By XINJUAN DENG
Capital News Service
LANSING – A shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing has become more acute with the recent economic recovery, industry experts say.
“The shortage is a big problem for our members,” said Delaney Newberry, director of human resource policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association. “They do have some positions open as the old workers began to retire, and they are worried about filling the positions.”
Newberry said the skilled employee that manufacturers want falls into a wide range of positions, from basic workers to technicians and engineers.
For example, among manufacturers with shortage are Top Craft Tool Inc. and Lunar Industries in Clinton Township; KEO Cutters, Super Steel Treating Co. and Schlitter Tool in Warren; and Midwest Mold Services Inc. in Roseville, according to the association.
In December, Gov. Rick Snyder reported that more than 77,000 job openings in the state remained unfilled.
And an October 2011 national survey from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute in Washington showed American manufacturers cannot fill as many as 600,000 skilled positions.
The survey also predicts a growing shortage in next three to five years.
JoAnn Hinds, president of Diamond Die and Mold Co. in Clinton Township, said her company, which specializes in the design and manufacture of tools, faced a worker shortage for a while.
“I believe it will get worse if the economy does improve,” she said.
Hinds said her company is looking for skilled labor with programming and math skills.
Brad Watts, a regional analyst at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, said “soft skills” are extremely important.
“The ability to show up on time, learn new tasks and work in a team environment is consistently important,” he said.
One key reason for the shortage is that young people are less willing to choose manufacturing as career.
In addition, Watts said, “Recent survey work suggests that the public perception of manufacturing jobs has slipped. Some semi-skilled and skilled workers may be shying away from manufacturing careers after witnessing the major downsizing that occurred during the 2007-09 recession. ”
Newberry said most people might believe it is a “dry industry” and won’t consider it as a career. “Manufacturing has had some bad headlines in the past years and built some bad images, so people may think it is not a good industry to get involved in.”
And Hinds said, “Manufacturing and machining have not been given as a true career decision in the career-building set for junior high and high school students.”
“Shop classes are no longer offered in high school programs with budget cuts, and academics are pushed as the only way to ‘get ahead,’” she said.
Another reason for the shortage is the low number of workers who leave their jobs voluntarily, according to Watts. “The data show that the quit rate remains at recessionary levels for manufacturing workers, which suggests that many individuals with the skills necessary to move up to new or better positions are refusing to leave their current jobs.
“It seems that workers are too nervous to give up a secure job for something new. For manufacturers seeking high-skilled workers, it may be possible that many of the individuals they want to hire are not among the unemployed, but are working at other manufacturing jobs,” Watts said.
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago said manufacturers have eliminated low-skilled jobs and replaced them with fewer high-skilled positions due to global competition. Therefore, many displaced workers may lack the skills needed for the new openings.
The report also points to shrinking wages over the past years that have turned high-skilled workers away from the industry.
The shortage trend is pushing some companies to grow their own workers.
Hinds said the Diamond Die and Mold Co. cooperates with Macomb Community College to match its training needs and the college set up a company-funding scholarship that gives a first-year student $500 towards tuition for taking a machine-related class.
“It’s a one-time offer so we can get more students to explore this career. We set it up to be offered for four years to date and will extend it to this or another program for a total of 10 years,” Hinds said.
“We also hope to offer placement opportunities for the college for on-the-job training,” she said.
Other community colleges like Mott Community College in Flint are developing similar training programs.
Newberry said the manufacturers association works with policy committees and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to identify companies’ needs for training, and helps them recruit.
Hinds, Watts and Newberry all predicted that the shortage trend will continue.
Watts said, “Manufacturers may need to work to remind potential workers, especially young workers, of the benefits of manufacturing careers.”