The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 20,000 unemployed people are looking for work in Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties, the three counties that make up the Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area.
But some employers look at the slim pickings they get from job fairs and want ads and wonder where all the good workers are.
The disconnect between those looking for work and companies struggling to find workers is one reason so many people in the region are not reaping the full rewards of the booming economy. It’s also a reason companies see their job openings going unfilled.
“What they are saying is, ‘I have the opportunity to win more contracts if I could find more workers,’” said Angelia Erbaugh, president of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association, representing 400 regional companies. “So, they are in fact turning away work.”
How can companies get the workers they need to help the region prosper and how can more people land the jobs they need to improve their lives? That is the focus of The Path Forward, a Dayton Daily News initiative aimed at finding solutions to the region’s biggest problems.
There is good economic news locally. The June unemployment rate in the three-county Dayton metro area was 5.1 percent, according to non-seasonally adjusted numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s well down from the dreadful numbers posted during the recession years, and some previously discouraged job hunters are once again looking for work.
But the unemployment rate doesn’t reflect the whole story. Many people work but aren’t getting full-time hours. Some supplement their pay with a second or even a third job, often settling for work that doesn’t pay well. Experts say the economy will never fully recover unless more people are able to pay bills, buy the things they need or save for the future.
“In my mind there is no economic recovery in the way in which you want to speak about it — a chicken in every pot — without training people to higher skill levels than we are currently training them,” said Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton Business Research Group.
The skills gap
The irony is there are plenty of jobs to be had. Currently, about 15,500 job openings are posted on the OhioMeansJobs.com website for the 12 counties around Dayton.
Nearly half of those posted job openings — 47 percent — pay $50,000 to $79,000, according to a news release from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
But there’s a catch. All of the posted jobs require at least a high school degree or GED, and nearly three-fourths require an associate’s degree or better.
The two most common job postings are for heavy load and tractor-trailer truck drivers, a job that requires a Commercial Driver’s License; and registered nurses, which requires a nursing degree.
That points to one of the biggest hurdles in matching jobs with people: the skills gap.
“As a rule (manufacturing jobs) require more skill than in previous decades,” Erbaugh said. “Gone are the days when a kid graduates from high school and dad kicks him out of bed and says, ‘Go get a job down at the factory.’”
Employers need people with basic skills, including math and the ability to communicate and follow directions, as well as more technical skills ranging from running computerized factory equipment all the way to the high tech and specialized jobs that pay well but require advanced training.
But they also need improved worker “soft skills,” such as being polite on the phone and showing up for work on time. Companies are also looking for employees who demonstrate leadership ability, said Shannon Bryant, interim vice president for workforce development at Sinclair Community College.
Sinclair is at the forefront of the area’s workforce training efforts.
Companies hire the college to evaluate their culture, needs and vision and to train existing employees so they can “skill up in the organization,” Bryant said. Those in-house training programs augment the school’s degree and certification offerings, which target students of all ages and work situations.
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Aligning education and training with current and future workforce needs is a major thrust of the collaborative efforts ongoing between businesses, schools and local governments. But while everyone agrees more of that training is needed, it’s not clear who will pay for it.
Public entities such as Montgomery County have taken budget hits in recent years, including to resources aimed at workforce development. In the past four years, federal funds for the county’s workforce development program declined by 40 percent, according to Montgomery County Administrator Joe Tuss.
Adam Murka, chief of staff at Sinclair Community College, said workforce training is vitally important to prepare the region for what’s to come.
“The investment you make in an educated workforce makes a difference,” Murka said. “The areas that have a trained workforce are going to be well-equipped for the seismic changes that are going to occur in the economy.”
Barriers to finding work
Lack of skills isn’t the only barrier keeping people on the sidelines.
Some people can’t afford a car to get to work or don’t have a driver’s license. Some have drug problems or a criminal record. Some don’t have much of a work history, or have frequently switched jobs.
Some have very complicated home lives.
“Generally, when someone has an issue with work, it’s not the workplace or the work environment that we’re really dealing with,” said Doug Barry, president of Dayton’s BarryStaff, which places employees in jobs, mostly in manufacturing. “It could be something that’s going on at home. It could be transportation. It could be day care.”
Company officials get frustrated over the constant turnover, particularly with entry-level jobs, Barry said.
“The biggest skill that our employers are looking for is somebody to show up every day and do their job,” he said.
Steve Staub, co-owner of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, held his own in-house job fair this year as he struggled to add to his 40-person staff. He received 40 resumes at the job fair and hired four people, but only one of them is still with the company.
“We really want people that are going to join our team and want to retire from here,” said Staub, who offers $15 hourly starting pay with full benefits and raises for people who get trained to do more skilled work, such as running the laser cutting machines he uses to fabricate metal parts.
He said many resumes are from people who have never worked one place for more than a year, a huge red flag for him. His want ads state that potential employees must pass a drug test and criminal background check, but in phone interviews with potential applicants some will say, “Well what do you mean by that? Is marijuana included?”
“Yes, it is included,” Staub replies. “I don’t want a guy that’s high driving a forklift.”
Michael Bridges is the founder and president of Peerless Technology Corp. in Fairborn and a member of the Wright State University Board of Trustees. He said he worries about the obstacles faced by those who work in lower-paying service industry jobs, and argues that more training is needed at all levels — to prepare the type of high-tech worker his company needs as well as entry-level workers for a variety of businesses.
Many entry-level workers, Bridges said, struggle to advance beyond that first, low-paying job.
“I do believe that 40 years ago many of the entry-level jobs were just that, they were entry-level jobs,” Bridges said. “What has happened today is that entry-level jobs are being substituted as ‘living-wage’ jobs, but they are not providing a living wage.”
Help wanted job ad postings by the numbers
15,554 job openings in 12-county Dayton region
14,148 require a Commercial Driver’s License
11,449 require skills involving freight
71 percent require an associates degree or higher
46.6 percent pay $50,000 to $79,000 annually
Source: Postings on OhioMeansJobs.com compiled by The Conference Board
5 Highest number of job postings in Dayton region
Kettering Medical Center 760
Booz Allen Hamilton 184
Dayton Children’s Hospital 179
Crown Equipment Corporation 177
Source: Postings on OhioMeansJobs.com compiled by The Conference Board
Like all of you, we care deeply about our community, and want it to be the best it can be. There is much to celebrate in the Dayton region, but we also face serious challenges. If we don’t find solutions to them, our community will never be its best.
We have formed a new team to dig into the most pressing issues facing the Miami Valley. We want to engage you and others in the community to move toward a stronger and better future. We’ve begun a project we are calling The Path Forward in which, with your help and that of a new 16-member community advisory board, we will seek solutions to issues readers told us they were most concerned about.
In June, we began the project by examining the current state of the opioid epidemic. A few weeks ago, we began an examination of Dayton Public Schools. Beginning Sunday and continuing today, we explore why the local economy is booming for some people, while others continue to struggle.
Follow the project on our Facebook pages and at DaytonDailyNews/PathForward, and share your ideas.
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