By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service
LANSING — Worker shortages are threatening to curb growth in Michigan’s manufacturing sector, and drug testing could be contributing to the problem by impeding both hiring and retention, industry experts said.
The staffing shortage is exacerbated by the fact that many potential workers can’t pass drug tests to be able to operate machinery, according to Chuck Hadden, president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
“I have members now that stopped drug testing, and that’s not a good situation, because they need to fill the jobs,” Hadden said. “Another one of those ‘I don’t wanna know’ situations.”
Hadden declined to name companies that have stopped drug testing.
David Miller, president of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce, said manufacturing can be hazardous, and workers need to be aware of their circumstances and surroundings.
Having drugs in their system diminishes their alertness and can lead to injuries, he said.
A lack of available talent is the most prominent constraint area manufacturers face, Miller said.
“No question, I’ve been working with chambers (of commerce) and doing economic development work for 18 years, and I’ve seen surpluses of workers and I’ve seen shortages of workers,” Miller said.
“Definitely, my experience has shown there’s a huge need for additional workers, and it’s pretty much across the state and in many cases across the country.”
The state lost a lot of workers in the 2007-08 recession and had continued losing workers until recently, he said.
It’s going to take a long time to make up for all the workers Michigan has lost, he said.
Hadden said, “Right now, we are at such a rate of unemployment that all manufacturers are struggling with the talent issue. They’re at a point where I met with an owner the other day, and she was telling me about how she can’t find anybody who wants to go work for her.”
He said the shortage is holding back growth of the state’s manufacturing industry.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs in Michigan with the economy that people have left and gone to better jobs in different areas,” he said. “We’re trying to solve that, but it’s not something that you can solve overnight.”
The Michigan Manufacturers Association is working with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers to put shop classes back into high schools, Hadden said, which might encourage students to pursue trades and other careers rather than going to college.
Miller said, “It’s hard to change paradigms sometimes. There are people who don’t want to go into trades, who don’t want to go into the type of work where you work with your hands, things like that, so it’s going to take us a while to change that perspective.”
Drug testing comes up in conversations with local manufacturers, and it’s something they struggle with, Miller said.
However, he said he hasn’t heard from any local companies that have stopped drug testing as a way to make the hiring process easier.
“When you’re working with that production-level person who might be making 12, 13, 14 dollars an hour, especially when you’re looking for new workers, younger workers — a lot of them seem to be really enthralled with drug use,” Miller said.
Drug testing is mandatory for some employers, such as government contractors and aviation companies, he said.
“There are a number of businesses in our community that don’t have the flexibility to decide whether they’re going to discontinue drug testing or not,” Miller said.
Legalizing recreational marijuana might make the hiring situation even more difficult due to limitations of testing, which he said he doesn’t think is accurate for drugs other than alcohol.
“If it’s legal to use marijuana recreationally, how can you determine on Monday morning whether that person had done it in the parking lot prior to coming in to work or whether they did it Saturday over the weekend? It’s so hard to tell,” Miller said.
“It really is an issue that we have to figure out though, and I don’t know what the answer is.”
Miller said he knows of no drug testing exceptions for medicinal marijuana users.
David Harns, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation in the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the bureau does not make decisions regarding employment or drug testing.
Miller said, “From my discussions with manufacturers, whether you have a (medical marijuana) card or not, if you’re tested and you’re found to have marijuana in your system, they have no option but to let you go. That just kind of clouds the issue some more.”
Hadden said that a potential solution lies in finding a way to “proof” marijuana. If tests could accurately determine the dosage of marijuana and could determine when it was used, workers would be able to use marijuana responsibly and still be able to work.
“Right now if it’s in your system, it stays in your system for 30 days,” Hadden said. “How do we better secure that, you know, this was two weekends ago and you’re fine now? We need a better proof for that, and whoever comes up with that is going to make a lot of money.”