May 1, 2000
have long been laboring under a shortage of qualified workers to
meet the demands of the turn-of-the-century shop floor. Now, an
expanded training program is screening and preening high-grade candidates
to fill the gap.
Superbolt, a Carnegie producer of mechanical stud and bolt tensioners,
plant manager William Myers has often found it frustrating to find
and keep entry-Ievel machinists to maintain his 85-employee work
force at full capacity.
Skena, manager, methods engineering at Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford,
has had similar problems. So has Bob Kettering, manufacturing manager
at DuraMetal Products Corp. in Irwin. "The last five years
it's been particularly noticeable," says Kettering.
says he's had trouble getting applicants to even turn out for interviews.
And he's offered jobs to people, only to have them quit a few months
later. That may come as a surprise, especially when jobs like these
pay an average of $8 to $10 an hour to start, plus benefits in many
cases--and they're available to individuals at a high school graduate
level, in some cases earlier.
2000, a training program that graduated its first class of machinists
in 1998, has eased the situation for all three companies, bringing
them better-trained and more motivated candidates than they've
been able to draw in recent years from the vo-tech schools and the
general workforce. That same model is being expanded to come to
the aid of other manufacturing segments experiencing the same kinds
region's industrial past has left at least one significant legacy:
high-wage jobs for the remaining workers in manufacturing, which
still accounts for about 16 percent of private sector jobs in a
13-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania. According to figures
provided by MANUFACTURING 2000, manufacturing in Allegheny County
leads all categories in annual wages, with $2.8 billion wages paid.
The annual salary for manufacturing segment employees is more than
$40,000 annually, while the average salary for all other sectors
is about $28,600.
the relatively high wages paid for entry-level jobs in manufacturing,
however, employers are finding it difficult to find qualified applicants.
Companies point to several factors that have created a dearth of
available and reliable labor. The educational system, parents and
society in general are steering students toward the academic track,
they say, encouraging college as a first choice. "I don't see
a whole lot of push in the schools toward machining," says
the companies say, a lot of vo-tech schools have not kept up with
technology, and students often perceive the machinist and tool-and-die
trades as dirty work, not as a field dominated by modern CNC equipment
that requires more sophisticated training to operate. And, say the
business operators, vo-tech schools are too often a repository for
poor academic achievers or students with disciplinary problems.
points out that vocational schools, from which he used to get nearly
all of his entry-level machinists, once provided a rich pool of
potential employees. A local vocational school that Hamill Manufacturing
works with, for instance, has a co-op program that allows students
to work part-time while they go to school to prepare for a position
as an entry-level machinist. This year, the school could recommend
only one student out of a class of 20 to Skena for the program,
afar cry from a decade ago. "I would have had 10 kids 10 years
ago," says Skena.
heavy industry in the region wound down, it displaced many low-skill
workers. The new manufacturing economy, in contrast, requires employees
who are better trained, with more exacting skills than were once
required in heavy industry. For the new skilled laborer, the emphasis
is much more on skill than on labor. The pool of available workers,
however, has shrunk.
success of MANUFACTURING 2000 has led to the creation of New Century
Careers, a nonprofit umbrella organization that will include the
machinist training program and training to qualify individuals in
welding and in electronics assembly. "MANUFACTURING 2000 embodies
the employment goals of businesses and public officials —
to attract skilled workers and keep them in the region,"
says Paul Anselmo, executive director of the program.
manufacturers see a different kind of candidate coming out of MANUFACTURING
2000. "The group you are dealing with is post-high school,"
are a bit more mature, many have tried college and found it wasn't
for them or need to get a full-time job that offers a stable future.
The screening process calls those with the most aptitude and places
them in the appropriate training program at no cost to the applicant.
The hiring companies pay the program $1,250 for each employee they
hire permanently, a fee the manufacturers say is well worth it if
they get an effective employee.
strength of MANUFACTURING 2000, says Kettering, is that it creates
a stronger, more direct link between training and employment. The
process identifies, screens and trains applicants, then places and
develops skill-based talent in partnership with academic and vocational
institutions. DuraMetal Products has hired two of the program's
graduates and expects to hire a third.
while the model has worked well for the machinist trade, what are
its prospects for success in the other fields? The employers appear
to have high hopes. "Given a little bit of time, I think they're
going to be pushing out some quality entry-level people," says
that's from someone who's been there.
an application and current list of classes: 1-800-227-8210
article is reprinted with the permission of the SBN Magazine.