Driving forward after GM announces Oshawa closure

GM has announced it will stop manufacturing vehicles in Oshawa effective Dec. 2019 Photo credit: Chronicle archives

Durham College president Don Lovisa knows first-hand about the impact of a plant closure on a community.

Lovisa, grew up in Fort Frances, Ont., where he says he watched as business at some paper mills in northern Ontario slowed down to the point that some of them eventually closed.

He witnessed the effects, which he says were felt economically and socially.

So Lovisa understands how the recent announcement of the GM Oshawa plant closing rocked the city.

GM Canada announced Nov. 26 no new jobs were allocated for the Oshawa plant as of December, 2019. This will result in more than 2,500 people losing their jobs.

Lovisa says when he first heard the news his concern was for people and families.

Durham College president Don Lovisa says the school is prepared to help GM workers affected by the impending plant closure. Photo credit: Chronicle archives

“It runs a lot deeper than just a job,” Lovisa says, explaining there are many generations of families who have worked at GM in Oshawa.

He says there will also be a ripple effect, for every one job lost at GM there could be seven jobs lost in the wider community.

The public has already begun to see this with an auto parts company in Ajax announcing it will close as a result of GM’s announcement.

DC plays an important role in advancing the community in the wake of GM’s decision through education, Lovisa says.

There are four community employment offices DC runs outside the college, in Port Hope, Port Perry, Uxbridge and Bowmanville.

These offices help with job searches, resources, information and training.

Lovisa says the offices can act as support to GM workers.

“To help them establish where they (the GM workers) are, where they need to be and how do we fill that gap in the middle,” he says.

Samantha Dicks, a third-year student in the business administration – human resource management program at DC, has mixed feelings about the GM plant closure.

“I think we’ll adjust better than we would in previous years, we are becoming a college town,” she says.

While Oshawa is slated to close, GM plants in Ingersoll and St. Catharines are staying open and Dicks says she hopes local workers will be offered jobs in those locations.

“It’s the loss, right? It’s like a part of Oshawa is dying. A part of Oshawa’s heritage is dying,” she says.

The rest of the automotive industry isn’t dying, however.

Dr. Moustafa El-Gindy, professor in the automotive, mechanical and manufacturing engineering at UOIT, says “the close of this assembly line will not affect at all the job market for our automotive engineering students.”

He adds the recent trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico and its tariffs on steel exports could be a factor in the decision to close the plant.

While the GM plant will be closed, El-Gindy says there are other auto manufacturing companies in Ontario, such as Honda in Alliston and Toyota in Cambridge.

“They (Oshawa GM workers) have good skills and they have good opportunities to get other jobs,” El-Gindy says.

UOIT automotive engineering students spend 90 per cent of their education learning about computer simulation, dynamics and control systems and about 10 per cent on manufacturing, El-Gindy says.

Many UOIT students get hired in the U.S. and Europe, including the GM plant in Detroit and Volvo in Sweden, he adds.

Many auto companies are focusing on research and development (R&D) and GM is no exception.

In Markham, the General Motors Technical Centre is expanding and hiring for R&D purposes, El-Gindy says, adding GM is expanding, not shrinking.