Survey: Skilled workers harder for Minnesota factories to find
ST. PAUL A metal fabricating company in Stacy last summer posted a job on MinnesotaWorks, the state-run website, for a laser operator. Despite a salary of $40,000 and a full array of benefits, there were no takers. "We did not have one person app...
A metal fabricating company in Stacy last summer posted a job on MinnesotaWorks, the state-run website, for a laser operator. Despite a salary of $40,000 and a full array of benefits, there were no takers.
"We did not have one person apply for our job for two months," said Lori Tapani, co-president of Wyoming Machine. The company eventually turned to a staffing company to help fill that job and others.
Finding qualified workers has become a bigger worry for Minnesota manufacturers, despite some 170,000 Minnesotans without jobs. An annual poll of manufacturing execs from across the state released today shows that 31 percent listed finding skilled workers as a major concern, more than double last year's 14 percent.
"There's a perception sometimes that working in a manufacturing plant isn't a good place to be," said Tapani, whose 55-employee shop about 35 miles north of St. Paul makes metal parts used in a diverse array of products, from computers to tractors to food-packaging equipment.
There is a dwindling interest among young people who want to train for manufacturing jobs, perhaps because they view the industry as outdated and the jobs as "dark and dirty" and not high-tech, said Bob Kill, president of Enterprise Minnesota, the trade group that sponsored the study. There's also a skills mismatch where many workers who are unemployed -- in the building trades, for example -- are unwilling or unable to train for a new job in manufacturing.
Despite their challenges, manufacturers generally indicated that they continue to grow. The State of Manufacturing, an annual poll, in January tapped the opinions of 400 executives at Minnesota companies. Despite an overall contraction in manufacturing in Minnesota since the late '90s, the industry remains one of the most important in the state, employing close to 300,000 workers or about 11 percent of the state's workforce.
After a period of widespread wage freezes, the skills gap may be pushing wages up. Close to half of the manufacturing firms surveyed say their wages have increased over the year, while a majority of executives expect their firm's wages will increase in the next few years.
Delkor Systems in Circle Pines is hiring to meet rising demand for its newly developed packaging equipment from food and consumer products companies and from new fast-growth markets overseas. The company has added 40 employees in the past six months and now has a workforce of 130.
But Delkor is looking for more. With projected sales of $55 million this year, the company is hiring another 20 workers in the next three months. "We're putting a lot of emphasis into hiring," said Dale Andersen, the company's chief executive.
Delkor hires engineers and graduates of automation and robotics programs to help build and test new machines. There's a shortage of skilled applicants in the company's internal metal fabricating shop. A typical CNC (computer numerical control) machinist makes between $23 and $26 per hour, Andersen said. Such workers need technical knowledge to program the machines that cut the metal parts used on the packaging equipment.
"There's a very significant shortage" of people with that knowledge, Andersen said. "There's a general feeling out there that these types of jobs are a dying breed in America. If you interview high school graduates or even their parents, there's not a really good appreciation, first, of how highly compensated those jobs are now and the amount of technology there is with these jobs compared with years ago."
Despite the shortage, Andersen is determined to find workers to keep up with demand. The company has 15 machinists now with plans to add five by summer.
"The people we hire are not unemployed," he said. "We're taking them from another company and bringing them to Delkor."
Distributed by MCT Information Services