A recent New York Times interview of an Ohio factory owner saying she couldn’t find job applicants willing to take drug tests — or able to pass those tests — has local heads nodding in agreement.
Chris Kershner, vice president of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the article confirms what he already knew well from his colleagues in other chambers: The problem isn’t unique to Dayton.
“Yes. we hear similar reports,” Kershner said. “Substance abuse is absolutely a problem.”
Another commonly felt problem is work ethic — or the lack of it, he said.
“It’s people actually showing up for interviews, and showing up for scheduled drug tests and showing up for their first day of work on time,” Kershner said.
“Employers want someone who is going to be there when they say they are going to be there,” he added.
Andrea Hoff, director of prevention and early intervention for Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said her agency is capping its first year running a new program meant to help small- to medium-sized businesses navigate the thorny issue.
The program helps companies develop their own drug-free workplace policies and develop ways to give employees a “second chance” when they fail drug screens.
“The reason we focus on small- to medium-sized business is because those are the organizations that tend not always to drug screen,” Hoff said. “So if you have an individual who is using, they will try to get a job in places where they know they don’t have to be drug-screened. So they’re not going to very large employers.”
Steve Staub, co-owner of Harrison Twp.’s Staub Manufacturing Solutions, said he is up front with his job applicants that they will have to pass a drug screen.
Perhaps 15 percent of the time, his applicants will admit that they won’t be able to do that.
“I’ve had guys flat out say, ‘No, I can’t.’” Staub said. “Well, there’s no sense in talking any further.”
Most substance abusers actually are employed, she said. But they often work for smaller-sized businesses expressly to avoid drug tests, she added.
Kershner agreed that a solution is going to involve business, government and decision-makers in society at large.
“It will take a completely collaborative effort. … Everybody at the table to understand a solution to this problem,” he said.
Regina Mitchell, co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, east of Youngstown, told the Times in a story recently that at least four out of 10 of her applicants test positive for drug use.
In response, she said she set up an apprentice program, enlarging her pool of hiring prospects by de-emphasizing candidates’ experience and current skills.
“It takes more time and money to train and evaluate someone, but I can have confidence the person is drug-free, comes to work on time and won’t call in sick,” the Times quoted Mitchell as saying.
“Imagine the money we could save or invest as a company if I were able to hire drug-free workers on the spot,” Mitchell also said. “But that’s just not the environment we are in.”
In the Dayton area, leaders of manufacturers have wrestled with many of the same problems for years.
The Dayton Region Manufacturers Association (DRMA) is eyeing the launch of a $1 million fund-raising campaign to try to address the issue, hoping to spark greater cooperation between companies and educators.
West Central Ohio is home to about 2,500 manufacturers trying to fill some 3,400 new positions every year, Jon Foley, a trustee of the association — which has members in 14 counties — said in May.
From 2015 to 2025, the DRMA expects an average of 3,301 annual manufacturing job openings in its service area, Foley told this news outlet.
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Some local executives put that number higher. Staub has said area manufacturing openings are closer to 4,000.
The problem, unfortunately, isn’t new. The former manager of the Behr Thermal Products plant in Dayton told us in 2011 that he had openings for 55 people immediately.
“It’s the soft skills that are in shortage,” Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturing Association, told us at the time. “It’s things like passing a drug test. It’s coming to work on time.”