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Microart in the Heart of Specialized Hardware Tech Talent: York Region

Microart is an electronic manufacturing and design services company based in Markham, the unsuspecting home of an evolved and concentrated ecosystem of global hardware tech players and specialized talent, bred from one generation to the next.

How did this hub come to be? As one of the fastest growing municipalities in Ontario and a key economic driver of York Region, Markham has a history of contract manufacturers setting up shop. We sat down with Charles Tonna, Executive Vice President at Microart, to talk about the development of the local hardware technology ecosystem and why its future is in the Toronto Region.

What does Microart do? 

Our company is a contract manufacturer that provides printed circuit board (PCB) layout, PCB assembly, PCBA test development, and box build/ general manufacturing services  for proto-type and low-to-mid volume production. Since Microart’s inception 40 years ago, we’ve provided complete circuit board assembly services to Canada and the U.S. In our Markham location, we have more than 300 employees working on up to a thousand different products in an advanced manufacturing facility that includes the latest in design, production, and testing equipment.

Every piece of tech has a different PCBA in it – your phone alone has three! To put it simply, Microart starts out with a raw circuit board, places components on the board (such as microchips and semiconductors), and designs around the populated board to produce hardware for a range of customers across North America, bringing household tech to people like you and me.

What’s the history of contract manufacturing in Markham?

Well, it all started with IBM. Since 1983, IBM’s Canadian headquarters has been based in Markham, making it the cornerstone of our tech community since then. With IBM’s reputation, the local population were incentivized to join its workforce – more and more people became trained and certified in hardware engineering, gaining specialized experience in advanced manufacturing. Once IBM brought attention to the pool of untapped talent in York Region, other large companies like Celestica (who I call the mothership of Canadian contract manufacturing) came to the region.

However, once these manufacturers started downsizing a few decades later, they were left with a large amount of experience in technology, giving rise and opportunity for even more companies to arrive and start tapping into the region’s hardware tech space. Players like SMTC, Creation, Artaflex, Radient, Bittele, you name it – they came. And that’s how IBM turned the global manufacturing industry’s attention to Markham, Ontario.

Is that why Microart chose Markham?

Microart’s President and CEO, Mark Wood, was born and raised in Markham. He wanted to give back to the community, creating jobs for the local economy and nurturing the labour pool of thousands of people who were already educated, certified, and highly experienced in the legacy of electronics manufacturing.

Moreover, the quality and diversity of Markham’s workforce can’t be found anywhere else. We have a workforce largely comprised of immigrants and mature workers with decades of experience on the production floor. At Microart, we are focused on culture as the best way to retain talent – treating our people like family and an integral part of our team, with an understanding of our shared history in York Region.

How does Microart leverage the Toronto Region’s talent pool? 

One of our mottos: “Turn your job into a career.”

The best thing about our industry is that you don’t need a college degree to join the Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) industry. For those looking for an entry-level job, you can start on our production line and in 5 years’ time, you can grow into a program manager – because we invest in our people first and foremost.

This is why Microart works closely with postsecondary institutions across the Toronto Region to develop our domestic talent. I myself am on the board at Durham College, and Microart has an apprenticeship program in conjunction with Canadore College, based out of North Bay, Ontario. Our 4 apprenticeship routes include: hardware technicians, network technicians, microelectronics manufacturers, and Surface Mount technicians.

How does Microart contribute to the future of hardware tech in Canada?

Organizations, like ventureLAB, partner with us to grow our talent pipeline and connect us with those who are looking to grow a career. By participating as a partner in ventureLAB’s Accelerate AI program, a 6-month program funded through Scale AI (Canada’s AI Global Innovation Cluster), we give back by supporting, growing and scaling AI startups in the supply chain industry.

The manufacturing industry in Markham has an interesting history of being very reciprocally connected, and that has not changed. We are glad to have the opportunity to make partnerships and find the best talent in York Region.

To learn more about Microart, visit their website or check out their careers page.
For information about the Toronto Region’s hardware technology industry, learn more here.

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