector, representing our members’ interests, talking about our opportunities and challenges. Many people do not realize the huge impact that the sector has. We have global companies that are absolutely outstanding in the world here, so we will be highlighting that at every opportunity, promoting the benefits of that, taking the sector where it needs to go next. Let’s take a look for example at Stelia Aerospace in Lunenburg.

That huge employer in that small community shapes the face of that community. We reached out to our members in April and even with COVID some of our members are really growing and developing. They have been able to seize new opportunities and move forward. Being small and nimble and able to move forward is a big advantage for our companies.

 

CDR: How has the industry adjusted to the pandemic?

RHEINHARDT: We did a survey, we actually called everyone and reached out to them in April and we found that 97% of our companies were still operating. They may have had to take some time to organize lines and figure things out but they were still moving forward. There has also been some innovation around doing things differently, the remote working, those kinds of things have made companies reassess. Many companies are reassessing their business development going forward. A lot of companies have said this is an opportunity to get caught up on things they have not yet done that they needed to do that will make them more competitive.

We’ve tried to support them with information about programs and services. One thing we are focusing on is how when you are not going to physical trade shows and events, how do you work the virtual trade shows? How do you create relationships? We used to do three in-person conferences every year and now we’re doing virtual conferences. It’s been a challenging time but underneath it all has been this incredible push on innovation that we’ve been seeing happening.

I think the world of work has really changed permanently. You don’t have to live in a certain geography just because you’re working there. Whole organizations have moved all of their work online because you don’t have to come into an office anymore. What will that mean? Does that mean that people can work anywhere?

 

DEALING WITH GOVERNMENT CUTBACKS

 

CDR: What other challenges lie ahead for the industry in Atlantic Canada?

RHEINHARDT: I think there are a lot of challenges, again, after things settle what will the skills situation be like. Will we see a slowing down of government procurements? Will we see federal cutbacks? Many of our companies do business with the US and the border being closed really impacts your ability to go back and forth. It makes it very difficult when they actually do have to attend and go to other countries to do that easily. Those are some of the challenges, logistics we keep hearing, we had a virtual conference last month, we had a logistics expert who said we really have to rethink the whole logistics model and our companies have really had to do that.

We had companies who, parts of their supply chain were fine, and other parts of their supply chain didn’t really work. For a lot of companies they can’t even bring their workforces back because they don’t have childcare, they have to stay at home. There’s always the challenge of the business climate, the cost of doing business here, the taxes here, all of those kinds of things. Those are some of the pieces coming up that I think our members in the sector is really being mindful of.

 

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH CSC?

 

CDR: Any predictions for the future of Irving and Lockheed Martin’s work in Halifax? What about for the Halifax shipyards in general?

RHEINHARDT: What we are finding is there hasn’t been a lot of new information about what is going on. It could be that there is nothing new to report or it could be that whatever new information is out there it is just not being circulated. Those companies that you identified, they are members of the supply chain. A lot of those organizations are part of very big programs that cost a lot of money, so what’s going to happen to those programs, what is going to happen to new programs.

We’ve already seen that our companies have already pivoted, have already figured things out and are moving forward so we are confident that whatever comes their way they are going to be able to handle the challenge. We just don’t know what the future looks like with regards to procurement.

 

CDR: Thank you Carole and we wish you well as you settle in to your new position.

 


 

Jay Heisler is CDR’s Halifax Correspondent

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