Factory jobs going unfilled

Area, state manufacturers report difficulties finding employable workers.

Behr, which employs 1,000 people in Dayton, could use dozens of additional workers now. “We could bring in 55 more tomorrow,” Baker said, snapping his fingers.

But the German auto parts producer — whose customers include General Motors, Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — regularly encounters local applicants who can’t read at an eighth-grade level, can’t pass a drug screen or aren’t willing to put in eight hours on their feet, Baker said.

Baker is not alone. Other state and local manufacturing industry insiders report similar problems finding workers with basic work skills or even a simple desire to work hard at a time when manufacturing in Ohio is rebounding.

“It’s the soft skills that are in shortage,” said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturing Association. “It’s things like passing a drug test. It’s coming to work on time.”

“To find young folks interested in the manufacturing and machine tool trade, with skills and a good work ethic, is getting difficult,” said Michael van Haaren, president and chief operating officer of Troy’s Stillwater Technologies Inc. “For some, we even have to give a reward just for showing up for work, it seems.”

Ellyn Chaney, the Behr plant’s human resources manager, recalled that earlier this year, a worker asked to be fired because it would be easier for him to get unemployment benefits than work.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Chaney said. “I think at this point in time, we’ve lost more people than we’re bringing into the plant.”

Manufacturing jobs are vital to Ohio’s economy. According to a 2010 Ohio Manufacturing Association report, manufacturing was the top private sector employer, comprising 14.11 percent of Ohio jobs in 2008, higher than health care and retail trade, second only to government.

At Behr’s Dayton plant, 1600 Webster St., the jobs available are unskilled labor positions at starting hourly wages of $11.65, including benefits such as tuition assistance. After the first 90 days, there are raises, and bonuses, such as an additional $1.76 an hour for coordinator positions. Four skilled trade positions, two electricians and two maintenance positions also are open.

Of the 259 candidates who have been offered jobs at the plant since January, 132 have made it through a hiring process that included an interview, an aptitude test, a 90-day hair follicle drug screen and other steps. Of those, 76 workers have stayed on the job to date, leading to a crunch for Behr just as the auto industry has experienced new strength (compared to the past two years). Workers are putting in seven-day weeks because there aren’t enough employees to do the work without extensive overtime, Baker and Chaney said.

“It’s been an unbelievable battle,” Chaney said.

Roy Turner Jr., president of the local union that represents Behr plant employees, International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 775, couldn’t be reached. But Jim Clark, president of the international, said Behr “will have to reconsider their overtime demands if they want to retain qualified new hires.”

Clark said he knows of about 100 graduates of the local Manufacturing Skills Standards Council program — an industry standards-based training, assessment and certification program to train workers in manufacturing — who are looking for full-time work.

Bill Lukens, chairman and chief executive of Stillwater Technologies, has 80 employees at his plant. But if he could find the right people, “We could probably take four or five right now,” he said.

“When we need to find young, good, technical people, with interest in the manufacturing field, they are very hard to find,” van Haaren said. “Competing manufacturing companies seem to be fighting over an ever smaller pool of people — who are aging fast.”

An estimated 200,000 “replacement workers” will be needed for Ohio manufacturing jobs in the next five years as older workers retire.

Further complicating matters is advancing technology, which requires new workers have greater skills and problem-solving abilities. And manufactures also acknowledge they let too many workers go during the recent recession.

“There are good manufacturing jobs that are not being filled because the talent pipeline was allowed to erode,” said John Gajewski, executive director of manufacturing for the Workforce and Economic Development Division of Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. “And now we have to develop that talent pipeline.”

He thinks it will take a partnership of community colleges, universities, businesses and government to begin to fill that gap.

“We in manufacturing need to do a better job of communicating the opportunities that are available in manufacturing, and we need our public partners to assist in that,” Burkland said.

There need to be “fewer walls” between educators and the manufacturing community, Burkland said, adding that he wants to see a return to job apprenticeships, internships and co-ops.

“Those are programs that work, and we know they work,” Burkland said.

Like Lukens, Gajewski believes educators, parents and students need to see manufacturing with fresh eyes.

A career in manufacturing “is a viable option, and it’s very important and honorable,” Gajewski said.

“It’s not your father’s job anymore,” Lukens said. “It’s considerably more sophisticated.”

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