Manufacturers need workers trained quicker

Low levels of educational attainment have contributed to an economic dichotomy in which there are now more job openings than there have been since before the last recession began, but employers can’t find workers with the skills and training needed to fill many of those positions.

Even if President Obama’s proposal announced last week to knock community college tuition down to zero for qualifying students were to pass Congress, the effectiveness of the program wouldn’t be known for several years, and many employers have more immediate needs.

“Our members are all screaming for qualified people,” said Angelia Erbaugh, executive director of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association (DRMA). “Our greatest need is in those areas that don’t require a four-year degree, and often, not even a two-year degree. But they most certainly require some skills training.”

To that end, the DRMA is in the early stages of developing a pilot program that would grant industry credentials to workers who complete a short “foundational training” program for entry level manufacturing jobs.

“DRMA is working on an alternative program to help fill the demand from manufacturers in the region,” Erbaugh said. “Our industry very much supports post-secondary education and training, but our goal is to get more people into the worker pipeline quicker who are likely to succeed and have the basic training.”

Still, while the immediate need for factory workers with basic skills can be developed through certificate programs or other alternative educational programs, the need for more advanced training and education continues to grow in an industry that remains the backbone of the U.S. and Ohio’s economy.

The manufacturing sector directly employs 12 million workers, or 8.8 percent of U.S. employment, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. In Ohio, an even larger share of workers, 12.6 percent, is employed in manufacturing, which plays an outsized role in supporting overall employment in the state.

Only two states, California and Texas, have a higher number of manufacturing workers than Ohio, according to the report.

But the industrial automation that has greatly increased productivity in the manufacturing industry also requires additional skills that generally require some level of post-secondary education and higher wages.

“We like to say manufacturing used to be 80 percent brawn and 20 percent brains, now manufacturing occupations require 80 percent brains and 20 percent brawn,” Erbaugh said. “As the equipment and technology used in manufacturing advances, so does the required skill levels of workers.”

Tom Maher, chairman of the Montgomery County Workforce Investment Board, pointed out that Fuyao Glass America will pay starting wages of about $12 an hour for most of the more than 1,500 jobs the Chinese-based auto glass producer plans to bring to the Dayton area.

“We are finally seeing some upward movement in wages, but it’s got to go a lot higher,” Maher said, noting that job growth in the local area has been compromised by the poor quality, and pay, of many of those jobs.

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