News Column

Good Jobs Go Unfilled Because Workforce Lacks Training

Oct. 1, 2012

Heather Rutz

This month, to name a few, Ada Technologies and AAP St. Marys Corp. are looking for computer numerical controlled machiners. Crown Equipment Corp. and Select-Arc Inc. need welders. Nickles Bakery, Pro-pet, Whirlpool, Grief, AAP St. Marys and Setex are hiring industrial electricians and mechanics.

Tool and die maker, chemical operator, millwright, grain operator. The list of skilled manufacturing, industrial and operator jobs goes on and on, and unfilled even in this soft economy, because employers say they can't find qualified workers. There continues to be a disconnect between a still too-high unemployment rate (especially when factoring in people who have stopped looking for work) and unfilled jobs.

"Two weeks ago, we did five company visits, business retention and expansion visits, and every one of those companies said they have job openings in the skilled trades, machine repair, tool makers, machine operators, welders," said Jeff Sprague, vice president at Allen Economic Development Group. "Everyone we interview says this is a national issue. A little bit of a decline in the quality of the workforce, the stability of the workforce."

Chamber and development officials say companies tell them they struggle to find people who can pass a drug test and show up to work on time, people who dress appropriately and know when it's time to focus on work and not a Facebook feed. But the issue is more complicated than that, said Marilyn Horstman, who runs Allen County ACCENT, a "one-stop" agency that plays matchmaker for employees and employers, and provides training and employment services under the umbrella of Allen County Job and Family Services.

ACCENT does provide training in some of the "soft skills," such as resume building, interviewing and yes, being a reliable, prompt employee. But ACCENT clients also often need help with child care and transportation. If the job isn't on a bus line, they can't apply for it, because while they have a new training certificate from Rhodes State in their hands, they don't have a car.

"Low-income people can have some big barriers to employment," Horstman said. "Transportation, especially in Lima and Allen County, is a huge issue."

Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce President Jed Metzger works on a committee that is working on those kinds of issues, the nitty gritting of studying if a new route for Lima Allen County Regional Transit Authority, for example, is worth studying, or looking at other public and private transit services.

Also, some of the jobs, especially at an entry level, are being filled with staffing agencies. To begin with, a job can be part time, without benefits, with work that isn't always stable. Imagine taking the bus to a third shift, only to be told you're not needed that day, with no way to get home, Horstman said.

"Sometimes we'll hear from people that if a company has no loyalty to an employee, why should they show loyalty to a company" and take a temp job, Horstman said. "It's on both sides, and there are no easy answers."

Some companies are limiting their liability and expense in entry-level employees by working with temp agencies, development officials said. By going that route, they're not putting money into training an employee who doesn't work out. The change began after Sept. 11, 2001, Metzger said, when the economy experienced its first recent slowdown. Then came the housing bubble bursting and market crash, creating the Great Recession. It has produced a fundamental shift in how companies operate.

"Companies have just pulled back," Metzger said. "They want to get someone in and see how they work, producing positive results, before they'll spend money on training a person. The confidence level is just not there yet. They don't want to put themselves in that position again."

Also, during the recession, many companies shrank the size of their workforces through attrition. When employees left, they weren't replaced, but their tasks didn't go away, said Doug Durliat, director of the West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium.

For example, a machinist added maintaining the machine to a list of job duties.

"Now, that's the new baseline, someone who can run the machine and maintain it," Durliat said. "It's what I'm hearing in factories. Whether data will bear that out, I don't know, if there will be these new skills required for different levels of jobs."

But many companies are hiring for good, well-paying, full-time jobs with benefits. The jobs often don't necessitate four-year college degrees, but do require some kind of postsecondary training, a certificate in a certain program or skill, or associate degree. Much of the training can be accomplished in a year or less.

That is where the chamber and development group have begun on a new front, marketing the viability of these jobs to students. Later this year, the chamber will roll out a video selling careers in manufacturing. They will reach out to school district superintendents about the message and their desire to become a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) certified community, Metzger said.

Employees in these jobs can raise families on these salaries; for example, Metzger said, some manufacturing and skilled trade jobs average a $65,000 salary.

"But, sometimes the whole system is geared toward getting kids to college, performing on tests," Metzger said. "If you want to be a plumber or pipe fitter, you still need trigonometry and algebra. But sometimes we don't do a good job of relating to students. Students think manufacturing is like it used to be, and they devalue that type of occupation. We need to get the message communicated to educators and students."

Because so many jobs are unfilled now, a landslide of them is on the way as baby boomers retire and leave the workforce. In 2007, Durliat was touring a Honda plant and managers told him they would be replacing 40 percent of the maintenance workers in the next five to 10 years. Also, places such as Husky Lima Refinery have a "huge percentage" of the workforce eligible for retirement, Durliat said.

The region abounds with training opportunities, some of which is low cost and even free: From the bottom of the training ladder, such as basic math and reading skills or a GED diploma, to an advanced manufacturing pathway certificate through the consortium that provides participants job referrals and interviews and college credit toward basic and intermediate specific certification. Just in Allen County, certificates and degrees are available through Apollo Career Center, University of Northwestern Ohio and Rhodes State College.

Durliat's group is often a good first step in the direction of manufacturing employment. The staff can assess what kind of education and training a candidate needs and begin fitting that person in on the right track. People are often surprised at what can be accomplished, in terms of time and cost.

For example, Rhodes State is running a 10-week CNC auto cad class. Folks are often eligible for federal education grants and loans.

"You don't have to lock into a degree," Durliat said. "But so many times, it does come down to a person having some kind of technical skill, being on time and passing a drug test. Companies will work with you. They can get you the technical training. I have had human resources people say as much. It's simple, but you hear it all the time. Companies keep saying they have a skills gap and they need it filled."

Source: (c)2012 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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