One year later, manufacturers still looking to hire

December 20, 2012 Updated Dec 20, 2012 at 8:48 AM EDT

By David Bertola, Business First

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One year later, manufacturers still looking to hire

December 20, 2012 Updated Dec 20, 2012 at 8:48 AM EDT

Last year's story is also this year's story, as area manufacturers - just like they were a year ago - remain frustrated over the inability to hire qualified job candidates.

But in future years, 2012 may be looked upon as a year of progress.

For an article that ran in the Dec. 30,2011 Business First, Tom Wendt of Wendt Corp. talked about how it was tough for the Tonawanda-based original equipment manufacturer to find welders or fabricators. Instead of hiring those with the appropriate skills, he said, "we're hiring younger people and training them."

Arrow Grinding Inc. President John Goller offered an opinion often voiced by those in manufacturing: "There's a perception that manufacturing is not the career to go into," he said. "The area has lost manufacturing jobs, so parents and teachers aren't pushing kids to go into manufacturing."

"The problem we've found that schools is that they tend to rank their kids, and want to push the non-achievers into manufacturing," said Jim Serafin, co-owner of stainless steel machining company QMC Technologies Inc. in Depew.

A year later, it seems as if nothing has changed. Those who run shops like Serafin and Thomas Owczarzak of Palma Tool & Die in Lancaster, still struggle to hire qualified people.

"We often get people with degrees but no skills," Serafin said, adding that the desired outcome that schools have for every student seems to be to attend a four-year college.

Instead, he'd like them to consider seeing what's out there - good-paying manufacturing jobs that often pay overtime - that could be had within a couple years of high school graduation.

Echoing this point is Owczarzak. He said while it's nice to finally find someone who completed a program like ones offered through Erie County Community College's industrial technology department, even that isn't good enough sometimes. So now, before hiring someone who completed such a program, he wants transcripts and grades to see how well a person performed in class. Those with good grades usually translate to good work ethic, he said.

ECC's program boasts a perfect 100 percent job placement rate. Those who put in the work can land jobs at places like Palma, which has hired many of the college's top students in recent years.

ECC has a long list of manufacturers it works with to match companies to candidates. And other relationships are being developed between those in education and manufacturing to let middle and high school students know that (a) good paying jobs in manufacturing are available, if not plentiful and (b) there are courses they can take to put one's self on the path for a manufacturing career.

A new Dream It Do It initiative also was launched in 2012. It's part of a national initiative to teach middle and high school students about sophisticated, high tech processes required in shops like Wendt, QMC, Arrow and Palma. There, Owczarzak said, it sometimes may take longer to set up a machine than run one. Much of the work is done between the ears, he said.

Nadine Powell, business development director for Buffalo Niagara Partnership, officially launched Dream It Do It in Buffalo on Oct. 5, 2011. She said education has been responsive to the need to fill so many jobs, and is actively listening to the local manufacturing industry's needs. In September, Charter School for Applied Technologies hosted Powell for a walkthrough of two first-floor classrooms, which they will gut in 2013 and convert to labs, where computer-aided design, woodworking, machining and welding could be taught.

Benjamin Rand, president of Insyte Consulting, which provides business and management consulting services to Western New York area manufacturers said collaboration between manufacturing and education is necessary to address workforce issues. He said that despite the current unemployment situation in the U.S., approximately 500,000 to 600,000 manufacturing positions nationwide are unfilled.

"Manufacturers in Western New York are having the same problem," he said.

In 2012, education and manufacturing merged. Perhaps 2013 will be the year where they begin to turn the corner.

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