Cutting Tool Engineering
May 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 5

Job one? Selling jobs!

By Alan Rooks, Editorial Director

What if opportunity knocks, but no one answers? That’s been one of the metalworking industry’s biggest challenges as it tries to fill numerous job vacancies. The industry has long complained that it gets no respect. The public perceives shop work to be dirty and low-paying—something to be avoided if at all possible.

However, the recent manufacturing boom may be changing that perception. Multiple reports note the shortage of skilled manufacturing workers, giving the industry precious “free media” about unfilled jobs. There are good numbers behind the story: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 264,000 job openings in the manufacturing sector at the end of 2011, compared with approximately 100,000 two years ago.

Companies and trade groups seem to be stepping up their game, developing creative ways to recruit and train new workers.

Some companies are using a tried-and-true approach: cold, hard cash. Mazak Corp. is seeking welders to help build machine tools at its Florence, Ky., plant and is offering signing bonuses of $2,500, according to a report on CNBC. The report quoted Brian Papke, president of Mazak: “We have to move quickly. Offering bounties was one of the fastest ways we could go to attract people into our welding programs.”

The report also noted Seco Tools Inc. in Troy, Mich., had 11 job openings at the beginning of March, with some paying up to $90,000 annually. The toolmaker offers to pay up to $4,000 for the continuing education of people it hires.

Another approach finds manufacturers and colleges teaming up. As reported in the March issue of CTE, Dynomax Inc., a job shop and machine builder headquartered in Wheeling, Ill., runs an apprenticeship program with community colleges such as the College of DuPage. Younger students apply for the program, become full-time employees of Dynomax and are mentored by senior employees.

Flexible Steel Lacing Co., Downers Grove, Ill., which makes components for conveyor belts, has a similar apprenticeship program and also offers a selection of certificate programs, according to an article in Medill Reports, published by the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. The report noted 10 employees are enrolled in the manufacturing certificate program at community colleges.

Many of the manufacturing students at the College of DuPage are returning to school to upgrade their certifications and to learn how to operate new machinery. The average age of students is 35.

Government programs are also targeting the manufacturing worker shortage. Last June, President Obama announced funding for an offshoot of the Skills for America’s Future campaign, which focuses primarily on the manufacturing sector to help 500,000 students get the educational credentials they need to work in the industry.

One of the shops taking advantage of training funds like those is Arwood Machine Corp., Newburyport, Mass. Several years ago, the shop was facing closure, according to the GateHouse News Service. Today, Arwood has not only kept its doors open, saving 100 jobs, but is trying to fill nine vacancies. Shop owner Mike Munday credits the turnaround to a $100,000 federal grant to reeducate and retrain his workers so the company could enter the aerospace parts market.

While good press is nice, marketing the manufacturing industry is an ongoing need and requires the efforts of existing and new institutions. For example, Dr. David Cole, chairman-emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, has helped create a nonprofit called “Building America’s Tomorrow.” The goal is to increase the number of engineering students and lure them, along with established engineers, to Michigan. The organization is producing a series of videos, and perhaps video games, to show young people what manufacturing is like and highlight opportunities.

Finally, as reported in the February issue of CTE, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound is training veterans in an accelerated manufacturing training program, and placing them at Washington shops. Veterans, jobs, manufacturing, hope—the story doesn’t get much better than that. CTE

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